We’ll forever miss the wit and smile of Ronnie Johnson
The great college basketball coach Al McGuire, who had first- hand knowledge working as a bartender while attending college, said that the best post graduate course would be six months working as a bartender. Then, he said, “they would really be educated.”
Ronnie “Jiggy” Johnson did not only do the post grad thing recommended by McGuire after finishing college but he turned it into a career that spanned 46 years.
He was arguably Cornwall’s best- known, best- read, most- beloved barkeep, spending 31 years at New Parkway Hotel’s Winners Sports Bar, the last dozen or so as manager.
He cut his teeth in the business at the rustic Lloyd George hotel draft room while attending college, spent some time in the Maritimes making pizzas, never giving out his “secret recipe” except to say that it was “all in the sauce.” He returned to the city, working at the long- ago defunct Captain’s Inn. It was he and sidekick Mort Belmore ( Quinn’s Inn), with Jack Roy in tow, who launched Winners and fashioned it into the city’s most popular sports watering hole.
Somebody once asked him why he became a bartender and not a teacher, like his mother and sister. “Can’t stand talking to kids,” he fired back.
Seems everybody had their favourite Jiggy story, myself included.
Like the time I popped into Winners on a quiet Saturday afternoon. He was at the other end of the bar working away on a crossword puzzle, oblivious to my unannounced presence.
After a minute or two I took out my cell phone, dialed the Parkway and asked for Winners Sports Bar.
The phone rang. He shuffled over to the phone, picked it up and announced “Winners!” to wit I inquired if the bar was open on this particular day. He said yes. Then I asked if they were serving customers. He growled “of course.” Fine, I said, would you mind bringing me a beer.
To say he was not amused would be an understatement.
He liked to keep his bar tidy: the football pool sheets had to be piled ever so neatly on the bar; the idle bar stools had to be lined up like soldiers ready for inspection; bills perfectly placed in the cash register in banker fashion.
He was a walking encyclopedia on local history, especially when it came to his deep, rich family roots that stretched back to the Civil War and the role played by his great grandfather, Capt. A. J. MacDonald, who served on General Grant’s Union staff and fought in 15 major battles, including Gettysburg.
He was a great story teller. One of his favourite was about the time he and George Marlin went to Scotland. While enjoying a pint in a pub, a couple of lasses inquired about the source of their “strange” accent.
“We’re from Canada,” said the quickthinking Jiggy. “We own a buffalo farm and supply the fur for those tall hats the guards at Buckingham Palace wear.”
Then there was the time a couple of chaps showed up on a July evening at Winners. A re- run from the NHL regular season was on a sports channel. The two, not exactly Harvard material, were surprised to see an NHL game on TV in July.
Without missing a beat, Jiggy explained that “This is the NHL summer hockey league.”
“Gee, we never heard about one.
“First season,” said Jiggy. experimenting with four teams.”
A couple of weeks later, with Mort behind the bar, the two showed up and asked if he could switch the baseball game to “that new summer NHL the other guy had on.”
He was a diehard Chicago Blackhawks’ fan who blamed every one of their losses on the referees. And when it came to Les Canadiens, it was anybody but the Habs.
Golf was his pastime passion. So, when his son Scott developed into a top notch golfer and won the Cornwall Open a few years back, with Jiggy serving as his caddy, he was one hell of a proud dad.
Last Tuesday morning, JIggy was found dead in his home, felled by a heart attack at age 65.
Bruce Wickham, among his large legion of friends, said it for all of us, “I loved the guy.”
TRIVIA ANSWER Denis Carr was one of three contestants in the federal Stormont- Dundas Conservative Riding Association nomination race in 1988. He lost to Eric Cameron. Grant Campbell, who represented the riding from 1958- 1962 when he lost to Lucien Lamoureux by 70 votes, one of the closest local federal or provincial elections races.
TRIVIA This family owned dairy sold
“Just to Becker’s in 1975, ending the era of local family- owned dairies.
IN THE REAR- VIEW MIRROR Things called gramophones, phonographs, dial phones, long distance operators, telegrams, television repairmen, radio tubes, ice boxes, milk bottles, the eggman, the beltline, country cheese factories, a Stanley Cup parade in Toronto. ... Hall’s Hardware Store on lower Pitt Street. The Snetsinger Block and Cornwall Commercial College run by a guy called George Smith. ... Charges credit cards that first showed up in Cornwall in 1970. ... When kids learned to skate at the neighbourhood park rink on bobskates. ... When the only thing to watch on television at 1 a. m. was a test pattern and folks rented a colour TV for the Grey Cup game or at Christmas.
AROUND & ABOUT St. Lawrence Centre over in Massena Town will be going on the auction block. If you are in the mall buying mood, there isn’t much time to think it over. The New York City group that owns the 548,612 square- foot mall on Route 37 is accepting on- line bids between Dec. 9- 11 on Auction. com. You will need more than loose change. The opening bid will be posted at $ 1.250 million, but it will take more than that. The reserve bid is expected to be just above $ 4 million. The assessed value of the mall, which has an arena, is $ 4,843,750. ... The folks tasked with operating Sun Media newspapers on shoe- string budgets, the S- F is one, no doubt will be told to cut a little deeper again next year to help pick up the tab for that financial disaster called Sun News TV which is drowning in red ink, said to be around $ 16 million a year. Some community cable shows have more viewers.