Ron Lancaster, Rest in Peace

Today, Ronnie Lancaster died of lung cancer.  He was diagnosed this summer.  I didn’t know he was sick.

When I was growing up, I liked to watch sports with my Dad on Saturday nights Sunday afternoons and evenings.  I’ll never be sure whether I really liked the sports watching or if I just did it so I could hang with my Dad.  In many ways, he was a typical “Dad” of my generation.  Maybe more so.  I don’t know.  My Mom stayed home and raised five kids.  Dad mostly worked.  He travelled on business and was away from home frequently.  He left for work earlier in the mornings than the Dads of my friends and he returned home much later at night.

I guess because my Mom had little time with him herself, they developed a pattern to their evenings.  Till we reached the age of 8 or so, we were in bed by 6:30 p.m.  That meant that we were trying to go to sleep when it was still light out and other kids were playing on the street during the late spring and early summer months.  It always meant that we were in bed before Dad got home.

As we got older, we were allowed to play outdoors with the other kids, or we were sent to the basement to play and watch tv till bedtime.  Mom and Dad would have a couple of gin and tonics (or more) and a nice dinner to themselves.  We weren’t allowed to come upstairs and we caught shit if we tried.  (This also meant that we often ate hot dog stew while they had steak and, later, that I had to do two sets of dinner dishes – ours and theirs – damn I hated that!)

Dad took few vacations.  Sometimes, we got to tag along on his business trips.  But that still didn’t mean spending much time with him, as he’d be out working the same hours, or longer because of the pressure to socialize with associates.

Like most kids, we missed him and grew to resent his absence when we realized it wasn’t quite typical – likely it didn’t help that he was highly stressed and rarely energetic enough to spend much time with us even when he was around.  He also suffered profoundly from stress-related illnesses that seemed to get the better of him when he wasn’t working.  He was very ambitious and status oriented.  He loved his work but he also loved being a “big shot”, which he was.  Knowing that he was having a good time and apparently not suffering when he wasn’t with us rankled.  Pissed Mom off too!  Maybe we competed for whatever free time he had.  It wasn’t a fair fight.

One of the things Dad did to relax in whatever free time he had was to watch hockey, football and baseball.  I do think I liked those games.  But I know for sure that what I liked most was hanging with Dad.  I asked a billion questions – “what’s ‘offside’ Dad?”, “what’s a ‘clipping’ penalty?”; “what’s a ‘force play’?” and a “conversion” and why isn’t the “punter” playing with the rest of them?

To give credit where credit is due, Dad was a good and patient teacher.  He liked my curiosity and he answered my questions carefully, even in the heat of battle on the ice or field.  I think he was kinda pleased that I seemed interested in “his” interests and that he had a daughter who knew her way around a quarterback sneak and a squeeze play.  I still enjoy knowing and watching this stuff with my sons, though I almost never watch on my own.  For me, it’s a “family thang”.

Ronnie Lancaster, and the whole CFL for that matter, were family.  I knew the names of all these guys and I had my favourites.  They were my rock stars before there were rock stars.  My faves weren’t always my Dad’s either, but he cared for my faves – pointed them out to me when they were coming on or going off the ice or field and kept me up-to-date on their goings on.  I remember Frank Mahovlich, Davie Keon, Willie Mays and Cookie Gilchrist.  I liked some of these guys for their toothless, boyish smiles, some for their quirky names and others for the way they played.  I didn’t like the dirty players, like Gordie Howe, and I didn’t like the ones who didn’t know how to be “gentlemen” when they weren’t playing, like poor Roger Maris.  I knew what it was to be a team player and a good sport.  There was no one worse than an individualist except a poor sport.

Ronnie Lancaster was the team player to end all team players.  There was no greater “gentleman”.  He was the best sport ever.  And damn, he was good at what he did.

I didn’t read the following news piece on Lancaster before writing my own remembrance.  Pretty amazing, how similar some of the comments are to my own:

The CFL has lost a legend, and Canada has lost a friend.

Ron Lancaster, 69, died Thursday morning after a short battle with lung cancer.

The former standout quarterback, who also had a long career as a head coach, administrator and television commentator, was diagnosed in late July and had been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. Lancaster’s death has prompted readers to write in and share their memories of the CFL great.

Here’s just a small sample:

Reader from Regina: “Many are recalling Lancaster’s contributions to the CFL, but I wanted to share a personal anecdote. While still playing in Regina, Ron worked for several years as a phys-ed teacher at Regina’s Central Collegiate. Although it was a treat to have a celebrity as a teacher, there was also a downside. On occasion, the class engaged in a game of murder ball. God help you if Lancaster placed himself on the opposing team, as it was hard to avoid his throws. And when hit by his thrown ball, you knew it! He always seemed to take great delight in picking guys off.”

Reader from Calgary: “I loved watching Ron Lancaster play. His appearance was a far cry from the tall, strong-armed passers of today. Lancaster could roll out and scramble, he could hit any of his fleet of receivers and he used his skilled fullback, George Reed, to score points in bunches, and put up those impressive team win-loss records from 40 years ago.”

Reader from Calgary: “When I attended my first Stampeders game as a young boy, Calgary was leading in the fourth quarter and Lancaster calmly led the offence down the field for the winning score as time expired. I hated him at that moment but also realized how special he was. RIP Ronnie.”

Reader from Victoria: “All of Canada mourns the loss of Ron Lancaster. As a child growing up in Ottawa, I remember the glory days of the Ottawa Rough Riders in the early ’60s, when Ron and Russ Jackson made such a potent QB combination. After Ron was traded to the green Riders, we all still had a soft spot for him in our hearts. Such a wonderful, talented, classy guy — he will live on forever in the annals of Canadian football.”

Reader from Hamilton: “I have been following the CFL for 40 years. Ron Lancaster was a professional football player, coach, television analyst and, most of all, a fantastic person. I live in Hamilton and was proud to have Ron Lancaster associated with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Ron brought class to our organization and I will always remember him as a person who brought such a great example of what class and humility is to the Canadian people.”

Reader from Winnipeg: “As a youth growing up in Winnipeg in the ’70s I have many fond memories of the games between our Prairie rivals, led by the immensely talented Ron Lancaster. As often as not, my dad would be pacing the floor and cursing at the Bombers’ inability to contain the Little General.”

Reader from Hamilton: “My earliest football memories are of the player (Ron Lancaster), my mother (born in Saskatchewan) and my dad (an ardent Ticat fan). Watching the ’72 Grey Cup here in Hamilton between the Riders and Cats was tense in our house. But Ron found his way to Hamilton and we, like the people of Saskatchewan and Edmonton, will regard him as one of our own. A great player, coach and a greater person. Goodbye, Ron.”

Reader from Regina: “Ron Lancaster exemplified the style and grace of the golden age of the CFL. I think it would be appropriate to retire No. 23 league wide, as a small token of respect.”

Reader from Campbell River, B.C.: “Like many Canadians, I spent years watching Ron Lancaster in the CFL, first as a quarterback. His partnership with George Reed and the Saskatchewan Roughriders was unforgettable. His years as a broadcaster added a layer of class to his analysis of teams, players and plays that has not been matched since his departure. He was a very fine gentleman, a first-rate quarterback and superb commentator at games.”

Reader from Hamilton: “I was just a young lad then, but I’ll remember him most for the Grey Cup battles with the Tiger-Cats in the ’60s, or sneaking my transistor radio into bed to listen to the night games in Saskatchewan.”   from CBC

Farewell Ron Lancaster.  We’ve lost a good man and a good sport.  Rock on 23!

Check out CBC “Life and Times” for more on ‘The Little General’


The Hamilton Spectator


3 thoughts on “Ron Lancaster, Rest in Peace

  1. Pingback: Ron Lancaster, Rest in Peace

  2. This is one of the best tributes I have ever read. I can just picture the little girl with her Dad, craving his attention, thrilled to be with him watching football. The sweetness of that scene brought for real tears to my eyes. I don’t know anything about sports, but I bet Ron Lancaster would choose this as his favorite tribute.

    And I have to say how HAPPY I was to come on here and find you! That’s very nice of you to post such thoughtful pieces for your readers while you’re gone. Have fun! Thinking of you:)

  3. I’m afraid I have a reputation for being a good eulogist. Not such a bad talent to have I suppose … My ex-husband asked me if I’d do his when he goes – GREAT BIG lolzzzzzzzzz!!!!!

    I’m not gone yet – got sick and had to change my flight to Sunday. But thanks. Love ya.

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