By Martin Cleary
Mike Scott preferred to give rather than receive.
But that became complicated as the more he gave, whether it was his time, energy or ideas, the more he would receive in appreciation from others for his countless giving.
An Ottawa sports icon for more than 70 years, Scott was associated with paddling at the Rideau Canoe Club, boxing at the Beaver Boxing Club, and running in local and international road races. He also was recognized for event organizing, sport administration, coaching, fund raising and writing.
In return for his tireless volunteerism in the world of amateur sports, he has been humbled to receive awards from city organizations, taken aback by having a room named after him at the Rideau Canoe Club, and even roasted by his peers on his 60th anniversary with the club … but for a good cause (a fund raiser to benefit the club’s building fund).
Born Richard Patrick Scott and unsure why his mother called him Mike or Mikey from the day he was born, he was determined, passionate and goal-oriented in every one of the roles he accepted or ideas he concocted.
For a lean, athletic man, he served as a mighty pillar in the Ottawa sports community and with the Rideau Canoe Club and told anyone who would listen that competing in sports is more than just results. It’s also using your sport as a springboard for doing good work in the community.
Scott passed away on Friday. He was 92 years old.
“He never, ever stopped contributing. He contributed always to sport in Ottawa and it wasn’t limited to just canoeing,” said Michael Chambers, a forever friend of Scott’s and thankful for his inspiration that led the Ottawa lawyer into national and international sports administration 40 years ago on a volunteer basis.
Scott joined the Rideau Canoe Club in 1949 and raced for 11 years, winning the Canadian junior war canoe in 1958. As a masters-class paddler, he won 30 canoe titles in five different age classes at the national CANMAS championships.
The nearby canoe club was a second home for Scott, who was raised in Centretown but raised his family of wife Lola and children Jennifer, David and Judy in the Carleton Heights neighbourhood. He met Lola, who passed last year, at the canoe club in the mid-1950s. They were married for 60 years.
Scott was part of the canoe club’s board of directors for 33 years and the longest-serving commodore, spanning 25 consecutive years from 1961-85. When the Canadian sprint canoe championships were staged by Rideau during his years on the board, Scott was the chair of the organizing committee eight times.
For 10 years in his youth, he stepped into the ring as a boxer. He attended the 1956 Olympic trials in Montreal, but lost his lightweight bout and a chance to go to Melbourne, Australia. But his enthusiasm for the sport continued as he coached with Joey Sandulo at the Beaver Boxing Club and helped in many ways to promote and support the sport.
Keenly interested in staying in good physical shape, he ran road races from five kilometres to marathons. He was a regular starter for the Ottawa Marathon and could be spotted wearing a small cap with a propeller on top, which was a carryover from his canoe racing days. He also got to experience the New York City Marathon one year with 20,000 like-minded distance runners. His best marathon time was three hours and 35 minutes.
He also was involved in a winter triathlon, the Colonel By Triathlon (canoe, bike and run) and dragon boat racing. He was a volunteer at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games and helped the Canadian lightweight rowers.
“Mike was always willing to help … and he would contribute at any level,” Chambers added. “If someone required someone to sweep the floor, Mike would do it. If someone needed a leader for a team, he would provide the leadership.”
For 10 years, he was the manager for the Ontario team, travelling by car and hauling all the boats to training camps in Florida. He also managed teams that went to Cuba, Italy, the United States and Sweden.
When Chambers, a former Rideau paddler, decided to run for a position on the board of the former Canadian Canoe Association (now Canoe Kayak Canada) in 1983, Scott served as his campaign manager.
“I didn’t know anyone. Mike knew everyone and everyone knew Mike. Because of my association with Mike, I was elected. It started my journey in sports administration,” recalled Chambers, who went on to become a president of the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canoe Kayak Canada. He currently holds numerous international board positions, including chair of the International Canoe Federation ethics commission.
Likewise, John Bales of Ottawa has had his life greatly impacted by Scott and can thank him for guiding him into Canadian sports administration. Bales has been the president of the International Council for Coaching Excellence for almost 19 years and was CEO of the Coaching Association of Canada from 1996 to 2013.
“I first met Mike when I was 15 years old. I had just moved to Ottawa, was feeling lost in a new city and new school and went down to the Rideau Canoe Club,” Bales wrote in an email interview.
“Mike welcomed me and helped me adjust to this new environment. He later hired me as one of the first paid coaches in Canada and this laid the foundation for my career in sport.
“His energy, his contribution to the community, his humour and his ability to stay balanced and calm in every situation made him a role model for me and many others. Mike had a selfless desire to help people and was extremely action oriented. He was always finding ways to support different causes. And in a very understated way, not looking to get credit or attention for himself.”
Away from the technical aspects of training, Scott showed the paddlers there was another side to the sport – reaching out into the community.
There were many times he would put together a group of paddlers and head to the Newport Restaurant or Toy Mountain to help sort donated gifts before Christmas.
Fund raising was always a high priority for Scott, whether it was delivering phone books, selling calendars, staging garage sales or parking cars on the club’s adjacent grassy field to raise money to support various projects at the club.
During his days at Rideau Canoe Club, Scott was instrumental in overseeing the remaking of the clubhouse and boat storage area on three different occasions. He had a good way about him that allowed him to negotiate in a positive manner with officials from the City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission as well as the provincial government to receive funding for building and dock improvement projects.
“Mike took a personal interest in everyone at the club, both athletes and volunteers,” wrote Doug Hollingsworth, who knew Scott for about 70 years.
“A particular courtesy was to remember everyone’s name, a skill he developed and endeared him to them. This courtesy, of course, helped him deal with the government agencies and media. When Mike talked to you, he felt personally interested because he was.”
Scott cared about his sport and would regularly visit or phone The Ottawa Citizen sports department to encourage the city’s largest newspaper to write about paddling. He helped his case by providing some solid story ideas. His home phone number also was easy to remember and has been embedded in my memory for 50 years.
Having the full support of many club members, Scott’s “culmination of a lifetime of dedication to paddling and the Rideau Canoe Club” played out in what he called “his first and last book” – The Rideau Canoe Club, A Century of Paddling 1902-2002.
He also spent many hours preparing and writing the Booster Bulletin, which came out twice a year and touched many aspects of paddling and the comings and goings of current and former club members.
The Ottawa sports community turned its various spotlights on Scott on a number of occasions. He wasn’t always comfortable with that, but accepted his honours with grace and class.
He was the 1972 Sportsman of the Year at the ACT amateur sports award dinner, which was the predecessor to the Ottawa Sports Awards, an institution that had Scott as one of its directors for many years over the past two decades.
In 1986, he was inducted into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame in the builder category. The naming of the Mike Scott Lounge at the Rideau Canoe Club in 2010 was to recognize his achievements for 61 years of volunteerism at the club.
“Mike Scott contributed countless hours as a coach, commodore, writer and fund raiser and is a leader and inspiration for our community,” according to the plaque outside the lounge.
Ian Mortimer, a former Rideau paddler and the chief technical officer with Canoe Kayak Canada, has a wealth of wonderful stories about Scott and how he impacted his life.
“He built the community that shaped my entire life,” Mortimer explained. “I’ve been getting calls from people across the country and around the world telling me what Mike did for them.
“The biggest thing he taught us all was to do your best, shoot for the top. But the biggest benefit of sport is it provides you with an opportunity to connect to your community. It’s not all tied to results.”
Scott also loved doing adventurous things, whether it was taking a co-ed group of paddlers in a war canoe for an overnight trip to Long Island near Manotick, accidentally locking the keys in the trunk of a rental car while being parked in the Mojave Desert en route to the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics or joining the Ride for Dad organizing committee after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“That’s Mike coming up with Mike ideas,” Chambers said.
“He was always up for an adventure. He couldn’t sit still,” Mortimer added.
A mass will be held for Scott on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Maurice Church (4 Perry St.). Donations to the Mike Scott Legacy Fund, in support of The Rideau Canoe Club, would be greatly appreciated by his family, states his obituary.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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