The death of Muhammad Ali on June 3 brought back a flood of memories for Cowichan Valley realtor Alex Robertson.
In 1974, just a few months before he moved to Victoria to begin his three-decade career as a sportscaster with CHEK TV, and a few months before Ali fought George Foreman in the legendary Rumble in the Jungle, Robertson had the chance to spend two days hanging out with the boxing legend.
Just 23 at the time, Robertson would go on to travel the world and meet scores of sports superstars, but that encounter stands out.
“I would say that was the major highlight of my journalism career, even at such an early age,” Robertson said.
At the time, Robertson was a radio sportscaster and chairman of sports celebrity dinners in southwestern Ontario, helping service clubs organize head tables for their events. The dinner in question took place in Sarnia, where Ali was a last-minute fill-in after football hall-of-famer Larry Csonka cancelled.
“We weren’t far from Detroit, so we were always able to bring in big names,” Robertson recalled, noting that Joe Frazier had been a featured speaker the year before.
Robertson encountered Ali many times in the years after that, never for more than a few minutes, but the People’s Champion always made a point of warmly remembering that initial meeting, part of the personality that made him so immensely popular.
“Even when he was sick with Parkinson’s and couldn’t smile, you could always see the mischief in his eyes.”
Robertson still carries a huge amount of respect for Ali, both as an athlete and a person.
“In social, religious and political terms, he was 40 years ahead of his time,” Robertson said. “He actually changed the world in terms of opinion.”