Monday, May 24, 2021

Remembering Bruce Gardner: 50 Years After his Death

On June 7, 1971 Bruce Gardner took his own life at the Bovard Baseball Athletic Field, University of Southern California LA campus, at the age of 32 years old. I did not want the 50th anniversary of his death to pass without sharing my memories of our brief time together. 

Baseball Career 

Bruce was an outstanding college pitching star who was named College Player of the Year at USC in 1960. Previously while still in high school, Bruce was scouted and offered a contract by the LA Dodgers which he turned down in favour of an athletic scholarship to USC to get a college education. While still at USC, he tried out and was offered a huge signing bonus by the Chicago White Sox. As he was underage his mother had to sign for him. His mother (encouraged by Bruce’s USC coach) refused to sign the contract as she wanted him to complete his college education first. Bruce never forgave his mother for making this decision. 

After college, Bruce played in the minor leagues, never making it to the majors. His baseball career was shortened due to an injury to his pitching arm sustained while he was fulfilling a military obligation at Fort Ord, California in 1962. He later continued to play in the minor leagues; however, he never fully regained the strength in his arm and on September 30, 1964 he was officially released. His lifelong dream of a professional baseball career would never be realized. He lived the rest of his life with regret for not having signed with the Chicago White Sox while still in college, and with anger towards his mother and one of his coaches for preventing him from doing so. 

In a typewritten suicide note, Bruce wrote in part: 

“I saw no value in my college education. I saw life going downhill every day and it shaped my attitude toward everything and everybody.  Everything and every feeling that I visualized with my earned and rightful start in baseball was the focal point of continuous failure.  No pride of accomplishment, no money, no home, no sense of fulfillment, no leverage, no attraction.  A bitter past, blocking any accomplishment of a future except age. I brought it to a halt tonight at 32.” 

In that era very few prospective pitchers started their career by playing college ball, and if they did it was only until they were scouted and invited by the pros. One wonders how Bruce’s life would have been different if his mother had allowed him to accept the Chicago White Sox offer while he was still underage. 

More can be learned about Bruce’s life, his thwarted baseball career and his suicide in the article “An American Tragedy” written by Ira Berkow and Murray Olderman, published in the August 31, 1980 issue of “Inside Sports”, which was mailed to me by the girlfriend I went to Puerto Vallarta with.  It was also published under the title “Death on the Mound” in the “Washington Post”  August 17, 1980.

Meeting Bruce 

In the above articles, the authors report that on a trip to Puerto Vallarta in 1970, Bruce fell in love with a girl from Vancouver named Donna.

I went with a girlfriend on a two week vacation to Mexico in March 1970 with the first week spent at the brand new “Camino Real” hotel in Puerto Vallarta right on the beach.  Puerto Vallarta was into vogue at that time benefiting from the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton saga being played out in their villa there. The hotel put on a social evening for its guests in its lovely lounge open to the ocean and the setting sun. Bruce and I met there and danced to the romantic Mariachi orchestra. He had a dazzling outgoing personality. 

For the few days that our Puerto Vallarta vacations overlapped, we enjoyed swimming, beach walking and touring. Bruce tried parachute gliding, with great success. 

Bruce talked about his upbringing, his lost dream of a baseball career in the majors and his mother’s influence on him and his career choices. He appeared to be struggling emotionally not knowing how to get on with his life. 

“Mañana Donna” 

Inspired by romance, Bruce (who was also a professional jazz pianist) sat down at the piano in the hotel lounge the evening we met and started to compose a song for me, tinkering with the key, melody, timing and poem.  When I met up with him the next day he told me he had stayed up late that night to complete and polish his composition.  “Mañana Donna” was the result, which he happily played and sang for me. He later mailed me the musical score (below is the introduction):

Visit to Vancouver, BC 

After returning home from our vacations (Bruce to Los Angeles and I to Vancouver), we kept in touch by phone and letters. Bruce sent me lovely gifts of perfume and flowers. He wanted me to move to Los Angeles to be with him, but I could not see that happening.  He came to Vancouver for 4 or 5 days in June, 1970.  We did lots of sightseeing, including a ferry ride to Victoria, BC and back, Stanley Park, QE Park and dinners out.  

He met my family and attended the rehearsal and evening ceremony for the installation of my younger sister, Linda, as Honoured Queen of Job’s Daughters.  He jumped right in and helped with the advance preparations for the ceremony including helping us write the tribute to the outgoing Honoured Queen. At the rehearsal he serenaded everyone by playing the piano for a couple of hours.  He was outgoing and friendly; everyone loved him.

Bruce also spent an afternoon with my brother Ken, who was 15 at the time.  Bruce wanted to teach Ken the finer points of baseball so they went to the local ballpark where Bruce hit pop balls deep into the field for Ken to catch.  He and Ken also practiced catching and then with Ken on the mound, Bruce taught him how to throw a curve ball, how to hold his hand and how to release the ball. Ken was one of the pitchers for his 13 – 15 year-old boys baseball team and he  became a very good pitcher thanks to the great training Bruce gave him that one afternoon. Ken’s curve ball proved frightening to the younger players at bat. 

Saying Goodbye

 As the next few months went by, Bruce and I realized we did not have a future together.  I met the man of my dreams in December 1970 and became engaged in June 1971. I wrote Bruce to tell him the news.  To my shock a couple of weeks later I received a call from a friend of his in LA to tell me that Bruce had committed suicide and that my letter had arrived just after his death. It was only in December 1980 that I learned more details about Bruce’s life and his suicide from the article “An American Tragedy” which my travel friend mailed to me from the US.  Rest in Peace, Bruce. You are not forgotten.




Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Spanish Banks

Have so much enjoyed walking at low tide at Spanish Bank with friends - right out to the markers!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

48 Years Ago

Here we are, 48 years ago as of May 22, 1972, leaving our wedding reception at Cecil Green Park, for our Honeymoon!  How much has happened, so many adventures, travels, new family members, new homes, career changes, grey hair!  But what a wonderful life I had with my beloved Neil.

And this was our first home, a basement condo in Kerrisdale, where Neil carried me over the threshold after we returned from our honeymoon on the Oregon Coast.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Street Views

I have a favourite walking route, which I try to do every day to keep active.  It combines residential and a park like ravine.  Today I took pictures of a few neighbourhood houses that I love, either for their traditional charm, their architecture or their gardens so that I could share them with my blog readers.  Here are today's selection:

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

MOA Exhibition: "Playing with Fire"

Margaret and I visited the MOA Sunday after our walk at Spanish Banks, in order to see the special exhibition "Playing with Fire" which was to close March 29, 2020, but is finished now due to the closure of the museum.  This exhibition brought together many BC artists who work in clay/ceramics, each of whom created very different works of art. A few pictures:

Alywn O'Brien:

A Matter of Shadows

Jeremy Hatch: Tree House

Ying-Yueh Chuang "Cross"

Other artists:

Bill Rennie:

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Beauty of Spanish Banks

No matter how many times in your life you walk along the seashore at Spanish Banks, you are struck by its beauty and the changing scenes of the mountains, ocean and the freighters. Walked there both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Oxford UK: Day 4

The Perch: An Oxford institution as old as the university. On Sunday, Sam arranged for the family to go the The Perch, a historic pub outside of Oxford, for lunch. 

From their website: The Perch is one of Oxford’s oldest pubs. Just a few minutes walk from the Isis (Oxford’s stretch of the Thames) and Port Meadow, a historic common stretching from Jericho to Wolvercote. In the summer, our garden is the envy of the whole city, and our 17th century plaster-rubble building with its traditional thatched roof will charm even the most seasoned pub-goers.There’s been a pub on our site for at least 800 years. In those 800 years, we’ve been a favourite of some of Britain’s best poets and authors, a frequent haunt of Inspector Morse, and even an influential venue on the British Jazz scene. In Spring 2015, we conducted a full scale renovation to bring a traditional pub into the modern world, and ensure we’ll be around for the next 800 years. We provide a refuge for everyone who loves great food and drink – whether they’re thirsty students, hungry walkers, exploring families, muddy dogs, adventurous visitors or wedding parties.

Had a great meal of fish and chips, and then walked all around the area.  Much flooding of pasture lands.

Oxford UK: Day 3 Celebratory Dinner

The evening after the graduation ceremony, Sam arranged for all the family to go for dinner to a fairly new restaurant in Oxford – “The Ivy Oxford Brasserie”.  What a special treat that was! The menu is an eclectic mix of modern British comfort food and international dishes. The décor was botanical style, very comfortable. Had a wonderful time.

Oxford UK: Day 3 Sam's Graduation

Saturday morning, Ken and I walked to the Sheldonian Theatre, to attend Sam’s graduation ceremony, the special purpose of this trip.  Sam received his DPhil International Relations (PhD) as a graduate of Christ Church Collage.

From the Sheldonian Theatre website: “Elegant and strong in design, marvellously rich in craftsmanship, the Theatre has admirably served its purpose for nearly over 350 years, and today still provides a dignified and superb setting for ceremonial occasions. 
Located in Oxford’s medieval city centre, the Sheldonian Theatre is the principal assembly room of the University, and the regular meeting place of Congregation, the body which controls the University’s affairs. All public ceremonies of the University are performed here, notably the annual Encaenia.
"The University acquired the site soon after the Restoration, and in 1664 to 1669 the present theatre was erected. Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury and a former Warden of All Souls, met the entire cost of the build and so gave his name to the building.
The architect was a young Christopher Wren, then Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, with as yet little practical experience of building. Inspired by drawings of Roman theatres, he adopted their D-shaped plan. However, the open arena of Rome, unsuited to the English climate, had to be covered.”
The PhD  graduates paraded into the Theatre, were presented to the Vice- Chancellor and then after other students received their certificates, the PhD graduates paraded in again, this time in their red/navy gowns signifying their doctorate status. Very impressive.

Sam, shaking hand of Vice-chancellor

Oxford UK: Day 2 - Walking Tours

On Friday, February 28, Sam took the family on a walking tour of the sights of Oxford beginning with his Alma Mater, Christ Church College. There we saw the famous sights of the Library, Christ Church Cathedral and the Dining Hall (where scenes from Harry Potter movies were filmed).

The beautiful, traditional Library:

The Cathedral:

The very special Dining Hall:

Then on to see many other colleges and their groups (there are about 38 colleges in Oxford now):

River was very high