Wednesday 5 September 2012

Eulogy for my dad: Good-bye Larry Fredericks

Since our father’s passing on Monday, we have been overwhelmed with condolences from friends, family and admirers for the man known to many as Larry Fredericks.
Many had the same question I have been answering for most of my nearly 50 years on earth: where did the name Larry Fredericks come from and why?
Born Lawrence Frederick Cohen, his mother wanted him to be a chartered accountant. But  while working towards  his Bachelor of Commerce Degree from McGill he was romanced by the field of broadcast journalism. When he showed up for his first summer  job in radio in Cornwall, Ontario, he made the executive decision to change Lawrence to Larry , drop the Cohen and just go with Fredericks. “It sounded a lot more dynamic,” he would tell us repeatedly.
Larry in celebration mode last November.
And so it went. I grew up as the son of Larry Fredericks, who by that time was a popular and well established   personality on radio station CKVL and the Montreal sports correspondent for United Press International. As a broadcaster, he covered every genre - news, classical and popular music shows, remote broadcasts, elections, talent shows and much more. Sports occupied  a very important place in his life.  My brother Chuck and I caught the bug early, which often led to mom and my sister Lisa’s sighs as we dashed from the dinner table each night to watch the TV sportscast on the old CFCF.

Larry proudly served as the public address announcer for McGill and Concordia football games and drew cheers from the crowd for his trademark call “The minute flag is ...up.”

As I wrote on my Suburban blog the day he died, at the age of 77, Larry was not only my dad. He was my best friend. I looked forward to our daily phone calls, lunches and family gatherings. He had such an amazing sense of humour. Sports naturally produced a special bond. But he was a family man, first and foremost. Family vacations, frequent visits to the movie theatres and great dinners were always on the menu.  He also coached our hockey teams   I did indeed want to follow in his footsteps covering professional sports in the city. Through my teen years he promised, “When you are 18 and in CEGEP, it will happen.”
And it did. He got me a press pass to the Montreal Expos as one  of his assistants for United Press. He had previously paved the way for me  to get a sports column in The Suburban, under the name Mike Fredericks I might add. When I moved over to the - The Monitor, I switched back to Mike Cohen. I started  referring to him as Larry back then out of habit. It just did not seem right to shout “Hey dad”  across the pressbox or Canadiens dressingroom.
Much to dad’s delight I applied and was accepted into the Concordia Journalism Program.  . I continued to dabble in journalism, found fulltime employment in the field of communications and marketing and seven years ago entered politics as well. Each step of the way my parents were there behind me.
When he turned 60, Larry took early retirement. He spent a considerable amount of time at the local Y – albeit most of it at the coffee shop there  He generously provided lifts to anyone in the family who required transportation and would frequently appear at my school board office carrying a delicious care package from my mom. And he even did some acting as a member of ACTRA
As my sister Lisa wrote on her blog, “He was a super extroverted person who  spoke to anyone and he listened. He was liked and recognized for his skill in getting everyone to open up and tell him their life stories. Lisa  was not the world’s biggest sports fan, but she shared with me the other day how one of her proudest moments was then day she was playing for her high school women’s basketball team. She looked up in the stands and there was Larry cheering her on. It is a moment she has never forgotten. Lisa was there by his side when he was in crisis . She deeply cared for him.

Larry loved being a grandfather. And in the case of my daughter Alex, he was often in the audience to see her ballet recital, Glee concert or school musical.  He was very proud of all her accomplishments.  He loved it when Alex, myself and my wife Lanie came over for dinner or had him over to our place. 
My mom spent over 50 years with him - her best friend since they met on a double date at 18 yrs of age. He was with another girl and she was with another guy and my dad called my mother up after that date and asked her out and the rest was history.  He was her constant chauffeur, driving her to interviews in her role with the Canadian Jewish News. They loved discussing the news of the day and going out with friends. And boy, did he appreciate her cooking!
“Lawrence,” she told me, “ was blessed with a deep, mellow voice and he enunciated every word, so that nobody missed a syllable. He was interested in everyone – whether a clerk in a store or a sports celebrity..  (I always felt confident and proud whenever I went anywhere with him.  He   (had a knack for approaching people. They recognized his good humor. He had a photographic memory and could remember everything. He was a good raconteur and avid listener.” 

I also want to mention his older brother Erwin. They had a very special relationship, communicated daily and simply had a lot of fun together. Erwin and Carole, thanks for being there these last few months for both Larry and my mom.
Just last spring he stood at the podium with me as co-emcee of the annual Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation Sports Celebrity Breakfast – an event he looked forward to each year. He showed then that he still had that magic behind the microphone.  It ended up serving as his final public appearance.
When he was hospitalized in May and his medical condition continued to worsen, I continued to hold out hope.  Over the last two decades, unbeknownst to many around him, he had already suffered some serious health setbacks. Every time we  questioned his ability to return to his old form, he would bounce back. Slowly… but a comeback nonetheless.  “Nobody should count Larry Fredericks out!!!” he would proclaim to me proudly. Yes, each time he walked a little slower.  But he remained independent and able to do the things that brought him joy in his life.  However the injury he sustained in May was too great for him to overcome, and led to numerous medical problem which became critical. He spent the last four months in a nursing home battling for his health. We were all there regularly to see him: mom, Chuck, Lisa, Erwin, Carole, Uncle Allan and Lanie.  Lanie made sure to visit Larry and speak to him on the phone frequently during his hospital stay, Larry, in fact, asked me to get her on the phone as he found her voice and counsel comforting. At the very end I know he was comforted by the fact she was in the room, holding his hand and speaking to him softly. She is a caring individual who helped me greatly in my dealings with the medical staff. Her main concern was for Larry not to suffer.
Last Friday night, when he was re-admitted to St. Mary’s, barely conscious, Larry looked up at my brother Chuck and I and announced that he had three days to live. Neither of us thought that was remotely possible, but Monday he passed. We held his hands, told him how much we loved him and let him go. It was the hardest thing we ever had to do.
We miss you already. You will never be forgotten.

For audio of the funeral ceremony and eulogies , click here.

Monday 3 September 2012

Mourning the passing of my dad: Larry Fredericks

 My best friend died today. Lawrence Frederick Cohen, better known  by his stage name of Larry Fredericks, was 77 years old when he passed away. He was hospitalized in May for a back injury and sadly saw his health deteriorate significantly over the past few months. Last Friday he was rushed to St. Mary’s with internal bleeding and a variety of other issues, admitted to ICU and from there things went very fast. It is still difficult to process everything.
Larry in his younger days

Larry was a loving husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather. A veteran of 40 plus years in the broadcast and media business, he served as my role model growing up. Larry was one of the original writers for The Suburban Newspaper, penning the Sports Final column. He continued to contribute to the paper until very recently. His golden voice made him a popular figure on Montreal radio for decades, with the former CKVL. He covered professional sports for United Press International, served as the public address announcer at McGill University football games and volunteered in many capacities for the City of Côte Saint-Luc. That included coaching the hockey teams of my brother and I. For the last number of years we worked on the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation Sports Celebrity Breakfast together as co-emcees. A number of health setbacks forced him to miss a few editions. But last March, there he was before the microphone helping me introduce our star studded group of guests.
Larry and my mom at their 50th wedding anniversary three years ago.

I called him “Larry” because we worked professional together for so many years covering Montreal’s pro sports team. It just did not seem appropriate to shout “hey dad across a press box or dressing room.”

For two years we actually co-hosted the Montreal Expos pre and post game shows on the old CIQC Radio.   These were proud and exciting moments for all of us. Sports produced a deep bond between Larry, myself and my brother. Even sister Lisa expressed some interest from time to time. My mother Elaine was a saint, taking care of three kids many evenings while Larry was out covering games, in an effort to bring in some additional revenue at home which he would put towards fun summer vacations.

See  Brian Wilde's tribute on CTV Sports.

I grew up begging my dad to let me work with him in the press box . He made sure we had tickets for all of the games and every now and then he would use his connections to get us special access to the players.

“When you are 18 and in CEGEP I will let you come cover the games with me,” he promised.

Larry lived up to that big time. There I was, in the Expos press box for opening day in 1981. He got me a break to write for The Suburban, The Monitor and then at The Sunday Express. His volunteer work in Côte Saint-Luc prompted me to do the same and contributed my desire to run for city council, which I did successfully seven years ago.  He was proud of the work I did at the English Montreal School Board and dropped by the office on a regular basis just to say hello and chat with my colleagues.
We spoke almost every day. Several times in fact if there was something significant going on in the local sports scene.  The man had an incredible sense of humour; personable as can be. Everyone wanted to be his friend.

As a father he was always there when I needed him. “Be careful,” was the way he ended all of our phone calls.

While I approach my 50th birthday, he still called me “sweetheart.”

There are so many pleasant memories I have about him. Today he was taken from us quicker than we ever imagined. I will have more to say as I continue to collect my thoughts prior to his funeral at Paperman and Sons on Wednesday at noon.

Rest in Peace my dear father. I love you,
Here is a video of Larry's last appearance as co-emcee at the Sports Celebrity Breakfast in March.