Chuvalo pained by picture of long-lost son

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

TORONTO - A couple of years ago, Toronto broadcaster Spider Jones was working out at a gym when a stranger approached.

“He asked if I could get a message to George Chuvalo,” Jones remembered. “He said he had something for him.”

Jones and Chuvalo, the Canadian heavyweight boxing legend, have been friends for years and everyone in the boxing community knew it.

The stranger, who turned out to be a guy named Paul Allman, then gave Jones a book, a note and a picture.

The book was And No Birds Sang by renowned Canadian author Farley Mowat, the note was a message to Chuvalo from Allman and the picture was of Chuvalo’s late son Jesse, taken years before on a school trip to New Mexico. Allman explained in the note that he and Jesse had been friends since they were 14.

“One day at school, between classes, Jesse was reading a book that looked interesting and I wanted to read it as well,” Allman said in the note. “I asked if I could borrow it when he completed it. Jesse agreed but cautioned me that it was a gift from his grandparents and I better not lose it. Well, after twenty or so years, here it is.”

“Please cherish this book as I have all these years. Not a day goes by without a thought for Jesse”, the note added. “The picture is how I remember my friend.”

Jesse Chuvalo committed suicide in 1985, nine months after becoming hooked on heroin, placing a .22 calibre rifle in his mouth and pulling the trigger, the first in a unspeakable series of tragedies to rock the Chuvalo family. Later, Chuvalo lost two other sons, Georgie Lee and Steven, to drug overdoses. His wife, Lynne, also committed suicide, unable to deal with the pain.

Today, George devotes much of his time to his Fight Against Drugs Foundation, travelling the country talking to kids about the perils of drug abuse. His message is powerful and incredibly moving.

When Jones, who had known the Chuvalo kids since they were babies, looked at the picture of Jesse, he was taken aback.

“It sent chills down my spine,” he said. “I knew I had to give it to George, but I was dreading it because I knew how emotional he’d get.”

A few weeks ago, at a boxing news conference at the HUF gym in Mississauga, Jones took Chuvalo aside and handed him the book, the note and the picture.

“I said ‘Champ, I’ve got something for you,’ ” said Jones. “I gave him the picture and looked into his eyes and I saw a change come over him. You could see the pain coming back. But after I while, the enthusiasm came back and then he started showing the picture to everyone.”

For Chuvalo, there was shock and pain. But quickly, he realized that the book was a wonderful gift.

Chuvalo had never seen that picture of his son before. Taken on a school trip to New Mexico sometime around 1980, it was a smiling Jesse alongside a friend.

“I was happy to see my son in a happy picture,” said Chuvalo over lunch at a Hungarian restaurant in downtown Toronto. “Usually, when you lose somebody, you search for pictures of them. But this one really came out of the woodwork. Spider had it for a couple of years. My son died in 1985, that’s a long time ago.”

The memory of the trip to New Mexico also came back in view for Chuvalo. And here’s the interesting twist to the story. Chuvalo remembered that during the trip, Jesse got into a tiff with one of the adults in charge, and took off from the group.

Confused and upset, Jesse somehow contacted former world light heavyweight champion Bob Foster, considered by many to the greatest ever at that weight. Chuvalo and Foster weren’t friends or anything like that, though the two fought on the same card on August 8, 1961 at Montreal’s Delormier Stadium. Jesse, however, had heard his dad talk of Foster’s great career many times.

“Jesse knew from me that Bob was a sheriff down in Albuquerque,” said Chuvalo. “But I was really surprised that Jesse got a hold of him. Thankfully, Bob talked him into rejoining his class.”

Chuvalo and Foster relived the incident years later when they met up at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.

Chuvalo still gets choked up when he looks at the picture of his late son, though he’s elated to have it. What he would very much like now is to be able to contact Allman, and thank the man. Unfortunately, his efforts to find him have been unsuccessful.

“I feel bad. I should have had this picture for two years and the guy probably thinks I never tried to get in touch with him,” said Chuvalo. “But I’d like him to know that I’m thrilled to have it.”

Just before getting up to leave the restaurant, Chuvalo paused and added: “And it would be nice to know who this is” he said, pointing at the ‘Mystery Kid’ in the picture beside Jesse.


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