History | Jul 23 2019

On This Day: The great Emile Griffith dies

Ron Ross pays tribute to the brilliant former champion Emile Griffith, who passed away in 2013
Emile Griffith
Emile Griffith

HIS smile was infectious, his tears flowed unashamedly at sad movies or for the misfortunes of others. He was just as much at home on a sandlot teaching a group of scruffy kids the basic rudiments of playing baseball with equipment that he bought for them as he was on the stage of any nightclub where he would sing and dance the hours away. All memories now. Emile Griffith is no longer with us. This great champion passed away in his sleep in the early morning of Tuesday, July 23, 2013, at the age of 75 after spending the past two years in a near vegetative state in an extended care facility in Hempstead, New York.

The oldest of eight children, young Emile had a happy childhood growing up in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, until his father, a local police constable, deserted the family. Emile came to New York with his mother Emelda, who hoped to earn enough money to bring over the rest of her brood that, meanwhile were left to stay with relatives in St. Thomas.

Emile had dreams of being a professional baseball player and was the star catcher for his high school team but had a rude awakening in his junior year when he was forced to leave school in order to earn money to help his mother make ends meet. After a short stint as an usher in a local movie theatre he got a job as a stock clerk for a millinery firm in the garment centre.