I’ll miss the calls.
Truth be told, there were times I’d sigh a little when his number came up on the phone on The Telegram sports desk.
It’s not that they wouldn’t be answered. After all, phone calls are a given in our business — we make more of them than we take. But the minor exasperation was in knowing — no matter how busy you were, no matter how much there was to be done, no matter the approaching deadline — that by answering, you were going to be locked in for a goodly period of time.
So as I reached for the phone, my sigh was accompanied by a little inner-aimed chuckle, knowing I was about I fall under Denis “Dee” Murphy’s spell again.
I would like to think he rang up just to talk and pass the time, and there may be something to that. But the reality is that there mostly was always a purpose behind the call from Dee, who could have been successful at a lot of things, including as a stage hypnotist whose power of suggestion proves to powerful to resist (just think of the posters — “The Man they Call Dee-Veen”).
Because Dee, who died Thursday at 82, was a conversationalist more than anything else. He made it an art form.
There were no question marks attached to Dee’s requests. Not that he couldn’t get what he wanted. It’s just that he could make that desired result seem like the result of some collective discussion.
And after the call ended — “I’ve got to roll, Dee,” I’d say. “You go do what you have to do,” he’d say … and a “say hello to Bette” and an exchange of God blesses — I’d hang up and immediately think, “Darn it. He did it again.”
I always figured the celestial bodies who decide such matters messed up, and had Dee born in the wrong century and on the wrong continent.
He belonged in the Europe of the 1800s when deal-making and alliances involving nations and royal families and vested interests was at its zenith. Dee would have been in much demand because of skills that could be applied to those endeavours, and more than anything, I know he would have enjoyed all of it — including the court intrigue — immensely.
(For an idea of what I’m talking about, read the Robin Short-penned obituary in Friday’s Telegram, which outlines how Dee’s mere presence at a 1965 meeting in Winnipeg led to the formation of the association that is now known as Softball Canada.)
Dee will always be associated with sports — as a coach, broadcaster, journalist, administrator and historian — particularly softball and the Regatta, but when it came to games, there was no one more adept at small “p” politics and negotiations.
He was a Gretzky of gregariousness, a Mantle of gentle manipulation, a Ronaldo of remembrance, an Ali of avoidance of being trapped in the corner of whatever ring he entered.
He was a little bit of a lot of others, but as a package, Dee was like nobody else. I know that’s said about many people, but it truthfully should be the first line of any definitive biography about the man.
Among those mourning Dee’s passing is just about every sports-related Hall of Fame in the province. He was a prodigious nominator and his submissions were easily identified, even when he was the ghost-writer.
Dee loved adjectives. I have come to believe that if he had ever been asked to name his favourite book, he would have said a thesaurus.
I’ve guessed that it was some sort of Smallwoodian influence, as the nominee and his or her accomplishment’s would be routinely described as “tremendous,” “exceptional,” and “marvellous,” sometimes all in the same sentence.
I’ve been on many committees who have such offerings, and yes, it could lead to some eye-rolling — “That’s Dee’s work!” — but the central fact is that he had taken the time and made the effort to research and write the nomination, where nobody else had.
To fill the resulting void in this area might take the work of a half-dozen others. I hope they are out there.
In recent years, illness made Dee pretty much house-bound. But while the rest of his body may have begun betraying him, his mind remained razor sharp. If anything, the hard-drive part of his brain was even more operational, as if to make up for the health shortcomings affecting the rest of the complicated mechanism that was Dee Murphy.
His work in sports — always aided by his wondrous partner and wife, Bette — continued right to the end. Sending out releases, making story suggestions, offering tidbits.
I often joked he was St. John’s version of Nero Wolfe, the substantial fictional detective who hardly ever left his home but still wielded tremendous influence on the world around him.
“I don’t know about that,” he’d say when the comparison was mentioned. “Then, it’s about the only thing you don’t know,” I’d retort.
These words are found in The Telegram’s sports section, because most folks will remember Dee as a sports personality (with the emphasis on personality), but more than anything Dee was a family man.
He was nothing but proud of his children and their children. And he loved them as an 80-year-old like he loved them when he was a young man and they were infants in the crib.
And he was always amazed at the fortune that had put an angel named Bette at his side for over 60 years. I’m sure he’s telling the other seraphim about her right now, even while he’s planning a new Hall of Fame, with Michael and Gabriel as the first inductees.
After that, he’ll probably sidle over to Burt Reynolds, who also died Thursday at the age of 82, and ask him if he knew fellow actor Victor Mature, who was good friends with St. John’s broadcaster Aubrey Mac during the Second World War, when Mature was with the U.S. Coast Guard, based out of St. John’s (yes, Dee told me that one).
And of course, he’ll be determined to establish some sort of familial link between Burt and former St. John’s city councillor Paul Reynolds.
As I read this back to myself, I have come to realize this is but surface-scratching when it comes to remembering Dee. Which is OK, as there will be plenty of people filling in the gaps in the coming days.
But it is time to wrap this up. The phone might ring at any time.