Former Gazette hockey columnist Red Fisher dies — here are some obituaries to read

Red Fisher died on Friday. The legendary writer (one of the few people I don’t hesitate to use that overused term for) covered the Montreal Canadiens for the Montreal Star and Gazette from 1955 until he retired in 2012, covering 17 of the team’s 24 Stanley Cups and earning the admiration and respect of an entire industry.

He comes from another era of sports journalism, when a reporter could talk directly with the players outside of well-managed availabilities authorized by the PR department, when they could exchange information off the record, and players would even ask advice from an encyclopedia of hockey.

I don’t have any personal stories about Fisher. We spoke a handful of times, and by “spoke” I mean I was occasionally the sports editor receiving his postgame story and he would call to confirm I had received it and I would say yes before we both hung up. But there is no shortage of writers in the industry who sprang into action to pay tribute to the man, sharing stories that you’d think were too good to be true. News outlets all over published news stories about his passing, and TV and radio outlets interviewed people who knew him.

I won’t even try to compile all the social media reaction because there’s just too much of it. (Stu Cowan has been retweeting a lot of it and NBC Sports has compiled some of them.) Instead, here are some well-written obituaries by people who knew Fisher well and are honouring him as he should be — with words:

  • Michael Farber, for the Montreal Gazette: “He was a distinctive writer, often bypassing the who-what-where-why journalism conventions for something as informative but more stylish, punctuated with tics and flourishes that hardened into an inimitable style.” (Farber also spoke to TSN and TSN 690)
  • Dave Stubbs, “There isn’t a player Red covered, an owner or general manager whose team he was around, or reader who absorbed his every typed or broadcast word who doesn’t have a memory or a story to share.”
  • Ken Campbell, The Hockey News: “Fisher was unique in that he was close to the team – in fact Beauchamp referred to him as “part of our family” – but he had the integrity to be critical and tough, but fair, when warranted.”
  • Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press: “Fisher was often seen as curmudgeonly and foul-tempered, but he was also a no-nonsense reporter who broke scores of stories and seemed to know everything that was going on in Montreal and around the league. He was an insider before “insider” became a sports media job description.”
  • Jack Todd, Montreal Gazette: “To be very good at anything he does, a man has to be many things. To be great, to have influence that radiates in all directions, a man has to fit with his time and place. Red meshed with his time and in many ways defined it, to an extraordinary degree.”
  • Pat Hickey, Montreal Gazette: “The one quality that impressed me the most was his humanity. He was often described as a curmudgeon, but his body of work is filled with stories that reflect his concern for people.”
  • Bertrand Raymond, RDS: “Il était comme ça, Red. Le plus grand journaliste sportif de son époque est parti sans qu’on sache vraiment qui il était vraiment. C’était un être mystérieux. Était-il vraiment maussade, voire morose, ou jouait-il simplement une game? Était-ce une façade tout ça? S’était-il forgé une image au fil du temps afin de bien délimiter son territoire?”
  • Sean Gordon, Globe and Mail: He joined the Canadiens beat in the days of train trips and fedoras, when television was in its infancy, and he retired in a world of nine-digit contract extensions, live streaming and social media. Over that time, he became synonymous with the sport in Montreal and beyond.
  • Arpon Basu, The Athletic: The public image he portrayed – and cultivated – is nothing like how his friends describe him. And he had so many friends. Which obviously goes in direct contrast to that public persona, the great myth of Red Fisher the grump.

If other columns get published, I’ll add the best of them to this list.

(As a bonus, here’s Red Fisher on a 1983 episode of Hockey Magazine on CFCF-12, chatting with Dick Irvin.)

UPDATE (Jan. 20): The Canadiens paid tribute to Fisher before the start of Saturday’s game against the Bruins. There was also a toast in his honour by the media.

UPDATE (Jan. 24): Fisher’s funeral was today. His official death notice is here. And I guess the cat’s out of the bag about Red’s real first name being Saul.

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