Blotted Out: Four Tireless Behind The Scenes Builders

All too often, the stories of those tireless builders who have worked from 'the sidelines' to leave the figure skating world better than they found it go untold. In today's blog, we will take a look at the contributions to the sport of four such men who devoted their lives to the betterment of skating.

HENRY WAINWRIGHT HOWE


An affluent member of the Skating Club Of New York, Henry Wainwright Howe was one of the first Americans to devote considerable time and effort to the study of judging figure skating. As a skater, he was no slouch. With his wife, he won the U.S. Waltzing Championship in 1923 at the Iceland Rink in New York. Heaton R. Robertson described the couple's performance as "harmonious and exact." The following year in Philadelphia, the couple claimed the U.S. junior pairs title.

When Henry began his four year term as the second President of the United States Figure Skating Association in 1925, one of his first orders of business was forming the organization's Judging Committee. Although closed marking was still the name of the game back then, he was steadfast in his belief that education was crucial for judges of all backgrounds. His committee vocally opposed 'acrobatics' in free skating: "Acrobatics in free skating should be left to the professionals... A free skating program which oversteps in this regard shall be accordingly depreciated."

When Henry and his wife attended the 1928 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, they were only there to observe the efforts of the six member American team. A thaw occurred that effected the scheduling of the figure skating events and he was called upon to judge the women's event where America's Beatrix Loughran won the bronze medal.

Sadly, Henry passed away in 1931, only two years after his term as USFSA President ended. His obituary in "Skating" magazine described him as "broad-minded, patient and impartial in his decisions... a fearless and honest executive and judge. Loved and admired by all, his name had come to be known both here and abroad as the synonym for a true sportsman." In a letter penned at the time of his death, Ulrich Salchow wrote, "Henry Howe we considered one of the pillars in American Figure Skating; his work, his initiative and last but not least his brilliant and generous personality brought about that the United States in 1930 arranged the World Championships... Henry Howe was a strong man behind his duty and his privileges; yet he overcame many obstacles by means of his smile."

DICK MCLAUGHLIN


Born February 13, 1926 in Oshawa, Ontario, E.R.S. (Dick) McLaughlin was the son of Clarence Ewart McLaughlin and Margaret Luke and the grandson of Robert McLaughlin, the founder of the McLaughlin Carriage Car Company and the McLaughlin Motor Car Company... which became General Motors Of Canada. Dick and his sister Mary had the great fortune to grow up in one of Canada's wealthiest families, one of few who escaped Great Depression unscathed. His parents owned an estate called Greenbriar in Oshawa, a cottage at Muskoka, a family farm at Tyrone and an estate in Bermuda as well as a 1925 Cadillac Cabriolet and brand new Cadillac and Buick sedans. The family had sailboats, horses, a greenhouse, you name it... and spent their leisure time skiing, travelling and yes, skating.

Dick's mother Margaret, a talented skater in her own right, was one of the founders of the Oshawa Skating Club in 1938. She made no haste in getting her children on the ice to join in the fun. Prior to being signed up for skating lessons, Dick had spent many winters playing hockey until coach Vern Abbott showed him what could be accomplished in a proper pair of figure skates. In 1945, Dick won the club's Waltz and Fourteenstep competitions with partner Babs Lamon, earned the club's illustrious Bassett Trophy and won the bronze medal in the junior men's event at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships behind Frank Sellers of Winnipeg and Giles Trudeau of Montreal. After relocating to train at the Granite Club, the following year he returned to win the 1946 Canadian junior pairs title and Tenstep titles with Marnie Brereton. In 1947, he earned bronze medals with Brereton in the Waltz, Tenstep and Dance Championships, for a career total of two junior and four senior Canadian medals. He later teamed up to compete at the Canadian Championships in dance events with Geraldine Fenton, but the duo failed to place in the top three.

Retiring from competitive figure skating, Dick devoted his time and efforts to giving back to the sport that had afforded him so much enjoyment. With Nigel Stephens, he donated the Stephens-McLaughlin Trophy to the CFSA, given to Canada's junior ice dance champions. He served on the CFSA Dance Committee and when the Oshawa rink burned down in 1953, he arranged for ice time in Bowmanville. From 1954 to 1960, he served as an international judge, among his assignments the 1958 World Championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo. Perhaps most importantly, he served as President of the CFSA from 1957 to 1959, the period which marked the rise of Donald Jackson, the glory years of Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul and the introduction of twenty new member clubs, bringing the grand total of CFSA member clubs to two hundred. He was also involved in bringing the 1960 World Championships to Vancouver.

For all of his incredible contributions to Canadian figure skating, it's interesting to note that Dick McLaughlin's 1991 induction to the Oshawa Sports Hall Of Fame was related to another sporting pursuit entirely: sailing. His father Clarence had been a boating enthusiast who had won many trophies with his boats Whippet and Cricket and for many years had reigned as speedboat champion at Muskoka. Following in his footsteps, Dick won the 1962 Canadian Albacore Skating Championship, the 1967 Mid-winter Albacore Sailing Championship and third place in North American Albacore Championships with his daughter Rosemary among his crew.

Photo from archives of "The Oshawa Times", courtesy Oshawa Public Libraries

After his father passed away on August 9, 1968 at the family's Greenbriar estate, Dick made a sizeable donation that helped fund the opening of Oshawa's first permanent art gallery, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery. He served as Director of Engineering and Director Of Manufacturing Engineering at General Motors in the seventies and as President of Oshawa Civic Auditorium Board Of Directors.  He also served as President of the Oshawa-Whitby United Appeal, President and Director of Macel Transportation Ltd. and Greenbriar Holdings Limited, as well as a Director of Algonquin Mercantile Corp. and Hardee Farms International. They say money can't buy happiness, but it can certainly buy life experience. I don't think there's any denying that Dick McLaughlin had plenty of the latter.


NORMAN V.S. GREGORY



For many years, three clubs dominated the Canadian figure skating scene: the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa, the Toronto Skating Club and the Montreal Winter Club. A member of the latter, Norman V.S. Gregory was born July 9, 1893 and achieved great things as a skater in the roaring twenties. In 1921, he joined with Jeanne Chevalier, Allan Howard and Winnifred Tait to claim the Connaught Cup - Canada's fours skating title. In the years that followed, he went on to medal in the senior men's, pairs and fours competitions at the Canadian Championships four more times. Though he continued to skate well into the thirties, passing his Second Class Class Test and winning the Chairman's Prize with Margot Barclay at the Montreal Winter Club's weekly waltzing competition, Norman's biggest accomplishments in the skating world were behind the scenes.

Serving as President of the Montreal Winter Club for fifteen years, Norman penned articles for "Skating" magazine and served as an international judge in both figure skating and ice dance. A two-term Vice-President with the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada and a two-term President with the CFSA, he was highly involved with the CFSA's application for ISU membership and the process in which the CFSA broke free from the Amateur Skating Association of Canada. As CFSA President, he established a scholarship program for young skaters, a forerunner to the Skaters' Development Fund.

Norman served as chair of CFSA's Rules Committee and actually wrote the rulebook on the judging of ice dance which, through several revisions, was effective from 1948 to 1965. In 1950, he presented the CFSA with The Gregory Cups, which are awarded to this day to the senior ice dance champions of Canada. In 1952, he managed the Canadian Olympic team and served on the panel of judges that awarded Dick Button his second Olympic gold medal.

Mr. and Mrs. Norman Gregory. Photo courtesy the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

Though unsuccessful in his efforts to get a Canadian elected to the ISU Council, Norman was actually one of the first representatives of the CFSA to attend an ISU Council meeting. He first attended the ISU Council in 1959, as the 1960 World Championships were being held in Vancouver. Two years later, he attended again and was nominated for spot on the Council, but lost in his bid to Ernest Labin of Austria and Per Cock-Clausen of Denmark. This loss marked the beginning of Norman's rocky relationship with the ISU. While under suspension as an ISU judge in 1963, he tried to get Nigel Stephens elected to the Council. However, Stephens lost in his bids for two positions... badly. A tireless supporter of ice dance at a time when it was just starting to gain steam in Canada, Norman was posthumously inducted into CFSA (Skate Canada) Hall Of Fame in 1994.

GUSTAVUS WITT



Born April 8, 1892, Gustavus Frederikus Caesar Witt was the son of Hamburg merchant Gustav J.J. Witt and his wife Melina Adelaide Ottilie Barwasser. He was the second oldest of four children. Witt the elder - no relation to Katarina, by the way - was a highly successful businessman with offices in Rotterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin. Gustavus married Ella Maria Anna Stoffel in Zürich, Switzerland in 1917 and it was in his wife's country of birth that he became enchanted with the sport of figure skating, at the popular skating resorts in Davos and St. Moritz.

Settling in Holland, Gustavus became active as a skating judge. From 1938 to 1939, he served as Honorary Secretary of the ISU Council, a role he returned to for four years following World War II. He was the International Skating Union's Figure Skating Technical Committee Chairperson from 1946 to 1949 and from 1949 to 1953 was the organization's Vice President for figure skating. In 1953, he became the second person in history to be recognized as an Honorary Member of the ISU.

Gustavus refereed the women's and pairs events at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz and the pairs event at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo and judged and refereed at countless other events in the late forties and early fifties. In addition to having the coolest name ever, he had some really interesting views. In 1950, he penned an open letter to "Skating" magazine regarding a 'points system' for judging proposed by American judge Lyman Wakefield, Jr. which was an eerily similar precursor to the modern IJS system. He shot down Wakefield's proposal and defended the 6.0 system vehemently. He wrote, "To my mind judges should not be allowed at all to keep private protocols for compulsory figures or for free skating. Secret marking, making adjustments possible, is just the bad practice the ISU does not want... A judge should give marks for what he sees. [A] proposed mathematical system is in practice undesirable and impossible... The Figure Skating Committee of the ISU in conjuncture with the referees of the different international events carefully scrutinize the judges' marks at the end of each season. If it is found that a judge for whatever reasons was not up to the high standard demands, then such a judge will be scratched from the list of international judges. Since the [1948] Olympics, ten international judges from different countries have been disqualified for two years and to some of the judges letters of warning had to be sent. I think that on the whole the judging of all international events has improved greatly."

Gustavus also advocated abolishing nationalism in sport and actually played an instrumental role in implementing measures in the fifties to curtail national bias. In a 1960 letter published in the Olympic Review, he wrote: "After the last war, I introduced, that at international figure skating competitions, the European and World Championships, during the distribution of prizes on the ice and the banquet, no national flags were to be shown nor hoisted, and no national anthems were to be played (instead: the Ode of Joy of the IXth Symphony of Beethoven). Not even the nationality of the winners was mentioned, only their names, and this worked very well. Everybody was happy about this new style, which the International Skating Union introduced at least in the figure skating section. Boys and girls no longer carry the burden of starting in a competition as ambassadors of their country; the spirit amongst the international young crowd of figure skaters is now friendly and cheerful. Even most of the officials of the ISU started to regard themselves as ambassadors of the ISU. in their respective countries and not vice versa... It cannot be made clear enough that results in international sport events have nothing whatever to do with politics or nationalities. They are individual performances, and I do not see why nations should claim the honours of individual efforts, which they are doing in the majority of cases." He went on to suggest the Olympics adopt a similar policy. It didn't happen and despite his efforts, ultimately the national anthems and flags returned to ISU competitions.

Gustavus passed away in St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1975. Whether you agree with his views or not, there's no denying that he contributed more to the sport than most.

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