Sports

Jack Keating, longtime Province sports and city reporter, dead at 74

An East Vanner his whole life, Keating loved sports, especially the San Francisco Giants, Cuba and music

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It was September 1994, and Province Sports reporter Jack Keating was covering the Canucks first pre-season news conference, not even three months since the team had lost a heartbreaking Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final.

Keating came in with a tape recorder the size of a brick, placed it among the mini-recorders on the table and sat down, a knife sticking out of the left breast pocket of his sports coat.

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The late Pat Quinn, coach and general manager of the Canucks, raised his eyebrows at Arthur Griffiths, the team owner, who returned a nervous sidelong glance.

It was my first day on the Canucks beat with Keating and halfway into the meeting there was a large click: He whipped the knife out of his pocket, jimmied the cassette out of the machine with the blade, flipped over the cassette and sat back, oblivious to the sudden silence around the table as everyone’s eyes fell on him.

You see, the eject button on the tape machine was broken.

“What I loved about Jack was his lack of pretence and obvious love of what he was doing,” said David Banks, a former Province Sports colleague.

Keating, 74, died peacefully in his sleep Christmas night or early Dec. 26, hours from when he was due to host his annual Boxing Night bash. His left hand was on his chest and a beatific look on his face, said Kathy Markovic, his partner of 35 years.

Born in 1949, Keating shared the same birthday, March 31, as Gordie Howe and Pavel Bure.

He grew up at 23rd and Rupert and never lived anywhere but East Van, where he would deliver fish and chips as a kid with a transistor radio taped to the handlebars of his bike.

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jack keating
Province sports staffers Tony Gallagher, left, and Jack Keating. PROVINCE

He loved going to New York. “I’ve been there more times than I’ve been to North Vancouver,” he liked to say — and going to San Francisco to see his beloved baseball Giants. He especially loved travelling to Cuba. Keating probably made that trip at least three dozen times.

“He came to all my kids’ baseball and hockey games, he wouldn’t miss a game,” his son Colin said. “He was there, always.”

It was a typical family dinner this past Christmas Day, with Keating handing out presents to all. But he felt tired and went to lie down. He had a lot to prepare the next day and guests would be arriving by 5 p.m. for his Boxing Day party, which he had been hosting for more than 40 years.

“We left Christmas night expecting to see him Boxing Day — that was his day,” Colin said. “He told me to bring my speaker, to make sure the kids come, he was going to cook a big roast like he always does.”

Keating was affectionately known as JFK — not because his middle name was Fitzgerald but because F-bombs were his exclamation, adverb and adjective of choice. “He loved to swear, part of his East Van roots,” said Neal Hall, a friend of Keating’s and former Vancouver Sun reporter.

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A fixture at the old Revel Room in Gastown, the now defunct bar had a plaque installed on the chair he always sat in: “JFK’s Seat” it read.

Keating covered many sports, but his passion blossomed when writing about the Vancouver 86ers/Whitecaps.

“Jack was definitely different,” said Bob Lenarduzzi, a Canadian soccer hall of famer. “He was blunt with his questions and with the responses he got to his questions.”

The two would tussle verbally at times, “but as far as Jack went, you couldn’t get mad at him because that was just Jack.”

Province staffer Jack Keating in 1989.
Jack Keating in 1989. PROVINCE

Keating never owned a cellphone, or microwave. He took photos on a digital camera his daughter Shannon had given him and would bring them to the drugstore to get them printed. He carried the printed photos in a thin briefcase to show them off.

His desk at work — before he retired from The Province 12 years ago to promote punk-rock concerts — looked like a jet engine had blown over a newsstand: A heap of old notebooks stacked on sheafs of looseleaf stacked on months-old newspapers, and he knew where everything was.

“The desk piled up higher than Jack, with old newspapers, printouts of stories, transcripts of Fidel Castro speeches. And his shirt pockets were always filled with a notepad and a handful of pens,” said Dana Gee, an arts reporter at The Vancouver Sun who met Keating her first day as a Province Sports reporter in 1990.

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“I knew immediately he was one of a kind,” Gee said. “One of journalism’s great gems and a one-phone-call-and-he’d-save-your-ass kind of guy.”

Mike Beamish, a retired Vancouver Sun sports reporter, began covering the same beats as Keating in the early 1980s — junior hockey and lacrosse at first, and then the Canucks.

“The four pillars of Jack Keating: Eccentric, profane, endearing and lovable,” Beamish said.

They were Mutt and Jeff.

“We were an unlikely pair. I think Jack got a kick out of me because I was so straight. I had to be talked into a lot of things that were just second nature to Jack.”

One night after a hockey game at Madison Square Garden, the phone in Beamish’s hotel room rang at 1 a.m. It was Keating calling from a famous New York City watering hole.

“He said, ‘I’m at the Columbus Cafe and you’ve got to come down here. I’m talking with the drummer from the Eurythmics.’”

Against his better judgment, Beamish dressed and headed down. At a nearby table sat Robert Duvall, Jackie Mason and Robin Williams.

“This is now the wee hours of the morning,” Beamish said, “and Robin Williams gets up and starts riffing. Basically, without a cover charge, he was giving a comedy show.

“I thought to myself, ‘Gee, if it wasn’t for Jack I wouldn’t be here doing and seeing these sorts of things.’”

So many people have so many similar stories and there won’t be any more. As Keating himself would say, that’s official.

Jack Keating was predeceased by his father Grant in 1965 and mother Norma in 2002. He is survived by his daughter Shannon, son Colin (Jessica Winters), grandchildren Kieran, Leda and Caprice, brother Mike (Carol), nephews Kevin and John, and his longtime partner Kathy Markovic.

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