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RIP George Kimball, 1943–2011

George Kimball

The Boston Phoenix, and the world of boxing, has lost a heavyweight. George Kimball, Phoenix sports editor (back when there was such a thing) for nearly 10 years, Boston Herald columnist for 25 more, and truly one of the great boxing writers of our time, passed away last night (July 6) at his home in New York City. He was 67.

I can't say I knew George Kimball, but I was lucky enough to work with him once, and we spoke on the phone. Our late, great managing editor, Clif Garboden, had put me in touch with George to go over some edits I had for one of his stories, and I was nervous as hell. This was one of those larger-than-life people who built this paper in the '70s, and I remember being as eager to impress him with my edits as I was with some banter about an upcoming fight. I hope I did a better job on the copy, because I'm sure I sounded like an idiot talking to George about boxing.

An Army brat who grew up in the counterculture 1960s, George bounced around the country, from Kansas to Greenwich Village, before arriving in Boston. He was one of the founding editors of the Cambridge literary journal Ploughshares, and joined the Phoenix as sports editor in 1971, helping nurture the careers of Mike Lupica, Michael Gee, and Charles P. Pierce, among many others. (Read Gee's tribute to Kimball in the Boston Herald.)

Over the next quarter century, George covered nearly every major sporting event in the world, from the Super Bowl to the America's Cup. He covered nearly 400 world title fights, and was the 1985 recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism.

George was diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer in 2005, but instead of slipping off into a quiet march to the end, he became even more prolific as a writer. His Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Durán and the Last Great Era of Boxing was published in 2008, followed by The Fighter Still Remains: A Celebration of Boxing in Poetry and Song from Ali to Zevon (2010), edited with John Schulian, and Manly Art: They Can Run - But They Can't Hide (2011). In March, the Library of America published another Kimball-Schulian collaboration, At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing. He was a regular contributor for espn.com (http://search.espn.go.com/george-kimball/boxing/25) and thesweetscience.com, and wrote the popular weekly "America at Large" column for the Irish Times.

And he continued to write for the Phoenix from time to time, contributing some terrific book reviews on subjects ranging from Roger Clemens to Jack Kerouac and the Beats.

George's friend Thomas Hauser posted a tribute (with a link to a Kimball profile he did in 2004) on thesweetscience.com. It's a terrific place to start, and I'm sure there'll be a lot more written about him in coming days.

In a January 2009 interview with Gelf magazine, George talked about the inevitability of looking back. "As far as I can tell," he said, "every generation has fretted about the decline of the sport and longed for the good old days."

We lost another great one. Today, that longing is even more bittersweet.

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