Ottawa loses sports icon

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:09 AM ET

Talking to people yesterday about Don Holtby, the one word that kept coming up was competitive.

Whether it was on or near the football field or in the radio business, Holtby, 67, who passed away Sunday night after a lengthy illness, was a ferocious competitor.

A former general manager of both CFRA and the CFL's Ottawa Rough Riders, Holtby's slight stature belied the ferocity with which he attacked the radio business and the game of football.

He projected an air of being street wise, a cigarette usually hanging from his lips, eyes narrowed behind his tinted glasses, voice a low rasp.

"He was far and away the most competitive guy I ever worked with. He was the quintessential guy of small stature but had the biggest heart and would go out and make his mark," said Jack Derouin, who worked with Holtby for 38 years at CHUM. "He displayed that competitiveness in every aspect of his life. He hated to lose ... if you were going to beat Don Holtby, you were going to have to beat him in the alley and he didn't let up."

While working as a gasoline salesman, Holtby convinced CFRA's Terry Kielty to take him on as volunteer colourman on Riders broadcasts in 1963. Holtby had been heavily involved in building the Ottawa Sooners into a junior football power (he was a founder, president and coach) and convinced Kielty he knew what he was talking about.

He was hired on at CFRA as the Riders analyst and salesman a couple of years later.

Holtby was an integral part of the decision by CHUM honcho Allan Waters to buy the Riders in 1979. The Riders were the only pro sport team in town and in order to secure the broadcast rights for CFRA, what better way than to own the team?

Holtby moved over to become the GM of the Riders. The club struggled through those years and Holtby, being the competitive guy that he was, took it hard as he felt responsible for Waters' investment.

"I think those 10 years with the football club almost killed him," said Derouin. "He felt he had let Mr. Waters down and that really stayed with (Holtby)."

TANTRUMS LEGENDARY

Holtby's tantrums in press boxes across the Canadian Football League were legendary.

I can remember one at Lansdowne Park in the '80s when a Rough Riders receiver, wide open in the middle of the field and with nothing but blades of grass between him and the end zone, had the ball bounce off his hands.

There was a thunderous sound from the box where Holtby was sitting.

His demolition of a garbage can in B.C. after a bad call was remembered yesterday by Jim Waters, the chairman of the board of CHUM.

"He launched himself off his chair and destroyed it," Waters told The Team 1200. "Then, B.C. Place sent him a bill for it."

"I remember the first time I watched a game with him," said former mayor Jim Durrell. "Holy smokes. That's what I liked about him was the great passion that he had for the things that he did. He's going to be sorely missed because he was one of the icons of the sporting community here for a good two decades."

Holtby's contributions to football in our city led to him being inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

SPOKE LAST FRIDAY

Derouin last spoke to Holtby Friday, as he did every Friday.

"I knew something was up. We usually talked for 15 or 20 minutes, but he cut it a little short. He said he had the flu, but he seemed to be getting better.

" 'I'll talk to you next week, pal,' he said. That's the way we left it. This isn't the way it should end. He should be down in Fort Myers in Florida playing golf with his buddies."

In addition to his passion for football, Holtby contributed to our community as the chairman of the board of the Ottawa General Hospital and as a director of the Better Business Bureau.

"Don Holtby was one of the few people in my life," said Derouin, "that I'd want in my foxhole."

Visitation will be at the central chapel of Hulse, Playfair and McGarry (315 McLeod St.) tonight from 7-9 p.m. and tomorrow from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.

The funeral is Thursday at St. Thomas The Apostle Anglican Church, 2345 Alta Vista Dr., at 11 a.m.


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