Friday, May 24, 2024

Remembering Tom Casey: The love of sports and the laughs along the way

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A longtime Ottawa Citizen sportswriter, Casey was inducted into the CFL and Ottawa Sports Hall of Fames. He died Monday at age 76.

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Throughout his 37 years in the sports writing business, Tom Casey’s laugh could be heard from one end of the sprawling newsroom to the other.

Perhaps the only things bigger were his love for family and friends, and his passion for giving the inside scoop to generations of Ottawa Citizen readers.

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Back in the days when the printed word ruled sports journalism, Casey had the commanding voice to match his laugh.

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“When he went to football practice, he would always take attendance first,” said long-time Citizen columnist Wayne Scanlan, one of Casey’s closest friends. “There were a lot of players out there, but if there were one or two missing, he would know. He was always a little sceptical and would never take anything at face value. And that laugh…once it gained momentum, it was something.”

Indeed, the city fit Casey — hockey and football were his favourites — like a trusty, well-worn baseball glove.

He carried a black book, full of the names and numbers of the sports community, but he didn’t need it. He was a walking Rolodex and could hold a crowd while telling a tale or two thousand in his own colourful way.

Casey passed away Monday at the age of 76. He was diagnosed with cancer in a kidney in 2020. In 2021, it spread to his lungs. An immunotherapy program bought him extra years. He had been in the Maycourt hospice for a week and died peacefully.

“He loved being around people,” said his wife, Adele. “He loved covering sports, especially the Montreal Canadiens. He was so down to earth.”

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Case, as he was widely known to his friends, also spent time as the Citizen’s sports editor and officially retired in 2003.

Case found his way into the CFL Hall of Fame and the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame. In 2022, the bottom rung of the press box at TD Place was tagged “Tom Casey’s Writer’s Row,” in his honour.

From the beginning, Adele knew what she was getting into. Their first date was a Montreal Expos game.

Adele and Tom travelled the world and relished life with their daughters, Kristina and Annik, along with their five grandchildren, aged 13 to 20.

Adele says he left the world with no regrets.

“If you give love, you get love,” she said. “We weren’t rich, but we were rich in memories. He was all about keeping moving. He wrote notes to the grandkids. Be grateful for what you have and don’t worry about what you don’t have.”

A star athlete himself, Case was a high school quarterback and played in the Central Junior Hockey League, where he received a pair of new CCM tacks.

“He wanted them to fit tight, so he wore his skates into the shower, got the leather soaking wet and then let them dry so he could have custom-fitted skates,” said long-time Citizen sports writer and friend, Martin Cleary.

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When the 18-year-old Case returned home from a tryout with the Ontario Hockey Association’s Kitchener Rangers in 1966, he told his parents he was going to look for temporary work.

He always liked telling the story of his father’s reaction.

“Just don’t hang around the house,” he was told.

His first gig at the Citizen, then located on Sparks Street, was as a copy boy, effectively serving as a gopher in the bustling newsroom.

He worked his way into the sports section and his final story, 37 years to the day of his hiring, was on Aug. 29, 2003.

“It was a hell of a ride, let me tell you,” he told Scanlan, when he entered the Ottawa Hall of Fame a decade later.

Along the way, he covered 15 Grey Cup Games and the Stanley Cup playoffs, in the house when the Montreal Canadiens won their 1986 and 1993 titles and for the Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.

“The best thing about covering the Oilers was not the games,” Case said. “It was watching those guys practice.”

As accomplished and established as Case was, he was always humble and gracious. He bent over backwards to help, mentoring young reporters in showing what the sports world and newsroom life were about. He was an open book, opening up his black book of contacts when colleagues were in need.

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Case chose to finish his career writing, handing sports editor duties over to Doug Fischer, a veteran of the newsroom, but a newcomer to the sports department.

“I never worked with anyone I enjoyed more than Tom,” said Fischer, overwhelmed when Case personally introduced him to the sports fixtures in the community, including Brian Kilrea and Howard Darwin. “He was unfailingly helpful, kind and generous to me. Listening to him interviewing people on the phone was a treat. His big laugh and crazy approach to questioning always seemed to get him answers no one else could.”

Right to the end, Case stayed true to the way he lived his whole life.

Adele affectionately called him “Mr. Google” for his ability to recall the smallest details on their journey, including what she ate on their earliest dates.

When Scanlan reached out to Case for advice on a pending trip to Croatia, a trek Tom and Adele took in 2017, he was flooded with guidebooks, scrapbooks and anecdotes about out-of-the-way restaurants and sites to visit.

“He was always sharing books and music, just so generous,” Scanlan said.

Every story, of course, was accompanied by that unforgettable laugh.
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