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Jack Ludwig was best known as a writer, the author of three novels as well as short stories and essays, and important books on sports.

Reuben McLaughlin

When Jack Ludwig was editor of a student literary magazine at the University of Manitoba during the Second World War, he published a pacifist poem that caught the subversion-seeking eye of the RCMP.

Refusing to co-operate with an investigation, he struck a deal with the university: He would be allowed to graduate, but, according to daughter Danielle McLaughlin, he would leave the university and perform community service.

He later chronicled the event in a short story, Star Chamber Day in the Committee Room. This incident, say his friends and relatives, was characteristic of Mr. Ludwig's lifelong commitment to his principles.

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Jack Ludwig died of natural causes on Long Island, N.Y., on Feb. 12. He was 95.

Born in Winnipeg on Aug. 30, 1922, to Misha and Fanny Ludwig, Jack grew up immersed in Winnipeg's North End Jewish community. His school life was checkered owing to an often painful illness in one leg that left him with a noticeable limp, unable to play the sports he loved.

That illness began when he was about 5 and kept him hospitalized and in a body cast for much of his childhood. It was diagnosed, said his cousin, Daniel Klass of Winnipeg, when Jack was 11 or 12 as tuberculosis of the hip, for which no treatment was then available. But, Dr. Klass added, the real cause was a rare, undiagnosed blood-clot disorder.

Insofar as possible, Mr. Ludwig ignored his mobility issues and never complained. According to Ms. McLaughlin, "while my father was in almost constant pain, he refused almost all medication. He wanted to keep his mind clear at all times. My last conversation with him was trying to get him to accept painkillers. He still refused."

Even at 93, said his second wife, Lucia Zoercher, he was still swimming in Long Island Sound and in Mexico, with his beloved sea turtles.

Jack Ludwig received his disputatious BA in 1944, eventually earning a PhD from UCLA in 1953. By then (in 1946), he had married Leya Lauer, whom he met while they were students at Winnipeg's storied St. John's High. He went on to a distinguished career as professor of English at several universities in the United States, including Bard College, the University of Minnesota and, from the 1960s through the 90s, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, with a sojourn as writer-in-residence at Massey College at the University of Toronto in 1968-69.

He was also involved with the Harvard International Seminars, chairing the humanities section. One of his colleagues, said lifelong friend Meyer Brownstone, was Henry Kissinger. "I had a hard time forgiving Jack for that," he half-joked.

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But Mr. Ludwig was best known as a writer, the author of three novels – Confusions (1963), Above Ground (1968) and A Woman of Her Age (1973) – as well as short stories and essays. He was also co-editor of Soundings: New Canadian Poets.

He is perhaps most highly regarded for his journalism, however, concentrating almost exclusively on sports writing, particularly hockey, following the success of Hockey Night in Moscow, a vivid account of that famous 1972 Canada-Russia series. He was a regular sports columnist for Saturday Night magazine and his other sports books include The Great Hockey Thaw: Or, The Russians Are Here (1974); Five Ring Circus: The Montreal Olympics (1976);Games of Fear and Winning: Sports with an Inside View (1976); and The Great American Spectaculars: The Kentucky Derby, Mardi Gras, and Other Days of Celebration (1976).

If Mr. Ludwig's legacy resides in his writing, he also has some claim to notoriety, as the model for a central character in Saul Bellow's novel Herzog. Mr. Bellow and Mr. Ludwig had been close friends and colleagues at the University of Minnesota and had co-edited the magazine The Noble Savage along with Keith Botsford. But that friendship was severed by Mr. Ludwig's long affair with his friend's wife, Sondra (one of Mr. Bellow's five wives, she said he was incapable of love). Herzog is in part a response to that betrayal, with Mr. Ludwig as the model for Valentine Gersbach, who conducts an affair with the wife of the somewhat hapless protagonist, Moses Herzog.

Fullest discussion of Mr. Ludwig's life as a fiction writer can be found in Eleven Canadian Novelists Interviewed by Graeme Gibson (1970). Asked what sustains him as a novelist, Mr. Ludwig answers: "I think just the magic and the unexpectedness of the next thing that's coming. It's this sort of unbelievable confidence and faith that when you write this, something will follow from it. I haven't a clue what that other thing will be, and I think that that's probably the most important thing … the work itself, and the relationship that you have with the work."

His satiric first novel, Confusions, deals with a culturally split young Jewish man searching for identity. Above Ground, in part a response to Herzog, is autobiographical in that a man who had been ill for much of his youth seeks revival in a series of sexual encounters. His final novel, A Woman of Her Age, is the portrait of an aging radical.

According to Mr. Brownstone, Mr. Ludwig possessed a wonderful sense of humour, a fundamental humanity, great insights into people and a "marvellous voice … He used to sing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas at St. John's High."

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Granddaughter Gabrielle McLaughlin said he was interested in everything, quick at everything, full of probing questions that went far beyond the usual "What are you up to?" She remembers summers at rented cottages in Ontario, where Mr. Ludwig would teach them bird calls – loons and, especially, ospreys. "He was always out looking for osprey nests, despite his disability."

For Dr. Klass, "he was one of a kind," with boundless enthusiasm and curiosity and a great love "for his family and community."

Jack Ludwig leaves his sister, Esther Karwandy of White Rock, B.C.; his wife, Lucia Zoercher; daughters Danielle McLaughlin, Brina Ludwig Prout and Emmy Ludwig Miller. He also leaves seven grandchildren and three great-granddaughters. He was predeceased by his brother, Bobby, and first wife, Leya. A memorial service will be held at a date to be announced.

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