The Canadian Hall of Fame Love-In
The induction of the first group to join the new Canadian Bridge Hall of Fame was a simple affair. Canadian bridge players wearing jeans, slacks and shorts crowded a good sized meeting room in the Markham hotel where the Canadian Team Championships are being held. Bruce Elliott was there along with Sami Kehela, Eric Murray and Sam Gold’s daughter from California (there to represent her father who passed away a few years ago). Bruce also represented his long-time partner Shorty Sheardown, the fifth inductee. One could not help but think that this year’s group was a fairly easy selection and over time the decisions for new members would get harder and perhaps a bit more controversial. As I sat in the room, I realized that I was there in a group of my friends. Fred Lerner had come down to find a team for the Seniors and had succeeded. Francine Cimon, a dear friend, sat next to me. Andy Altay, who went to high school with me, sat a row behind. A row ahead of me, John Gowdy was enjoying himself immensely. I had known these people, the older ones at least, for forty years. This was a place I belonged.
I think we all felt that way. There were no strangers in that room. CBF President Nader Hanna said a few words to get the ball rolling. He was one of the few people in that room dressed in a suit. John Carruthers, also well-dressed, came to the microphone. You could see he was used to dealing with Eric Murray who shouted out quips at every opportunity. When Eric asked him why he named him last in the list of inductees, John replied that it was for the same reason he told the ACBL that Eric should be the last one called upon in the Ceremony to induct him and others into the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame. It was because Eric was an impossible act to follow. “Anybody following you will just die.” I should say that Bruce Elliott didn’t sit there quietly either and was quite ready to throw in a one-liner from time to time.
John started off by talking about the accomplishment of each of the players: Shorty and Bruce and then Sam Gold. Sam had been a force in Canadian bridge, Canada’s second life master and a very fine player. JC talked about how Sami, who is not known to give undue praise, had said of Sam that he and Cohen had played as well or better than Murray and himself in a particular World Championship. Eric’s voice shouted out from along the head table; “He was wrong!” Joey Silver came up to talk about Sam Gold after John was finished. And the audience affectionately listened to Joey, who at times rambled with his remarks which were not prepared but were said lovingly. He talked about how Sam had been such an important influence on more than one generation of Montreal bridge players. Francine, sitting beside me, agreed. When he started to sit down but then came back up I couldn’t help but yell, “Next!” Joey’s trademark comment on BBO Vugraph when a deal is effectively over with but the players haven’t claimed yet.
Then it was Sami’s turn. JC talked about how Eric and Sami had both ‘table presence’ and a ’presence at the table’ causing even the great Italian star Giorgio Belladonna to revoke twice against them in the world championships. After John listed his many accomplishments, Sami surprised me by giving a speech himself. He talked about coming from England to Canada as a young man. Soon he met Eric, whose regular partner Doug Drury ‘had finally had enough, and escaped to California’. He told a story about how when he was extremely ill he had received a note from Eric which said sympathetically, ” I have been informed that you are dead or dying. If you pass on I will remember you as an adequate player with some bidding quirks.” You could tell from Sami’s stories the deep affection he had for Eric. Sami’s one regret was that he had never won a world championship, coming second many times to the Italians. As he put it; “When we played, for one reason or another the Blue Team were unbeatable.” Well said; we all understood the hidden meaning.
Finally it was Eric’s turn. After stating that Eric was the most successful Canadian bridge player ever, JC went on to describe too his many accomplishments as an administrator, how Murray had ended the Ontario Bridge League and brought Ontario into the ACBL and how he had been the driving force in creating the Canadian Bridge Federation. Ray and I were quite proud when John talked about Roy Hughes’ great book ‘Canada’s Bridge Warriors’, which chronicles the partnership of Eric and Sami. Then Mr. Murray got up. And he had plenty to say. He was as ever, a wonderful and amusing speaker. He even had some bridge hands to share as he took swipes at his fellow inductees Bruce and Sami. He described one hand where it had been passed to him in fourth chair. He had only a jack. He knew something was amiss and he could see Sami shaking across the table. So he thought he would have some fun. He pretended to study his hand for a while and then shake his head as if making a tough decision to pass and finally announced, ‘I have no majors so I pass’. Sami who held 21 high card points or so thought they had missed a slam. Eric let him suffer for a while and then finally showed him his hand. ‘And we got a top board!’ he crowed delightedly. The Elliott deal involved Bruce being on lead with two aces aginst 6NT doubled. Bruce cashed one of them, and then switched — eventually he had to throw away his remaining ace, and took the setting trick with the eight of diamonds!
But it wasn’t Eric’s humor or Sami’s affectionate stories or the list of accomplishments that made the evening great. After each player was presented with his award, everybody in the room, unasked, stood and applauded them. This was an audience of peers and each of us was acknowledging the great contribution made by these historic players. It wasn’t even the kind of standing ovation you sometimes give in the theater for an exceptional performance. This was more than that. It was a feeling that all of us in that room were comrades.