My dad Hank Walsh Jr. (of Irish descent) turned 70 years old on March 10, 2008.
Unfortunately he passed away only seven days later on March 17 — which, of course, is St. Patrick’s Day — after a long battle with cancer. Those who were fortunate enough to have known him would’ve remembered him as a very nice person, a family man and a hard worker.
But in his younger days, Dad was known as quite a boxer. I have a lifetime of memories and stories about him and since this March would mark 10 years of his passing I would like to share one with you.
Ron Howard, the actor/director, released a movie in 2005 called “Cinderella Man.” This movie was based on the professional Irish-American heavyweight boxer Jim Braddock, who fought during the 1930s.
Jim also was known as a very nice person, a family man, a hard worker and quite the boxer. He grew up very poor, working any job just to keep his family fed, but he had a thirst for boxing that needed quenched. He finally got his shot at the heavyweight title, defeating the defending champion Max Baer in 1935.
I just knew my dad would enjoy this movie, so I called him and asked if he would like to see it. We made plans for the following evening. The movie was not playing in Ottawa, so we drove to the Peru Mall cinemas.
Once we were there and after standing in line for popcorn and drinks, we took our seats in the auditorium. The movie was great, but for me it was the ride home that was very memorable.
My dad was no bragger and he didn’t speak very often about his boxing days, but that evening was different. While driving east on Interstate 80, my dad — in a soft spoken manner — shared numerous boxing stories with me, with one being better than the other.
I found myself driving below the speed limit so we wouldn’t get back so soon. The evening did, however, end as I pulled into my parents’ driveway. Dad and I walked into the house and told my mother about the movie.
I do not like using the word “regret” in my life very often, but that evening was different. I do regret I didn’t drive my dad to a theater in the Quad Cities, so we could’ve had a longer ride home, and hear more of those great stories of days gone by.
St. Patrick's Day will always be bittersweet to my family and me, but to all, Erin Go Bragh.
• HANK WALSH III is a lifelong Ottawa-area resident and owner of the American Sportsman Show and Hall of Fame as well as the La Salle County Motor Sports Hall of Fame.