1998 Jim Proudfoot

Jim Proudfoot
by Milt Dunnell

Come on, you guys who get out this Journal, how can anyone tell the life history James A. (Chester) Proudfoot in 500 words? It’s like tracing the bloodlines of Northern Dancer on the head of a horseshoe nail.

Jim Proudfoot

Jim Proudfoot

Just tell the things that people don’t already know, you say. Like what? Well, try to find out who put that ‘Chester’ tag on him.

Tom Bird did it. Now you want to know about Tom Bird. There goes another 500 words.Bird was the only handicapper in the world who didn’t see the steeds on which he advised racetrackers to bet. He was blind. Listened to the track announcer call every race on the card; also knew the people on the backstretch who told him when a horse had a good work.

Bird’s favourite television program was Gunsmoke. He didn’t see it. Just heard it. Chester Proudfoot, a homespun character in Gunsmoke fascinated him. So he hung the first name on his own Proudfoot, and it stuck.

Funny thing about the real Proudfoot. He must have travelled a zillion miles in pursuit of sports yarns, combined with a bit of luxury living at the expense of ye old Toronto Star, but he never drove a kilometre of tht distance himself; never got suck ina car deal, either, because he hever had one.

Now you may think he was able to escape many of the occupational hazards of his trade — like white-knuckling to work down the Don Valley Parkway.

Quite the opposite was the truth. As a lifetime hitch-hiker, he suffered all kinds of life-threatening experiences. One time, leaving a ho-hum Canadian Football League press conference, he accepted a lift with Bob Frewin, who kept CFL watchers informed via the pages of the Telegram — especially when John Bassett, who published the Telegram, also owned the Argos.

Frewin was driving, presumably, because Chester never had a license. Between them, they managed to bang into a light standard — in a parking lot, for gawdsakes.

Frewin was demonstrating the short-yardage defence of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats when the lamp pole moved prematurely.

After that, Chester politely declined offers of rides to places like Fort Erie. He had discovered a little airline that used a landing strip, right behind the race track, and took off from Island Airport. It worked fine until the day somebody forgot to put enough gas in the tank.

Although understandably shaken by the emergency landing which ensued, Chester never lost sight of his objective. He hobbled to a phone and placed his wager with a bookmaker. From that day henceforth, though, he became a reluctant patron of any vehicle that lacked a TTC logo.

The recent death of Harry Ornest, one-time owner of the St. Louis Blues, the Toronto Argonauts and a big chuck of Hollywood Park race track, resulted in some hilarious tales involving the colourful Harry.

Most of the obits hinted that Harry never saw a buck that he didn’t aspire to acquire, to misquote Johnnie Cochran. Chester would refute that insinuation. Which is further evidence that Chester Proudfoot walks to his own drum-beat.

He once returned a cheque for $150,000 to Harry during his short shift with the Argos. It was a good cheque, too. A goodly number of sportswriters and columnists will understand how it happened.

Chester was famous for bombarding chosen scribes with clippings from scores of newspapers and magazines, anything from War Cry to The Wall Street Journal, any which met Harry’s favour or disfavour were highlighted.

Frequently, these bundles would lie unopened on a desk for weeks. And sometimes they never got opened. One day, in the Star’s sports department, Chester thumbed through a sheaf of yellowed clippings and out popped a shiny cheque from the Bank of Nova Scotia, payable to the Argonauts, with whom the bank was running a promotion. Harry apparently had been counting the receiptsw while he was doing his clipping.

Chester Proudfoots’ exploits on the sexual scoreboard in places such as Paris, Prague and Moscow are even more……..!

What do you mean … out of space. Just getting to the good stuff!