Saint John, New Brunswick

Charles Gorman

Not a year goes by that Greg Pierce doesn't pay tribute
to champion speed skater Charles (Champ) Gorman

Times Globe staff writer

    A simple but generous act of love can have a powerful impact on a young life.

    Just ask Greg Pierce, an 86-year-old Halifax man who still pays tribute every Feb.11 to Saint John's legendary world champion speed skater, Charles I. (Champ) Gorman, by placing an In Memoriam notice in Saint John's newspapers.

    Mr. Gorman died in 1940 at age 42, but Mr. Pierce's notice to his "beloved friend" this year - nearly six decades later - was a simple, but tell-tale verse:

He lives in memory with us still,
Not just for today,
But always will.

    Already Mr. Pierce's boyhood hero, the good-hearted Mr. Gorman won a friend for life - and in death, as it has turned out - by purchasing a new bicycle for the young lad that enabled him to become a top-notch messenger with CN Telegraph.

    That day - July 17, 1929 - is indelibly inscribed in Mr. Pierce's keen memory.

    In order for Mr. Pierce to land a job with CN Telegraph, which was looking for new recruits after buying out Western Union, the then- 16 year old had to be willing to work full-time and have a bicycle. He borrowed an old bike from a friend before going off to CN Telegraph on Waterloo Street for his interview.

    After being hired, the ecstatic young man biked to Gorman's service station on Mill Street, where old Union Station stood, to tell his hero the good news.

    "I said, 'Champ, I got a job as a messenger,' " he recalls.

    "Not with that old wreck," Mr. Gorman responded, giving the borrowed bike a disapproving look. "You go get yourself a new one.

    With that, Mr. Gorman telephoned Emerson Bros., a leading sporting-goods store on Germain Street that exclusively handled CCM bikes.

    "I'm sending Greg Pierce over and I want you to give him the best bicycle on the floor," Mr. Gorman, who would later become a member of the Saint John and Canadian Sports Halls of Fame, informed the store clerk.

    Mr. Pierce's acquaintance with Mr. Gorman, whom sportswriters dubbed "The Human Dynamo," began early in life. He grew up in the North End where Mr. Gorman had the first of his three service stations, and K. C. Irving's first in this city, at the corner of Portland and Main Streets.

    "I lived on the opposite block, on both Main and High streets, around where Keddy's Hotel is today," says Mr. Pierce. "I knew the Champ from the time I was six. "

    As he grew into adulthood, he befriended Mr. Gorman - even going on vacations and out driving together.

    The $52 bicycle, which helped him to get his foot squarely in the door at CN, was used later the same year to deliver three-cent-a-delivery telegrams to frenzied Saint John stockbrokers when Black Friday hit Wall Street.

    "We worked all night delivering messages," he recalls of the day that fortunes were lost.

    Later, he moved up the corporate ladder with CN.

    But once, just once, he was asked to don a messenger's uniform in 1930 to be U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's personal messenger when the polio-stricken summer resident of Campobello paid a visit to St. Andrews, where he boarded a train.

    Mr. Pierce's father, barber John Pierce, died before he was a year old, forcing his widowed mother Margaret King - into the workplace.

    She remarried a few years later, but Mr. Pierce's stepfather, Charles Comeau, was killed in an accident at Maritime Nail Co., which used to stand at the foot of Portland Street.

    Mr. Pierce, who still has relatives in this city, was raised mostly by his grandmother, Sarah Gallagher King. She operated King's Confectionery and a little grocery store on Brooks Street.

    In 1996, Mr. Pierce and his wife the former Kathleen Somers of Moncton - lost a daughter to cancer.

    "And last June, my dear wife passed away," he sadly reports. "We would have been married 54 years in October. We married in Saint John. She also worked for CN. "

    He's the last surviving member of his immediate family, but has three living children - daughter Gretchen of Edmonston, wife of Rod Ziegler, a member of the editorial staff of the Edmonston journal; son Graham, a librarian in the Cole Harbour area of Dartmouth, N.S.; and son Evan, who lives with him in Halifax.

    Mr. Pierce, who retired from CN Telecommunications after 49 years of service in 1978, still keeps active.

    Despite the fact he's now more than twice the age his good friend Charles (Champ) Gorman was when he died, Mr. Pierce has never really retired. And he's still a messenger of sorts.

    For years, he's run errands for an old pal from New Brunswick Campbellton native Maurice Doucet, who runs Maritime Billiards Ltd., a wholesale beauty supply business and a number of other interests, in Dartmouth.

    "I'm in Maurice's office now, "he says, excitedly, relishing yesterday's telephone call from a reporter that afforded him another chance to talk about the Champ's generosity. "I just picked up the mail. I also do the company banking. And I still do the odd delivery when something needs to be done in a hurry. "

    Those who have worked with him say the charitable approach to living taught to him by Mr. Gorman and his grandmother has rubbed off on him.

    "That's just the way I am," Mr. Pierce says. "If somebody does me a good turn, I never forget them. My psychology has always been, it is better to give than receive. That's why I haven't got a million dollars."

    But he's rich in other ways.

    His health remains "pretty good. He's still able to drive his car. And he has a heart filled with love that prevents him from letting a year go by without paying tribute to the Champ.

    It's a love story for the ages. One that makes it seem only appropriate that Mr. Gorman, who planted the seeds of caring in the fertile heart of a young man, was buried on St. Valentine's Day, 1940.

Taken from the Times Globe, February 11/99