City loses boxing legend

This was one fight Harold Mann couldn't win.

Mann, a Prince George boxing legend who punched his way to international gold at the 1962 British Empire Games, died on Sunday at the age of 78. He had been battling Alzheimer's disease at the Simon Fraser Lodge complex care facility, where he was living for more than three years.

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Mann's boxing achievements as an athlete, and later as a coach and administrator, landed him in the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. He was also welcomed into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980, the Canadian Amateur Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002 and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

Mann was known as a fierce competitor inside the ring, and as a man of honour and integrity whether the gloves were on or off.

"He really was an incredible athlete - he had to have been to achieve that type of success - but he was such a gentleman," said Gale Russell, president of the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame. "He always was in a great mood, he always had an infectious smile in the times I met him. I never heard the man raise his voice. He always seemed to be at peace.

"We've lost a pride of Prince George - someone that was dedicated and cared."

Harold Mann
Harold Mann, left, stands next to a sign promoting his fight against Kalman Santosi at a local boxing card. - Handout photo

Mann was born in Pineview on May 27, 1938, and was raised in Prince George. He was introduced to boxing at the age of 11 by his father, Irving, and did his training at the Lions Athletic Club.

As an amateur fighter, Mann slugged to four provincial championships and three national titles (1958, 1961 and 1962). Also in 1962, as a light middleweight (156 pounds), he represented Canada at the British Empire Games in Perth, Australia, and won gold - the first-ever by a Canadian boxer at the event, which later became known as the Commonwealth Games.

"When they played the Canadian national anthem and put that gold medal around my neck, I thought I was going to fly away," Mann told The Citizen during a 2004 interview. "It was beautiful - what a wonderful feeling.

"I'll never forget when they put the British Empire/Commonwealth Games gold medal around my neck when I knocked that guy out," Mann said in another Citizen interview, this one in 2007. "I was tingling all over. We had it upstairs (at home) with my Canadian gold medals. I used to go up there once in a while and just touch it, and I could just feel myself vibrate."

Harold Mann
Harold Mann, left, shares a fun moment with a group of young boxers he was coaching at Prince George's Spruce Capital Boxing Club. - Handout photo

Sadly, the British Empire gold medal - as well as the three golds from the Canadian championships - were stolen in 2007 from The Exploration Place, where they were being displayed as part of a Prince George Sports Hall of Fame exhibit. Mann was heartbroken by the theft and never got the medals back. The City of Prince George did eventually present him with replica medals.

"It wasn't the real thing but it was a nice gesture from the city," said Cory Mann, the youngest of three sons in the family. The others are Curtis and Laurie, the latter of whom developed into a Canadian boxing star in his own right.

"Dad was in a position where he could have sued, and many people asked him 'Why don't you sue the city?' and dad simply said that this was the town he grew up in, the town he made his living in, and he didn't want to do that to the town," Cory added.

"He was a total class act. And he wasn't interested in the money (from a potential lawsuit). That wasn't what he was about."

After a wildly successful amateur career that saw him finish with an 82-8 record, Mann moved on to the professional ranks. As a middleweight pro from 1963 to 1967, he went unbeaten in 12 fights.

Harold Mann in his prime as a fighter. He won the 1962 British Empire (Commonwealth) Games championship and three Canadian amateur boxing titles.

"He was one of the best," said brother-in-law Lorne Marquette, who saw all of Mann's fights and later coached with him at the Spruce Capital Boxing Club. "He was a southpaw, he was a very intelligent fighter. For a left-hander, it was quite unusual how well he could box."

As a coach, Mann worked with countless local athletes at the Spruce Capital club, which he helped name after a sponsorship deal with the Lions expired.

Mann expected his students to be disciplined in their training but was always full of encouragement. Five of his athletes went on to become repeat national champions, including Laurie, who claimed six Canadian amateur titles.

"He was a motivator," Cory said of his dad.

"He touched a lot of lives. He helped a lot of young kids put their lives in good directions. The biggest thing about the boxing for him, I would say, was the friendships that were formed over the years. Many of these friendships, they're like family now."

Mann was such a respected coach that, in the 1970s, he even guided boxers at the national level. He was ringside for the world championships in Cuba and the Pan American Games in Colombia.

Mann was happily married to Betty, whom he wed on Dec. 23, 1958. Betty was always supportive of her husband, no matter where boxing or coaching took him.

"My mom was a big part of my dad's life," Cory said. "We called her 'the woman behind the Mann.' She was his rock."

Professionally, Mann worked as a salesman at the local Chevrolet dealership for close to 50 years. As his career advanced, he started mentoring the younger salesmen.

"There he was a coach as well, within the capacity of working in that industry," Cory said.

Away from work and other day-to-day commitments, Mann loved to spend time at Cluculz Lake.

"We have a lot of fond memories at our family cabin of many years - with the grandparents and the kids and cousins," Cory said.

"Dad was all about getting together with his friends and family. That's what he lived for. He enjoyed having a beer, being in the sun and being with his people. And a big part of his life, too, was Hawaii. Him and my mom, they just loved going to Hawaii each winter. They had their own special spot there."

Harold Mann
Harold Mann in 2004 with his British Empire Games gold medal. - Brent Braaten

Cory said the family started to notice a change in Mann when he was 65, and the Alzheimer's diagnosis came five or six years ago.

He spent three-and-a-half years living at Simon Fraser Lodge, where he received tremendous care.

"They treated my dad very well and we really appreciate it," Cory said.

"The last five years was pretty tough on the family and especially on my mom," he added.

"(Alzheimer's) is a tough disease. He's in a better place now and we're going to send him off in a good way."

A funeral service for Mann will be held on Friday at Immaculate Conception Parish (3285 Cathedral Ave.) at 11 a.m.

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