RIP Jack Falla

Jack Falla never forgot a face.

Many of his colleagues would tell you the same. Most of his students would welcome it as one of his most endearing traits.

Falla, a former hockey writer at Sports Illustrated and one of the most popular professors to roam the halls of Boston University’s School of Communication, died of heart failure yesterday in Maine, leaving a void in the Boston hockey and BU communities.

Of those students who took Falla’s 8 a.m. sports journalism class, few would complain about the early wake up call. He taught sports writing with a veteran enthusiasm that often can be missing in many of today’s lifers. His hockey work bled passion for the sport, and it is indeed somewhat fitting that the just-released book, “Reflections and Confessions of a Hockey Lifer,” will be his final work.

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I first met Jack at a career workshop in Boston during my junior year at St. Michael’s College, from where his daughter had recently graduated. Three years later, upon enrolling in the master’s program at BU, I leapt at the chance to take a class with the man, always taking the opportunity to get there 15 minutes early, when Jack would be all too eager to delve into a range of topics with a respectable amount of early-morning enthusiasm. Except of course, for Grantland Rice’s famed lede, for which he showed no love.

He was honest about the business of sports journalism, yet nor did he ever hint that the negatives ever outweighed the joy he got from his chosen work, which in life was only secondary to his family. The two were poignantly combined for his 2001 book, “Home Ice,” which dealt with Falla’s appreciation for the backyard ice rink, and the memories the venue stirred in him.

The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell wrote the following about Falla’s latest work on Friday:

That there is simply no more talented hockey storyteller on the planet is clearly evident after reading Open Ice. One of Falla’s many talents as a writer is his ability to take his reader deep inside the event and experience all the same emotions he is feeling. You feel as though you are sitting in the passenger’s seat as he drives home from Maurice Richard’s funeral, that your blades are digging into the ice on the Rideau Canal beside him, that you’re going through the same angst while trying to find the perfect pair of skates.

The insights he gives you are always, always poignant. He talks about the drive back from Richard’s funeral and how he burst into tears and cried like he had only a handful of times in his life.

“I cried less for Maurice Richard and his family and the French-Canadian people than for my own losses,” Falla wrote. “For a mother loved but incompletely grieved, for a grandmother loved but inadequately thanked, for a sense of my own Frenchness – the dominant half of who I am – nearly lost in the dark aftermath of death.”

In an interview with Pensburgh.com earlier this summer, Falla has this to say about his forthcoming work:

Open Ice is a collection of 13 essays that deals with mortality, as witnessed in my first essay about attending Rocket Richard’s funeral. This wound up being an essay on my own French-Canadian heritage from my mother’s side. My mother died young but the French-Canadian blood pumps hard through my veins, and when I went to that funeral I had a tremendous emotional reaction that I never expected to happen. There’s one that deals with aging. I talk a bit about my backyard rink again – I took a trip up to Georges Vezina’s grave up in Quebec and that led to a whole treatise on why we do what we do and how we choose to spend our lives. I guess it’s taking hockey as a lens and looking at life through the lens of the game. Home Ice was my backyard. I sort of wrote it from the inside out. For Open Ice, I go out and I skate the Rideau Canal and that was a reflection on aging and health and things of that sort.

Jack Falla leaves all of us with a hockey book on mortality. Today, a group of students in the BU COM building discovered the professor that some of them perhaps had just come to know over the past two weeks, is no longer with them. A mentor and friend, gone from their community.

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