My Friend Art

As with many writers, I haven’t gotten rich doing what I do. But, I have (mostly) been able to earn a living doing something I enjoy. There’s a lot to be said for that. And even if I haven’t exactly made a fortune during all these years, I’ve met a lot of interesting people. Not surprisingly, most of the famous people I’ve met through my work have been athletes and media personalities. But it’s not just the famous people who are memorable.

Far from it.

As many of you known, I worked for 10 years on my biography, Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. Now, 10 years of working on a book is not exactly like 10 years of working in a coal mine! And it’s not as if I worked on it every day during those 10 years. But it was never very far from my mind. By publishing standards, the book was decidedly not a success … but I would never trade the friendships I made with the family of Art Ross.

Art Ross III — grandson of the hockey legend, and my good friend — died last week.

(Because of the times we’re living in, I guess I need to say that COVID-19 was not a factor.)

It was more by good luck than good management, but it was
perfectly fitting that Art received the very first copy of the book.

My father died several years before I met Art, and though he was never very comfortable with the idea the few times I’d mentioned it, he became a sort of father-figure to me. Especially after leaving Toronto for Owen Sound. In addition to sharing our research discoveries, I would often get in touch with Art just to say hello, or to moan about flooded basements, or roof repairs — the things about home ownership that always terrified me!

Not that I expected him to do anything about it, but his calming manner always helped.

I was never sure if Art’s discomfort with the father-figure idea was simply because he looked at us more as contemporaries, trying to figure out the stories in his family on the ice and off. Or if it was because of his strained relationship he’d had with his father, and his estrangement from his own son, which only ended a couple of years ago. (It’s a very odd thing that there have been at least five generations of father-son fallouts in the Ross family, going all the way back to the father of the “hockey” Art Ross; and probably extending to a sixth generation with “hockey” Art’s own father and grandfather.)

The young man in the photo is “My” Art. He is seated beside his grandfather,
Art Ross. Standing behind him is his Uncle John, Art Ross’s other son.

“My” Art Ross is how I often refer to Art when speaking about him with others. That was to differentiate him from his grandfather, Arthur Howey Ross, the hockey legend I wrote about, and from “My” Art’s own father, Arthur Stuart Ross. (“My” Art is, technically, Arthur Stuart Ross Jr.) He was actually the second family member I was in touch with when I first thought about writing my book back in 2005.

Among the very first people I had mentioned my idea to was Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Though he never acts like it, I’ve often heard that Phil knows EVERYONE. He told me that one of Art Ross’s granddaughters had introduced herself when she had been to the Hall a few years before, and that he had an email address for her. I wrote to Victoria Ross on September 28, 2005. When she wrote back a few days later, she said that she would love to talk … and that she would also forward my email on to her brother.

When Victoria and I spoke on the phone for the first time on October 20, 2005, she mentioned that her brother was the family genealogist and the one I should really be talking to. Art and I were in touch by email a few days later. And after that … boy, did we talk!

Me, enjoying an old family scrapbook on a visit to Art and Kathy in Tennessee.

Art and I were probably in contact every few days, often many times a day, until the book was published 10 years later. That was more than five years ago now, and really, it was only the confusion and memory issues brought on by his increasing struggles with Parkinson’s Disease the last two years that finally slowed us down.

In the beginning, I suppose we both wanted something from this relationship. I wanted the stories he was willing to share; he wanted those stories to be told. But we bonded almost immediately over, I suppose, a love of history, telling stories … and getting those stories right! (I’ve written before about the Art Ross birthday battles, and the old divorce hiding in the family tree.) Both Art and his wife, Kathy, and me and my late wife Barbara, love(d) history and books and movies. (Barbara and I may or may not have had more movies in our old collection, but Art and Kathy probably had even more books than we did!)

Over all those years, Art and I mainly “spoke” to each other via email; sometimes on the phone; and occasionally by text. (Texts especially when the Blue Jays were playing the Red Sox, or the Leafs and Bruins were hooked up in the playoffs.) Barbara and I also visited Art and Kathy a few times at their homes in Tennessee and Maine. They hosted a lovely party for us, along with several other Ross relatives, in Maine when the book came out in 2015.

Art and Kathy and Me and Barbara at the party in Maine in 2015.

It’s strange for me to realize as I write this that in the 15+ years Art and I knew each other, we probably spent less than 15 days of that time together in person. I’ve only met Victoria Ross in person once, younger sister Valerie twice, and youngest sister MacKenzie only via Facebook and Messenger. Yet, I feel a closeness to all of them. Kathy too, of course.

My friendship with Art, unusual though it may seem, was very special to both of us.

I am greatly saddened by his loss.

(For anyone who feels so inclined, donations can be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation or the Michael J. Fox Foundation.)

18 thoughts on “My Friend Art

  1. “By publishing standards, the book was decidedly not a success … ” That’s not for me to judge, but by hockey history standards it is an “important book” (a seemingly simple but useful term to define a great book that an author friend of mine introduced to me…).

    1. I always hoped it would sell a lot of copies, but I also knew it likely wouldn’t. And it didn’t.
      Honestly, I don’t even know how many hockey fans have bought or read it. What can you do?
      I wanted to write it. I’m happy I did. And if some people enjoyed it, great!
      But, for me, the best part of doing it was 15 years of friendship, that will continue with other members of the Ross family.

      1. Dearest Eric,
        I told you once that I consider you to be an adopted member of the Ross Clan & I sincerely meant it. Your entrance into our lives was a blessing. You created a brilliant, lasting tribute to my grandfather. More than that, however, your years of research & collection of all of our family members’ memories filled huge gaps in our family history & was a huge contribution to the entire family. As you know, your book educated me more about hockey than all my family members & my Ross DNA did. So please understand how grateful we are for not only your book but also for the gift of your friendship it brought. Your relationship with Art, however my brother might have struggled with an “emotional” label attached to it, was such an important one to him. I know how highly he regarded your relationship to him, that it greatly filled a void & gave him a renewed passion & purpose for life. I’ll be forever grateful to you — even if, once again, you’ve managed to stuff up my sinuses! Thank you ‘brother’ Eric! Love, Victoria

  2. Eric, I’m so sorry for your loss. And, as a fellow researcher/writer, I totally agree with you — our ‘wealth’ in this profession comes from the incredible people we’ve met over so many years of work, and the serendipity involved in the WOW! moments. Take care.

  3. Dear Eric: So touching and sad and beautiful blended together. Oddly enough, I just wrote a piece for NHL.com about one of Senior Art’s Bruins, Fern Flaman, who I’d watch as a member of the Boston Olympics. My condolences all around.

  4. That’s a wonderful tribute to a friendship that obviously meant a lot to both of you. Unique ties that bind us over the years. Sorry for the loss of your friend.

  5. Eric, so sorry for the loss of your friend. Your words run deep and eloquent. I especially appreciated the mention and photo of my dear friend Barbara, whose presence I still miss and will continue to miss for my whole life.

  6. When hockey brings people together and it’s discovered over the passage of time they have much in common beyond the game resulting in the fostering of a meaningful, enduring bond between them. Eric, I’m glad you had the blessing of Art being a father figure and friend. Truly wonderful life experience.

  7. A most beautiful story! Sorry for the loss of such a good friend of yours. You wrote a wonderful story which I’m sure his family appreciates. I really liked the photo, especially seeing Barbara.
    Take care, Eric! Sending hugs.

  8. What a wonderful story of a special friendship, poignant but, as always, with a lovely light, entertaining, gracious and humble tone. I always enjoy every story I read on this blog.

  9. I am so sorry for your loss! I think the wonderful relationship you and Barbara had with Art had to be very special. All though we hear the expression that blood is thicker than water, I often feel the deep relationships we make with non-family members is so very exciting. It is often less critical, and opinionated, and because there is no expectation of fondness, as there is with family, it can been even deeper and, dare I say, more intense.
    I am so happy you have the photos, especially that beautiful one with Barbara, to help you get through these days of sorrow. Stay safe and stay well!

  10. Sorry for your loss. Friendship makes the road we travel smoother. Our sages said that the phrase “and he lived there” really means “he” or s”she” enhanced the world by being alive. We are judged by the stories others tell of us. These stories are our immortality. By this lovely tribute you bring your friend, Art, alive to us all. It is a fine tribute to a friend. We should all be so lucky as to be so memorialized.
    Art Ross III was just a name. Your story made him a person to a large group of strangers. As they say “may his memory be for a blessing.”

  11. Quite a unique relationship you had, Eric! It is one that anyone would be proud of and that all should envy. Sorry for your loss Eric. R.I.P. Art.

    Tosh

  12. So sorry for your loss. I have to say, your book was the one I purchased and read from front to back after discovering my DNA match to “Your/Our” Art 🙂 It also helped to push me to actually sitting down and sending that email to Art about our match. I was very much out of my element in pursuing this unknown DNA match and I just went ahead and did it one night. So what I’m saying I guess is thank you for helping me make that final decision to contact him. The only regret I have: I wish I had taken that DNA test and contacted him much sooner! The time I knew Art (even if only via email) was much too short, but I am grateful for the short time we had to share our research. I will miss his quirky emails but am grateful for what he has shared with me. Hugs Eric!

  13. Eric,

    Sorry for the loss of your friend Art.
    As an owner of the Art Ross book, I can say it is an excellent research into one of hockey’s greats, and certainly Boston Bruins history. I love the book.
    On a lighter note, I am jealous of you looking through that scrap book. It must have been a wonderful experience.

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