October 24, 2003
Fond farewell for Stu
By ERIC FRANCIS - Calgary Sun
Standing in the front room of the house he made famous, Stu Hart ambled towards me with purpose. It was his 82nd birthday and despite the fact arthritis and a lifetime of hard knocks made it tough for him to stand fully upright, within minutes of meeting me, he thought nothing of engulfing me in his powerful grasp.
For reasons unknown, the lovable wrestling legend apparently found it all too irresistible to turn a young visitor into a pretzel.
I hadn't inquired about his wrestling days, nor had I requested a demonstration, but I quickly surmised from the congregation of snickering grandchildren that something roundly entertaining for everyone except me was about to take place.
Mumbling something about a match at Madison Square Garden in which he used the same manoeuvre, the patriarch of Canada's most famous wrestling family dug his forehead into the bridge of my nose and challenged me to escape his grasp. Within seconds, it became obvious I wasn't going anywhere until the sturdy octogenarian decided the show was over. As dozens more gathered to watch what had so obviously occurred thousands of times in Stu's house on the hill, a searing pain shot through my skull before I felt the first trickle of blood ooze from my nose. Taunting me repeatedly while he played to the crowd, my gentle pleas for help elicited healthy laughter from everyone on hand. Stu -- always the showman.
It was only when my blood began running down his Stampeders jersey that he elected to let me go. After all, Stu never liked blood.
As a well-respected wrestling promoter whose Stampede Wrestling shows helped put Calgary on the map long before the Flames or Olympics, Stu shunned the type of graphic violence pro wrestling has degenerated into today.
It was that type of stance that spoke volumes of an incredible man who was laid to rest yesterday at age 88.
Pioneering the type of hard work and entrepreneurial spirit that have become city trademarks, Stu took pride in producing a family show that became a staple in Calgary for decades.
An icon, whose teachings (read: tortures) in his basement dungeon developed some of the biggest names wrestling has ever seen, perhaps Stu's greatest ability was remaining a common man.
His greatest accomplishment was unquestionably his family.
Like those who faced him in the ring, Stu was both respected and feared by his 12 children. Despite driving up to 3,000 km a week across the prairies to run his wrestling loop, the man always put a priority on rushing home to prepare meals for his eight sons and four daughters. All the while, he taught them the importance of "aiming high and shooting straight."
Ask people like Ralph Klein, John Helton, Stan Schwartz, Frank Sisson, Chris Benoit or Vince McMahon, who attended yesterday's packed proceedings -- Stu's word was his bond.
A man equally as adept at wrestling and promoting as he was at setting his wife Helen's hair or grocery shopping and cooking for the dozens who gathered at the house every Sunday night, Stu turned a tragic childhood of poverty into a life of fame and fortune.
Two years ago he lost Helen, at which time he stood at her funeral and said he'd "never get over this -- I don't have enough time."
His funeral was much more of a celebration of a life well-lived -- one son Bret remembers ending every night with "12 little voices crying in the dark, saying 'I love you, Dad.' "
As immense as his chest was, it was the heart inside it that made him a bigger man than most.
One way or another, he had a way of making a profound impact on everyone around him. Some remember him from the Pavilion, some for his handshake, some for his hospitality and some who were lucky enough to be his friend.
Me? I'll remember the blood.
And the tears that flowed freely when it was time to say goodbye to a legend in every sense of the word.