Husband, grandfather, bon vivant, sports fanatic. Born April 16, 1931, in Cornwall, Ont., died Jan. 24, 2013, in Montreal of heart and kidney disease, aged 81.
Few people called Abraham Rapoport by his given name. He was Rocky because he was a rock, as solid as Gibraltar and larger than life – a man who loved, played and ate as if he were living three lives at once.
Growing up in Depression-era Montreal, he quit school when he was about 14 to help in the family meat business, but he never complained. That wasn’t his way. He believed in helping people, no matter if they were family members, friends or strangers.
Instead of looking back, he barrelled forward, carrying his family in his wake as he moved from one adventure or career to the next, eventually landing in the parking-lot business.
Once, he did look back. He had just strolled past a striking girl who was almost as tall as he was, and he made a U-turn to introduce himself. For nearly 59 years, Judy was his match in every way. Theirs was a marriage made, if not in heaven, then in a sitcom where there was lots of love, laughter and never a dull moment.
With kids in tow, they would drive – fast, of course – to Florida and to Lake George and Ausable Chasm in New York state, sleeping in motels that had vibrating beds and swimming in pools filled with dolphins. There were drive-ins with Clint Eastwood movies and Expo ’67, where the family had to visit every one of the 90 pavilions. And there was Disney World the first year it opened; like a big kid, Rocky went on every ride and loved it.
He loved food. He would bring home kiwis, smelly cheeses and raw oysters, which he taught the kids to eat with lemon juice and Tabasco. One of his adages was, “He who eats the fastest eats the mostest.”
When it came to games, Rocky played hard for the pleasure of winning. But if he lost, he’d simply shrug and move on to the next thing.
And oh, he loved baseball. Fortunately, Judy did, too. Each winter until early spring, you would find them in a condo near the Expos’ spring training camp in West Palm Beach, then in seats in the second row above the team’s dugout at Olympic Stadium. They held court there – baseball royalty who arrived long before each game started and never left until it was over. They knew every player and every player knew them. Whenever Rocky asked one to autograph a baseball, a bat or a shirt for a kid, it was done on the spot.
If you were lucky enough to visit the family home, he’d take you to a sports room/office in the back that was a shrine for his rock-solid love of team sports. There, he kept his limited-edition, life-size cutout of Expos right fielder Vladimir Guerrero and the Grey Cup football from the match the Montreal Alouettes played against the Edmonton Eskimos in 1956.
Lying in hospital near the end, he was true to form – a rock who continued to prop us up. In turn, his family and hospital workers rallied around him – even the clerk who worked at the hospital’s frozen yogurt counter. Once, when his daughter was ordering one for him, the clerk stopped.
“Is it for Rocky?” he asked. “Add blueberries. He likes that.”
Marla Rapoport is Rocky’s daughter.