Brownie Andrews in a league of his own 0
The Pembroke Little Lumber Kings, 1949-50 ODHA champions and winners of the Citizen Shield. Back (left to right): Keith Carnegie, Jack Douglas, Grant Grolway, Ellard Gutzman, Morris Snider; middle (left to right): Dave Watt, Des Wagner, Peter Morris, Charlie Beland, Eddie Cusson, Henry Aubry, Paul Godin; front (left to right): Vern “Bun” Schrie, Don “Brownie” Andrews, Jack McDonald, Wally Gimson, Grant Gareau.
When someone is said to be “passionate” about something or someone, that can be taken in several ways. The dictionary defines “passionate” as “having strong feelings for,” and those feelings can run the gamut from love to hate. They can also go beyond the standard boundaries to include obsession or loathing. Any way you cut it, someone who is passionate about something lives, eats and breathes it, almost to the exclusion of anything else.
The term is used most commonly to describe sports fans. Those travelling gangs of soccer fans are definitely passionate, but sometimes their adoration of the beautiful game gets sullied by their thirst for ale and a quick dust-up. Baseball fans have been known to attend World Series games year after year, or take holidays to visit different stadiums around the world to soak in the atmosphere that can only be experienced at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. And there is no limit to the extremes hockey fans will push themselves, from playoff fever in Motor City to accompanying their favourite team on an extended road trip.
All this to give context to the passion that drove Don “Brownie” Andrews during most of his eight-plus decades on this earth – sports, more sports and some statistics for good measure.
Brownie passed away recently, leaving behind Eileen, his wife of 58 years, son Mike, daughter Donna, son-in-law Randy and granddaughter Ashley.
Those who knew Brownie knew he lived for sports, and it was much more than a retirement hobby because it began at an early age. An athlete from the time he could lace his own skates, Brownie learned the game of shinny on a variety of outdoor rinks in his neighbourhood before graduating to the smooth surfaces of the MacKay Street Arena. And when the ice melted in the spring, he wouldn’t miss a beat, trading the leather skates for a leather glove and pursuing his summertime passion – baseball. All the while, he would listen to radio broadcasts of World Series games and NHL contests, keeping score and charting individual performances in meticulous notebooks that would become a life-long pursuit of statistical perfection.
Art Gallagher was a childhood friend of Brownie’s and remembers his chum as single-minded about sports.
“We played sandlot baseball and even then he would dive for balls or into bases, his desire to win was so great,” Gallagher recalled recently. “And when it was too dark to play any more, he would head home to listen to a game on the radio and record his statistics from the evening.”
Brownie grew up in a halcyon era for sports in Pembroke, before the addiction to television kept people inside. Crowds were plentiful at arenas and ball parks, and he grew up with a group of athletes who were household names around town for their heroics on the ice or the ball field.
In the late 1940’s he graduated from the minor hockey ranks to make the Little Lumber Kings, the monicker for Pembroke’s junior team back then. Gallagher said the 1949-50 version of that team revived the interest in junior hockey only because the senior team had met an unexpectedly early exit from the playoffs so fans turned to the juniors for their post-season excitement.
“The juniors drew only a handful of fans to their games back then, but all of a sudden they were playing in front of a thousand or more because they were the only game in town and they wound up winning the ODHA championship that year, beating Buckingham in the finals,” Gallagher said. “People were following them all over and there was a lot of excitement when they won the championship, which started a following that continued year after year.”
Brownie was a hard-nosed left winger who formed a real rapport on the ice with Grant Grolway, providing the balance and secondary scoring behind the more celebrated “G-Line” of Paul Godin, Grant Gareau and Ellard Gutzman.
It was during that memorable playoff run that a pert brunette named Eileen Buder caught Brownie’s eye and they quickly became an item, eventually tying the knot in 1954.
“I guess you could say I was a ‘puck bunny’ back then, but watching hockey was the thing to do,” Eileen said with a smile.
While he was earning his stripes on the hockey rink, Brownie was also making a name for himself on the ball diamond. The North Renfrew Baseball League was in its prime back then, and attracted huge crowds to games at Centenary Park, especially for the playoffs when it was common to see 3,000 people at a game. Graduating from juvenile baseball, Brownie joined the Pembroke Pirates at the right time as they began a dynasty that saw them capture four NRBL and Ottawa Valley baseball championships in five years. Originally a pitcher, he threw his arm out one warm summer’s night and had to learn how to play the outfield but that didn’t detract from his ability to hit the ball, which he did with great regularity. Gallagher said Brownie, Greg Charette and Tommy Lesnick were the backbones of the Pirates in the 1950’s.
“They were steady and reliable, not real flashy but they got the job done,” he said.
Obviously an athlete involved in a game couldn’t keep statistics, but the local paper covered the hockey and ball games religiously back then, and Brownie never missed cutting out the clippings on those contests, as well as games involving his friends or other folks he didn’t even know. They migrated into scrapbooks that became his lifetime companions.
The ‘man cave’
Many people talk about having a ‘man cave’ but few could hope to achieve the shrine that was the basement of the Andrews home in west end Pembroke. Take the Hockey Hall of Game, the Baseball Hall of Fame and the North American Sports Hall of Fame and throw them all together and you have some idea of what the space is like.
Walking through this series of rooms is not only a test of agility, for no path is without its obstacles as decades of collecting have filled shelves, bookcases and boxes to overflowing, but also a test of concentration for no sooner does one thing catch your eye, than another memento vies for attention.
There are old photos – hundreds of them, chronicling the sporting life of a young man in 1940s and ‘50s Pembroke, including some great teams and iconic players. And the books – everywhere you look, there are shelves of books of all sizes and shapes, from very early editions of the Hockey News to annual collections of Street and Smith’s Baseball Yearbook. There is also at least one of virtually every book that was ever published about sports, especially hockey and baseball. And given prominence are several copies of Harold Garton’s books on “Hockey Town Canada,” of which Brownie was a significant contributor with his stories, statistics and photographs.
Not to be outdone are notebooks and binders full of statistics, covering decades of sporting events.
Many of the records and stories and clippings in Brownie’s basement were the result of his weekly visits to the Pembroke Public Library.
“Every Wednesday for years, he had a spot reserved on the microfiche machine at the library and he would scour old newspapers for hours on end,” said son-in-law Randy Ennis.
To actually take the time and sit down to chronicle all of this material would take, as Randy says, “at least as many years as it took Brownie to compile it all.”
No recounting of Brownie Andrews’ life would be complete without mention of the other passion that occupied a fair portion of his basement – his love of country music.
As many hours as he spent watching games, recording stats and listening to breathless play-by-play announcers on the radio, so too did Brownie devote serious time to recording and playing his country favourites, from George Jones to Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley and everyone in between. He had pen pals all over the world he would record music for and send them tapes, for obviously theirs was a shared passion but none had a record collection as vast as did Brownie.
To be fair, Brownie did not possess every corner and room in the sizeable basement of their home, for Eileen was – and still is – also a passionate afficionado of sewing, quilting and needlepoint. Her hand-made crafts have been all over the world, soldiers and aid workers having taken them to places like Afghanistan and Bosnia to keep cold children warm in the midst of war. She has dozens of quilts stacked in the basement, with hundreds of boxes of material waiting for her next burst of creative inspiration.
To say theirs was a passionate marriage would not be inaccurate, only that they had their separate passions. But they adored their children and shared a love of the family cottage at Lake Dore, which was sold a few years ago when it became too much for them to look after. Theirs was a close family with a strong faith that got them through some trying times, especially when their oldest son Steve died while saving someone’s life after they went through the ice on the Ottawa River.
Brownie Andrews may not have been one who could be described as a “mover and shaker,” for he never sought the spotlight, but he was, without question, one of the most prolific sports fans Pembroke has ever known. His legacy will be a stunning collection that chronicles a half-century of sports highlights, from an era when sports was king in the Ottawa Valley.
– Peter Lapinskie is managing editor of The Daily Observer.