Wonderful storyteller

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Perhaps it's fitting that Don Wittman passed during the 120th annual MCA Bonspiel, the world's largest curling event that takes place in his hometown.

His passion for the game, and the inroads he helped the sport make, are unquestionable.

"The first telecast he did, you knew that he was going to take the game of curling to centre court," said Don Duguid, Wittman's longtime colour man and close friend. "He was just that powerful."

Wittman, who passed away yesterday morning in Winnipeg at the age of 71, called his first Brier in 1961 and was the voice of Championship Curling on CBC television until this past November.

Two-time world women's champ Colleen Jones, herself a CBC broadcaster, believes Wittman made curling more popular than it already was.

"It was his ability to be a wonderful storyteller and weave the stories that he was so strong at," Jones told The Canadian Press. "And the creating drama, and his voice obviously was fantastic. All of that just lent itself to just being the best."

Jonathan Mead, who is playing for Vic Peters' team in the MCA this week, said Witt-man had an aura in the curling world. Mead, playing for Jeff Stoughton at the time, recalled the production meeting his team had with Wittman going into the playoffs at the 1999 world championship.

"TSN does (the coverage) all week, and then you sit down and do the interview with him and Donny Duguid," Mead said. "That's when it sort of dawns on you that 'This is pretty big time.'

"When Wittman sits down with you to talk about what's going to happen out there on TV, you go, 'This is real. This is really important.' That's one of my most outstanding memories."

'PASSION'

Peters, meanwhile, got to know Wittman real well while competing in three Briers in the 1990s, and said he had a real zeal for the game.

"Don knew so much about the sport. He was such a professional," Peters said. "He loved to talk about curling. When we played golf together, that's all he talked about.

"He really had a passion for curling as well. It wasn't just something he had to do."

One of Duguid's favourite memories of working with Wittman was the Brier semifinal in Edmonton in 1987, when CBC cut off the coverage with three rocks remaining. It was supposed to turn off the feed only in eastern Canada (to show the NDP leadership convention from Montreal), but a mistake was made and curling vanished from every TV set across the nation.

The east got the NDP leadership convention, while those west of Ontario got an episode of Star Trek.

"He just threw his headset down in disgust," Duguid said. "We walked down from our broadcast booth, down through the press lounge, and we were just at the bottom of the stairs, and the guys from the press box came out and said there's a phone call for (Wittman).

"Witt headed for the parking lot, and he looks over his shoulder as he always did to me and said, 'Doogie, get that.' You know, me being the rookie. Of course I grabbed the phone, and this (viewer) just starts reaming me out.

"We were driving back to the hotel, and (Wittman) never got mad. He got frustrated, but he never ever got mad. He was unbelievable."

Wittman showed the same composure in his battle with cancer, which first struck in 2001 and reappeared in the fall. Duguid took Wittman to his treatments and visited him in the hospital every day until Thursday, when it became clear his battle was almost over.

"He had a tremendous amount of courage," Duguid said. "He knew what was happening to him. He realized what was going on, and he never wanted to be a burden to his family, so he wanted to go to the hospital just before Christmas.

"An amazing man. An amazing, amazing man."


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