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George Kimball was truly one of a kind

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  July 8, 2011 12:28 PM

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George Kimball, who died Wednesday at age 67, was an undeniably great writer, and I do not use that adjective recklessly. In terms of sheer, graceful, witty prose, George Kimball may very well have been as facile as anyone who has ever written on sports in Boston.

His area of greatest professional fame and expertise was boxing. But he was far more than a one-trick journalistic pony. As a columnist for the Boston Phoenix and Boston Herald for more than three decades he put his stamp on anything and everything. He was conversant with all the major sports (well, maybe not hockey so much), and he was as good a writing friend as the New England Revolution, or any previous Boston-oriented soccer team, could hope to have.

Long before he began treating Boston readers to his musings, he was a published novelist and contributor to many diverse "literary" publications having nothing to do with sports.

You can look all this stuff up.

But the reason why so many of us will miss George Kimball is, shall we say, his off-the-field self. If one were to conduct a poll of local writers, broadcasters, team officials and even players who have worked in Boston during the last 35 years or so, the question being, "Who is the most absolutely memorable personality you have encountered in the writing business?" the runaway winner --- perhaps even the unanimous choice --- would have to be George Kimball.

That is, unless you know of some other bearded, one-eyed, chain-smoking, beer drinking, pot-bellied (I say this lovingly) vegetarian writer friend of Hunter S. Thompson who never saw a party he didn't like.

Esophegeal cancer got George in the end, but it took a fight. As his friend Michael Gee pointed out in the Friday Herald, he didn't battle cancer as much as he ignored it. Cancer wasn't going to get in the way of George having a good time.

George Kimball extracted every last ounce of life out of Life. He was the kind of guy around whom myths abounded. Did he really lose that eye in a bar fight? Was he really prevented from setting foot in the state of Kansas because he would have been arrested were he to do so? Is there anyone who can testify that he or she really did ask George to "keep an eye on my chair" en route a bathroom trip, only to find George's glass eye greeting him or her upon returning? And there's lots more stories where these come from.

Quick question: was he the last man on earth to smoke Lucky Strikes?

He was quite a sight. The aforementioned belly, the product, he said, of many a beer, announced his presence long before there was any sign of the rest of him. The beard. The eye. The almost laughable thought that this man, who so abused his body, really did pass up the meat at the buffet in favor of the salad. I mean, really. What was that all about?

George Kimball was good-hearted, generous and just plain fun to be around. Anyone who read him could appreciate his enormous talent. Only those of us who knew him got the benefit of the full package. I like to be judicious with the use of the words "always" and "never," but I am quite confidently saying that we will never encounter anyone in this business quite like George Kimball.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
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Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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