On Monday, May 28th, a group of almost 100 of George’s friends gathered at the Scandinavian Community Centre in Burnaby (near Vancouver) to share memories and stories about a man who was loved and admired by many.
The guests ranged in age from one year old to those in their eighties, and people travelled from as far away as California and Huntsville, Ontario to pay tribute to George. Some of those present had been George’s friend since the 1950s; others had only met George and been coached by him in recent years.
This was a joyful celebration, because we wanted to talk about all that George had achieved as an athlete, coach, and teacher over his life of almost eight decades. Andy Buckstein, a teammate of mine from George S. Henry high school, spoke perhaps more eloquently than anyone else, but the themes of his well-delivered speech were repeated by several people. The main theme was the way George inspired others to do their best, not only in track but in whatever endeavors they chose to focus upon in their lives. George cared about his athletes as people, not just runners. He spoke not only through his words but through his actions and his manner. In this way, he taught the values he lived by: giving 100 percent athletically, persevering in the long run, being loyal and trustworthy, and enjoying life with humour and relaxation after the day’s workout was finished.
George was a coach who always focused on an athlete’s potential in a tremendously positive way. He made us believe we could achieve our goals, if we did our part and trained to the best of our ability under his guidance.
But he did more than help people reach their athletic goals. He inspired people to adopt a healthy lifestyle permanently. His enthusiasm for running and fitness set me and countless others on fire with a passion for the sport, even those of us who had never been athletic before. George often brought lonely and eccentric people into his running circle, and gave them a place where they belonged and were encouraged. And by caring about the whole person, not just the athlete, he gave people confidence that they could succeed in any area of their lives.
I was very happy that so many people chose to spend an afternoon remembering George. Thank you to everyone who attended and all those who signed the guest book. There are a few people I would like to acknowledge who made special contributions.
First of all, I’d like to thank Warren McCulloch, who spent countless hours gathering photos (and Photoshopping them, if necessary) from his own and George’s computer and old scrapbooks.
Warren created the slideshow that we all enjoyed at the memorial.
Secondly, a warm thank you to Boris Mischenko, who generously offered to come from Toronto and play guitar songs for George. I loved Boris’s rich voice and the way he roused the crowd to start clapping during the last song.
I’d also like to thank the guests who did such a great job of reading the poems I thought would be appropriate for this occasion. John Atkinson read “No Man is an Island,” by John Donne.
Tim Park read “Coming Home from Running” and reminisced about high school running under coach George, and Sharon McNulty read “Indian Summer,” one of several poems George shared with her and others recently on Facebook.
I was especially moved that George’s friend Charles Ryavec, who met George at the University of Michigan in the 1960s, was able to attend the memorial.
I first met Charles and his family in the late ’70s when George and I stayed at his home in Santa Barbara for a Christmas training camp. Charles also visited George many times in Toronto during the 1980s. By that time, though he was no longer the serious 400m runner he had been, he still came to the track for every workout to cheer us on. Thank you Charles, for speaking at the memorial and telling the guests about the creative side of George. Not everyone knew that he published a thinly-disguised autobiographical novel called First at the Finish in the 1970s.
Paul Tinari provided good entertainment for the guests as he shared stories George had told him during 25 years of living together. The display of George’s (and Joseph’s) musical talent went on a little too long, but we appreciated hearing George’s final phone call!
I would also like to thank my friends Beth Primrose and Steve Pimentel from Ontario, who made my weekend a memorable one by staying at my new apartment for a few days, helping with the final preparations for the memorial. A big thrill of my weekend was being pulled by them through Mundy Park for 26 minutes at a faster pace than I’ve run for a long time. (It was just their warmup for a speedy 5K loop!)
Finally, I couldn’t have organized this memorial at all without the constant support and help of my partner in everything, Keith Dunn.
He was there through all the hard times before George’s death and afterwards. He understood all the agonized emotions as well as the positive ones.
Keith was the guy with the video camera.
Below, I’ve added some of the messages I received from people in the days following George’s death; these messages, in a sense, “gave me back” the George I had known for so many years.
“Best of the best” comments from guests and friends who couldn’t be therc
It was George ‘s influence on me to unleash inner strength with my training and racing. I will be forever grateful. I am privileged to have known such a great person.
Jung Dae Suh
(Jung Dae was one of Abebe’s best friends. He lived with us for a year when he and Abebe were doing Grade 12 together.)
I heard the news about George. I am very sorry to hear that. I wish I had contacted George as much as I can. I will miss him a lot. He had a huge impact on me in Canada, and even afterwards. I will never forget what he did and how much he has helped me.
My last memory of George is of him flirting with the nurses that day we visited him in Eagle Ridge hospital – typical George !
He was a great man that inspired many to do well in running and I am thankful that I had the chance to be coached by him. I shall miss his wit, wisdom and the sparkle in his eye. I will miss seeing him at the end of the home straight with a stopwatch in hand – a place that he probably felt most at home.
I am devastated over his passing but if the suffering was as bad as you say, then it was for the best. I among others will miss him very much and my regret is that I didn´t do more to maintain communication with him. A great lesson in life that needs reminding of frequently. George was a best friend.
I hope that he is in a happy healthy place and running his heart out with such joy, wild abandon and with super-angel speed and endurance. I hope he will be an angel looking out for me. For us all, as he used to do so well. So many wonderful memories flooding back and feeling deep sadness and tears over our dear friend and mentor. I hope he was so proud of all he accomplished.
George truly was a special man and touched so many lives. I was one of those fortunate ones. Next to my parents, George played such a huge role in my life. He taught me to work hard and to be disciplined, set and achieve goals, work as a team, the benefits of staying fit, eating healthy and to have fun doing it. All of the above playing a very large role in who and where I am today as a person. In fact by “hooking me” on fitness for life, that is one of the reasons I’m still here today and survived my heart issues as well as I have.
At the last chase as I came to the end of the first loop I saw George in his wheelchair and I just couldn’t run past him. He shouted at me to run but I stopped and said I was going to stay and talk to him, I’m so glad I did now. You are right though, he was in a lot of pain, frustrated at what he could no longer do and being old, he fought ageing right to the end.
That said it is never easy losing someone so take care Nancy, you have lots of wonderful memories and our lives are enriched by the people we are privileged to have enter it.
I just received the sad news of George’s passing and I must say that I was shocked.
George influenced me in ways that he wouldn’t understand. He taught me the value of the science behind the activities and gave me a greater appreciation for human movement. He was incredibly dedicated to what he loved to do and that was train others and to train himself…
He was a good man and a better friend.
I will always be indebted to George for all his workouts. I have especially fond memories of the track workouts when I joined the club years ago. Those workouts were the fulfillment of a fantasy to me. Years ago I would read suggested workouts in Runner’s World and imagine what it would be like to be able to run a ladder workout of 200, 400, 800, 1000, etc. I used to think of it as an impossibility for me until, running with the club, I did it! Just running with the others was such a kick. I loved it as I gasped to the finish hearing George call out my time!
My years at Henry were all about running, the comraderie, the training (yes..twice a day and up the brutal hill “Henry on the Hills!!!!”), strong teams and lots of hardware (who doesn’t love to win!!) and having George at the helm. From grade 13 phys-ed with George as the teacher, I went on have a career in wellness and a lifelong journey as a runner and triathlete. This fall, for my 50th, I qualified for the World’s Duathlon in France and will be competing this fall in his honour. Thank-you for writing this beautiful Bio and to George for the inspiration, great coaching and positive influence he has over my life. He followed his passion, achieved great heights and touched many…me included. He will be missed!
George was an authentic and caring coach. He was the type of coach who didn’t care about where you came from. Running for him was a universal concept belonging to everyone, bringing people together, regardless of status or talent. My older brother, who ran for George Vanier, told me to find George Gluppe when he realized I really loved running and was serious about training. When I met George on the indoor track he was the coach of the competition. I was nervous to ask if I could join his club. When I did have the guts to approach him, he gave me a big smile and said, “No problem.” The best part was when he said, “ I will pick you up at 3:45 on Don Mills in front of your school.” Of course with him saying “Don’t be late or else you lose your ride.” Every Tuesday and Thursday off to York we went, I never felt so special. That was the beginning of a fantastic experience.
I first met George when we were both in high school and competed in the Maxville (ON) Highland Games (run on a horse track no less). George, his brother Don, and I were suite mates at the University of Michigan and ran together for four years. Since we ran the same event, we worked out together every day and ran on the 4X440 relay team at most meets. George and his brother showed up at Michigan with $200 and little, if any, other financial support. The brothers worked at any job you could find in Ann Arbor—including cleaning the football stadium, washing dishes, and so on. His diet consisted largely of Blimpie Burgers and anything he could scavenge at his ‘meal’ jobs. Despite this, and keeping up on his track work, George graduated on time—as did his brother, in engineering.
In 2009 George drove up to Kamloops to see me run in a Masters 200 metre dash. It was the first time I was aware of his arthritis. I really appreciated it since I knew that it was an uncomfortable trip for him.
George had many legendary exploits at Michigan – not all related to track or school. We had many great times together and I’ll miss George a lot. It’s not many friends you have for 60 years.
I had great respect for him as a coach and a teacher. I fondly remember competing in the OFSSA cross country championships in Mattawa in 1978 and I had the race of my life. After the race George came up to me and all he said was, “Not bad for an old man.”
He had a profound effect on me, more so than I realized. As I went through life I became a lifelong runner, completing the Boston Marathon and the Hawaii Ironman, and George taught me how to train and how to run fast. I became a researcher and George taught me how to do my first t-test in Grade 13 Phys Ed. I became a coach in many sports and George taught me that when coaching sometimes fewer words are better than more. But most importantly he taught me that you should get a job where you can wear sweat pants all the time.
Anyway, for a life lived the way he wanted, all I can say is, “Not bad for an old man.”
I will never forget George’s support prior to the 1984 Olympics. I had graduated university and was training by myself for the first time under a program Richard had developed. As track season approached he told me that I needed to find someone to do my speedwork with. I cautiously approached George one day and asked if I could join in with your group occasionally. George embraced me immediately and let me know that I was welcome to fit into the group at any time. I recall bashing out some pretty great 400′s with George cheering and coaching me as one of his own. This connection only lasted for several weeks but I will forever remember. George truly was one of the special few who loved our sport to the core.
After the memorial…
I’d like to repeat a story about George because it sums up, in the most simple way, what I feel about him. When I contacted him to let him know about “Suds'” Sutherland’s sudden death, George said: “I’m sorry to hear it. He was one of the good guys.” George might have been writing his own epitaph. George was also one of the Good Guys. He was what you saw, what he said, what he did. There was no artifice.
Had he been present at the memorial, George would have had a lot of chuckles. He would have been proud (and certainly bashful!) at hearing the many tributes that were made to his expertise as a coach and his personal humanity.
Well done, George! Well done, Nancy!
Thanks for all the kind words .
However, you certainly deserve most of the credit for the way the people felt because of how you arranged everything so delicately and carefully from the food , timing , presentations and welcoming participatory style of everything that took place. The song just brought out what the people experienced by being there—an uplifting and deep sense of personal celebration. I, like everyone else, did my part in the team effort. Someone gave me the baton on the final lap and I took off for George. We all won.
Thank you, Boris, for a perfect ending to this blog post. Tears are standing in my eyes.