by George Gross
We called him Penners, Ol’ Bob or My Dear Fellow, mainly because that’s what he called us.
The late Bob Pennington was England’s gift to Canadian journalism. Not only to sports journalism, but journalism in general.
He came to Canada in 1964 from the London Daily Express when John Bassett, then publisher of the Toronto Telegram, was looking for an expert soccer writer.
Bob did what Caesar did before him – came, saw and conquered. After a few months of writing outstanding soccer stories, the ’Tely’ made him a columnist. He demonstrated within a short time how extremely versatile he was, when he was asked to write columns on the Toronto Maple Leafs and other NHL teams and players – hockey columns! They were more than just adequate – he won two National Newspaper Awards with his hockey columns.
Bob was one of the toughest Englishmen you’ll ever meet. One year he walked through two heart attacks, briefly mentioning that he had indeed had some chest pains. He never missed a day’s work. They discovered he’d had heart attacks when a routine ECG prior to a throat surgery, revealed the fact.
When The Telegram folded, Ol’ Bob joined The Star, where he wrote a warm, human interest column under the heading Pennington’s People. It was a theme close to his heart, because he loved people, life, the arts and, of course, sports.
He truly was a most versatile journalist. He was equally at home covering a bloody Muhammad Ali fight, or reviewing Swan Lake at the old O’Keefe Centre. He also loved the opera and his reviews of La Boheme or Tosca were spellbinding.
Bob Pennington won all his battles in life – but one. Ol’ Bob hated goodbyes. Which is probably why he departed without a word on a November night in 1990 at age 68. He slipped away quietly after a year-long battle with cancer.