Former columnist and sports editor Milt Dunnell, a Toronto Star legend and Hall of Fame journalist known for his deft turn of phrase and encyclopedic breadth of experience, has died. He was 102.
Dunnell died at North York General Hospital late Thursday night, a source from the Star told The Canadian Press.
"To be honest, when I was younger, I never thought I'd make it to 50," Dunnell told the Toronto Star in 2005 when he turned 100.
"In some respects, I'm healthier now than when I was younger. But I don't think there's any great achievement in living to be 100 years old."
Dunnell, who turned 102 on Christmas Eve, was an honoured member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and the Football Reporters of Canada Hall of Fame.
Dunnell was known around the newsroom as Mr. Sports or, more fondly, as Uncle Miltie.
"By any measure, the former Toronto Star sports editor was simply Canada's top sports columnist for more than half a century," Jim Kernaghan of the London Free Press wrote in 2005.
Good friend George Gross, the corporate sports editor of the rival Toronto Sun, called him "a beacon of classic sports journalism" and "a genius amongst sportswriters".
Dunnell's work took him around the world, covering Olympics from Melbourne to Mexico City or following Muhammad Ali to Zaire and the Philippines.
He reached retirement age in 1970 but kept writing until 1994, when he was just shy of 89. In all Dunnell wrote some 11,000 columns for the Star.
And he did it like no other.
His 1966 report on the Ali-George Chuvalo fight in Toronto started: "They had a contest between a bull and a bumblebee at Maple Leaf Gardens last night -- with the usual result. The bull came out of it with his face looking like a bucket of balls at a golf driving range."
Dunnell, from St. Marys, Ont., began his career writing for his hometown paper, the St. Marys Journal-Argus, before spending 13 years with the Stratford Beacon-Herald, including five as sports editor. He joined the Star in 1942 and seven years later was named sports editor. He retired from the position in 1970 but continued writing five columns a week - and to work for another 24 years.
A book containing 77 of his columns, "The Best of Milt Dunnell," was published in 1993.
In 1996, Sports Media Canada gave Dunnell its Achievement Award.
"Dunnell reached retirement age in 1970 but went on writing five articles a week, later three, until he determined in 1994 that golf and the blackjack tables being installed at (Casino) Rama would need deeper concentration than he'd been able to provide previously," former Star colleague Jim Proudfoot, who died in 2001 at age 67, said by way of introduction at the time.
"This was a serious blow to literature, and not just the domestic variety."
"You'd need to be a journalist, specializing in sporting subjects to comprehend just how good Dunnell really was for all those years. If you regularly perused the heavy hitters of U.S. and British gazettes and compared their output to Dunnell's, then you knew Toronto harboured a superstar who'd have glistened in any setting. All of us were lucky to have him as long as we did."