If you want to know about Freddie Jackson’s impact on the people who knew him, the kids he gave a game of ball to, the youngsters he influenced positively, all you have to do is check out the comments on the Telegram’s website below the story of his untimely death Wednesday.
Freddie, who would have turned 55 on Monday, was hired as a sports reporter at The Daily News by Dee Murphy and later worked for me when Dee moved on to the managing director’s post, handing me the sports editor’s job.
Freddie then went on to bigger and better things at The Telegram and eventually took on the job as managing editor at the Cape Breton Post, although I’ll never be convinced he ever wanted to leave the province.
Freddie was a St. John’s townie through and through.
One thing about Freddie is he always seemed to get further in life than most people would have predicted. He surprised a lot of people that way.
Of course, outside of his family, his true love was softball, a game which he had a passion for. He began running a minor program in his central St. John’s neighbourhood as a teenager.
The Higher Levels minor softball program developed into a huge success — a model, really, of how a program should be run. Imagine the area without it back in the 1970s and ’80s. And this is coming from someone who grew up on Mayor Avenue. The field is gone now, but the memories remain.
John Hill, who went on to senior softball stardom, played in Freddie’s minor softball program in the early ’70s and remembers getting his first job in the program because of Freddie.
“He was a fierce competitor as a coach,” said Hill, “and I remember lots of arguments he had with umpires. But he left it all on the field. He’d chuckle about it after the games were over.”
Hill also recalls Freddie taking loan of his dad’s car and driving around the city with three or four of the kids for a treat.
“We’d chip in 10 or 15 cents each for gas and we’d have a heck of a time,” remembers Hill, fondly.
I attended a few of the association’s annual banquet and I know what it meant to the kids and to the community.
I know how proud Freddie was of the program. It was his passion. If you couldn’t find Freddie at work then it’s likely you’d find him on the field. You’d call his house and you could hear his mom or dad call out to him from the back door.
He was the mayor of Rabbittown and he loved it.
A couple of incidents spring to mind thinking of Freddie’s days with me at the News.
There was the time we both jogged to our homes from Kenmount Road because Freddie was on a diet and exercise program and he didn’t want to run alone. He went on to lose a lot of pounds but we never jogged together again.
And then there was Freddie pulling a heavy oar in the CNIB dory races. Freddie had such a strong stroke that the boat tended to go in circles until we got him to ease up a bit.
It worked because our four-man we went on to win the media race.
We celebrated our surprise victory at a local watering hole only to find out an hour later that our time qualified us for the championship race and that we should rush to Quidi Vidi Lake because the other crews were waiting on us. Needless to say, we weren’t exactly prepared and we finished well back in last place.
I also remember how flushed Freddie’s face would get and how excited he’d get when he had a “scoop” to write.
Then there was the day I urged Freddie to be more emphatic when he started to write his own column. I encouraged him to take a stand — one way or the other — on topics.
Freddie was writing a column on the Challenge Cup soccer final and he was on the fence in terms of picking a winner.
I told him to pick Holy Cross. He did and, of course, St. Lawrence won.
Minutes after the game a St. Lawrence fan held up the sports section, pointed to Freddie’s colum and a set it on fire.
Our photographer took a picture and we published it.
I was laughing for a week. I don’t think Freddie ever forgave me.
I knew Freddie’s wife Beatrice going back to her days at The Daily News and it’s fair to say they were made for each other. Freddie was an excitable boy, but Beattie was always able to calm him down.
So to Beattie, to Freddie’s daughters Stephanie, Melissa, Carmen, Nicola and Jillian, and to Freddie’s brother Craig, my deepest sympathy.