RIP Neil Harrison, Legend of Curling

Joy for life, love of the game

Too young, too soon

By George Karrys

TORONTO – Just back from the amazing spectacle that was the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and I get a call from Peter Steski: Harry has died.

Neil “Harry” Harrison had been in poor health for some time now, and to be frank, the man they called the World’s Greatest Lead – to no dissent, by the way – wasn’t expected to survive much past Christmas in December. This was a bitter pill to swallow, given how well he recovered from his first bout with illness back in early 2007.

However, repeat visits from friends including fellow 1983 world champion teammates Ed “The Wrench” Werenich and Paul Savage – plus curling firefighter buddies like Frank McCourt – clearly lifted his spirits and kept him fighting through to the end of the Games. That’s a great way to think about this tragedy, at any rate.

Harry was the prototype for the perfect team player, and a model to all who aspire to “carry the brooms” for the other three guys (okay, no one aspires to do that). He was also the secret weapon for Savage and Werenich’s pioneering approach to the game, which involved attacking opponents with corner guards, a strategy that shocked opponents who were still following scripture in the curling bible – western Canada’s bang-bang hitting game. Harry zipped his stones behind those guards with a millimetre to spare, every time, always above the tee-line and regardless of the ice conditions.

An artist, rather than a technician? You’re darned right… and Harry was one of the best.

The icing on the Harry curling cake was his joy for life and his sheer love of the sport, and love for his fellow curling men and women. If you couldn’t find him in a crowded Patch or hospitality suite, you just listened for that laugh – a howling cackle – and followed the bursts of laughter that followed. There would be Harry, holding court around a crowded table, standing-room only.

Before his health struggles, Harry was giving back to the game as a coach, and this came after he showed off some serious journo skills as a columnist for the late SWEEP! Magazine. We blogged about one of his columns back in 2008 because Harry, God bless him, really told it like it was.

There will be many, many Harry curling stories told today, tomorrow and in the weeks and months to come, for his passing is sure to cause emotional tremors just like those that occurred last year, when his good friend Shorty Jenkins took his pebble can into the skies.

And just as we did then, we invite one and all to type away below this space, in the Comments section, and tell us your stories involving Harry. These are stories that deserve to be told and remembered among all those who love The Roaring Game.

We miss you already, Harry.

[Graphic by George Elliott courtesy of Peterborough and District Sports Hall of Fame. Used by permission.]

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Rating: 4.5/5 (21 votes cast)
RIP Neil Harrison, Legend of Curling, 4.5 out of 5 based on 21 ratings
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47 Comments »

  1. Don Landry Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    So sorry to hear of the passing of Harry.
    A wonderfully warm gentleman.
    I saw him at an event about a year and a half ago and he was just as kind, friendly and funny as ever, even though it was obvious he was struggling with his health. He didn’t let that get in the way of his natural ability to charm.
    Rest in peace, Neil.
    And thank you.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (6 votes cast)
  2. Dwight Paquette (Bubba ) Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    I first met Harry at the Heart to Heart (Thunder Bay) and have enjoyed conversation as well as many drinks with him on his return here to raise funds for the Heart & Stroke Curling Spiel. Here is where Harry’s Beach Party started with laughter, hot tubs and lots of drink. Harry curled in many spiels as a celebrity skip to raise funds for different organizations dear to his heart. We all will miss him terribly and my condolences to his family with many extended family members included. Corn Broom Harry, we will miss you but your stories will flourish forever – Bubba

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  3. Marilyn C Bodogh Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 10:47 am

    Dear Jane and Family,
    God bless Harry! He made a difference in our curling world because he was GOOD at being someone who genuinely cared about us! His laugh and swagger on the ice puts a smile on my face. We will pray for you during this deep sorrow and know that Harry was a good friend to ALL!
    Fondly,
    Marilyn
    (Battle of the Sexes winner in 1996)

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  4. Brad Doherty Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 11:02 am

    Well, this is truly sad. Another case of the good dying young. Harry was one of the most well liked persons I’ve ever met. I cannot think of too many people that you seek out whenever you enter a room. This was a guy you always wanted to sit with… the stories and anecdotes will stay in my head forever. A true legend… how many can remember the 4th end of a C-event game they played in 1987??? Jane… Chris and I pass on our condolences… chin up, we are thinking of you out here in BC.

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  5. Matt Hames Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 11:18 am

    Harry was easily one of the greatest story tellers in the world.

    An easy manner, he had the swagger of a great champion. His laugh, his style, the look he gave you when you said something outrageous. He was pure awesome.

    There will be many awesome stories about what a great guy he was, I want to focus on what an incredible player he was. As written above, he was an awesome shooter. But he was also an amazing player – he was always in the right place to sweep. He had a house awareness that was amazing to watch. He understood the game at the highest level, and made people around him better. I got better simply watching where Harry went.

    The curling world lost a lot today. I miss you Harry.

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  6. Guy Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 11:38 am

    One never knows how a heart will inspire and touch another… I met Neil once face to face at a Brier. He was as gracious as i imagined him to be. I saw him curl at spiels, Briers and the 1983 Worlds in Regina and of course countless times on TV. I shared a handful of emails with him when we both wrote for Sweep Mag! I don’t know how to properly share this but his emails were unbelievably encouraging, honest, insightful and 100% from the heart.

    I loved his writings (I would always read his stuff first), his interviews, what I heard about his coaching style. His style inspired me and continues to. He had an honesty that was so refreshing but he buffered it with such a rare humility and humor. Oftentimes (and this is no cliche here) I have asked myself in my writing and interactions with others: What Would ‘Harry’ Do? My heart is sad today but I can only imagine his family and close friends and the hole he will leave in their hearts… condolences but buffered with memories that will inspire and fill with hope for years to come…

    RIP Mr Harrison,

    Guy

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  7. Bob Turcotte Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 11:52 am

    We will all miss you big guy. I remember going to the Ottawa Welton with Harry, and in our drive we laughed
    and listened to Harry all the way, the four-hour trip seemed to pass in no time as Harry entertained us all the way.
    A great curler and a great man.

    Bob

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  8. Rod Bosch Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 12:09 pm

    I have many great memories of Harry and they all revolve around his commitment to giving back to the game and its participants. I had been involved in the Heart to Heart Bonspiel from it inception and he was one of the first for us to call each year. He was truly a fan favourite and when the occasion arose to start “Harry’s Beach Party” beginning with pulling a few chairs out of a few of the rooms to the outdoors at the hotel, through to sitting around the pool at the hotel, Harry was there, front and centre, holding court. He even flew in one Friday, just to host the Beach Party and then had to fly out late that afternoon to attend to family matters. His love of music was always evident and his library was updated every year, with a few “special” songs for friends in TBay. Harry will always be remembered and missed, but we can all have our fond memories of one of the greatest, funniest men that ever participated in the great game we all love. Rest in Peace Harry!

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  9. Linda Robinson Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

    My first time meeting Harry was at the Heart to Heart in Thunder Bay eons ago. I remember him singing High School Confidential in the halls of the hotel all the curlers stayed at. One morning he knocked on our door facing the parking lot and asked us to come out and join him for drinks. My friend LeeAnne (who Harry will see very soon) said she would not go out unless there was sand and water… hence the start of the Beach Party in the parking lot. That is just the beginning of many stories. He was definitely one of the good ones.
    Linda

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  10. Rick Bachand Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

    Great curler, hell of a story teller, wonderful person. Rest in peace Harry

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  11. Brent Pierce Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

    Very sad to hear of Harry’s passing, it is a very sad day for the sport of curling. I had the pleasure of meeting and competing against Harry a few times and I even got to hear a few stories and his famous laugh… I am smiling as I can hear it now. The game will never be quite the same, but we are so lucky to have had Harry in our sport and he made a big difference. You will be missed Harry but never forgotten.
    Brent Pierce

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  12. Gloria. Campbell Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    To know sorrow is to acknowledge the love that was yours. We can shed tears that you are gone, or we can smile because you have lived. Obviously many tears will be shed but followed by lots of smiles remembering your endearing nature and soul. May you Rest In Peace Neil.

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  13. Dave Shortill Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

    Early days of the World Curling Tour (October 1998). We played Russ Howard in Winnipeg at Assiniboine Memorial. Neil was curling with Russ and Glenn Howard and Peter Corner at second. Needless to say a very classy squad. Beers after the game had Harry cracking everyone up. It was truly a brush with greatness! You touched so many!

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  14. John Brockest Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

    Harry was special! His sense of humour and genuine love for life was unpparelled. He, in my mind, made Eddie, Paul and John famous. My sincere sympathies go to Jane and the two children. God bless “HARRY”…

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  15. Chrissy Haase Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

    I had the amazing good fortune to learn from Harry first hand, during the 2008-2009 season as we prepared for the U.S. Olympic trials and he signed on as our coach. I had met him in passing before and of course knew of his legendary status; the first team meeting with him I was slightly nervous and intimidated but five minutes in all and that was gone… and from that moment on he was just a great person to be around. His stories were amazing, his laughter infectious, his knowledge beyond what I could have imagined, and his ability to instill confidence and say just the right thing at the right time was perfect.

    As the lead player for our team I felt a special kinship to Harry and absorbed every little piece of curling talk I could. What a tragic loss for the Harrison family and the rest of the curling community. Feel blessed that I had the time with him that I did, and I will always have that experience to ‘draw’ from in the future.

    Chrissy Haase

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  16. barry slater Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

    We here at the Royal Canadian CC will miss Harry very much. Always a good friend, a classy guy and a great curler, his passing saddens us deeply. Our heartfelt condolences to his family and to all who knew and loved him.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)
  17. Andy Hick Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

    Very sad to hear about Harry’s passing. Last saw him and Eddie Werenich in Phoenix a few years ago at the Legacy Golf Club. I was there with Rob Meakin, John Shea and Kerry Burtnyk and we, literally, heard two distinctive laughs on the putting green that could only be those two guys… talk about a coincidence. To be in the company of curling greatness in a sport where none of us are any good was pretty special.

    Very proud to say the best curler Peterborough, Ontario has ever produced.

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  18. Brad Savage Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

    As Harry was a teammate of my dad’s for so many years, I was fortunate to learn a great deal from him… mainly an appreciation and respect for the game that few understood as well as Harry.

    Harry wrote a column in the OCR simply called “The Look” that will always remain with me. Written with his customary sense of humour, the underlying message was about respecting your teammates. It resonated with me as a junior curler when it was published, and has stuck with me for the two-plus decades since… and it still does today as I coach my own kids in curling and hockey.

    The Laugh. The Duck and the Ostrich. Out-turns. Hospitality rooms. The Look. All things I will forever associate with Harry.

    Jane, Sean, Amber – deepest condolences.

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  19. Ian Robertson Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

    I had the privilege to play many times against Harry and once with him in a Challenge Round.
    My true appreciation of his mind and shotmaking for the game came in game three after splitting our first two. Harry had a “few” suggestions on strategy that we “attempted” to use. We quickly found out that we were “not” Team Werenich….haha.
    My condolences to the family.

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  20. Jeff Price Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

    As a junior, learning to curl at Avonlea in the late 1970s, “Mr. Harrison” was someone we all looked up to. He was very approachable, and he always had time for the kids. Classy fellow, he was a true ambassador for the game.

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  21. Michael Bohonos Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

    I had the privilege of curling with and against Neil at the firefighters, I will miss his humour and whistling on the ice. Most of all singing “American Pie” with him in the wee hours of the morning… Rest in peace Harry….
    My condolences to the family.

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    Rating: 4.7/5 (3 votes cast)
  22. Jamie Sexton Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

    A great guy who I had the good fortune to meet only once. Also a great player and writer about the game. My condolences to his family.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)
  23. Linda and Don Holman Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

    Such a classy guy – a real gentleman with a huge sense of humour. You will be missed by many Harry but everyone who knew you was better for the knowing and the memories will live on. Sincere sympathy to the Harrison family.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)
  24. Jim Crockett Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

    Not only was Neil a great curler, he was a really nice guy. He will be missed, but always remembered.
    Weejim

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  25. Rob Meakin Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

    It comes with great sadness to hear of Harry’s passing. My heartfelt condolences to his family. Our team had so many great times with the Werenich team that will always be remembered. Harry was one of the best leads to have ever played the game but more importantly a great guy to be around. He will be missed by anyone who was lucky enough to have known him.

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  26. JC TREMBLAY Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

    First met Harry at the Sault Ste. Marie Brier. He was the fifth man for the Wrench.
    No 3 rock rule then, so instead of watching the blank ends we stayed in the patch, me drinking beer and him vodka and orange.
    When he got traded to the Wrench’s team years later he told me it “was a trade that didn’t help either team”.
    Great guy and lots of fun.
    Rest in peace brother.
    JC

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  27. Steve Johns Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

    I remember as a junior curler hanging around Avonlea CC in the early 80s and occasionally seeing Harry and the rest of the Wrench’s amazing team having a laugh, and gathering their equipment as we arrived on a Friday afternoon for Vic Park HS school curling. We always felt great to see them at the club – it was a brush with fame.

    For me, Harry was the first lead who ‘owned’ the position. Harry was ahead of his time. Here is a video of him from 2011 talking about the Continental Cup with Paal from Norway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLEerPP23Xw

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  28. Janet McGhee Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

    I remember idolizing the Wrench’s team as a junior curler. I saw them many times, and they were truly impressive players! And then I came to meet them, and play alongside them at various events like the Welton Beauchamp, and other Tour events. I also saw them at Avonlea, playing in the Firefighters, doing charity bonspiels etc. You couldn’t have met better curlers, friends or teammates. My condolences to your family, and your friends as you will be missed! God bless you Harry!

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  29. Ted Paradis Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

    So sad to hear of Neil’s passing. Whether it was at the old major league at Humber, zone playdowns or the Vegas spiel in Lindsay, every time we played Harry it was a treat because as much as you enjoyed playing him and watching him make the game look easy, it was more fun to listen to him tell endless stories about our game and to enjoy his mirth and laughter.
    Truly one of the very best curlers and people I have had the pleasure to know. Rest in peace Harry, we miss you already.
    My deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends – God bless.

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  30. Guy Hemmings Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 6:14 pm

    This is a sad news for anyone who had the pleasure to meet him. For me I even had the honour to play spiels with him, what a treat it was for me. Since then, I never watch a complicated curling situation without asking myself… what would Harry do here? Salut mon ami, merci pour ton amitié!

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  31. John Collins Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 8:17 pm

    Simply put, Harry was not only the greatest lead of the last century, but one of the greatest guys. I remember Harry always said hello, and always remembered me by name even though officially we had never been introduced. I really don’t know if he ever realized how good he was. Whenever the Wrench needed some input on strategy (which was rare) Harry was there… and when Harry talked, they all listened. I last curled against Harry in Lindsay… and I laughed my ass off afterwards. Thanks Harry. Say hi to Shorty for me up there.

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  32. Mary-Anne Arsenault Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 8:52 pm

    What an amazing soul. Harry made me laugh so hard on many occasions that my cheeks would hurt. He had such warmth and sincerity you couldn’t help but be drawn to him. I remember Harry referring to the two turns as “the out-turn; the hurry-turn”! He called me Janis; he loved to “sing” High School Confidential.
    I will remember Harry’s stories fondly; miss his infectious laugh.

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  33. Perry Lefko Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 10:29 pm

    Neil Harrison made covering curling fun. He will be remembered as a throwback to a different time in curling — a crazy time — played by people who had a passion for winning and good times. He had a tremendous sense of humour. I guess God need a left-handed lead who could crack him up. You’ll be missed, Harry.

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  34. Denis Parsons Said,

    February 24, 2014 @ 11:11 pm

    Like most of curlers in Thunder Bay, we first met Harry at all the H2H’s. It soon became very clear that a world class curler was also a world class gentleman. Whether you were also a top level curler or just a beginner, looking to raise some needed funds for a worthwhile cause, Harry treated you the same. We will surely miss this wonderful man. Used to hearing “hurry”, he can now rest in peace. God love you Harry.

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  35. vicki Marianchuk Said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 6:19 am

    It will be our job to make sure we pass on his wonderful stories and
    ensure he is remembered in the curling world. May he rest in peace now

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  36. André Proulx Said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 7:25 am

    I had the pleasure of competing against Harry in many Firefighter Provincials, especially in he finals in Ottawa. Sadly, Harry beat us to go on to represent Southern Ontario at our Nationals. I knew I had been beaten by “The Best”
    R.I.P. Brother…You will be missed by all of the curling world!

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  37. Rachel McKee Said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 8:37 am

    My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Neil Harrison
    RIP Neil Harrison

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  38. Earle Morris, Ottawa Said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 9:36 am

    Neil Harrison was one of the great ones – relentlessly consistent at his craft as an all-world lead. Part of the Toronto Dream Team that made “drink, draw and win” their motto while most curlers in Ottawa in that era would “hit, sleep and lose”. He loved the game and the people and always had time to have a word with everyone despite his superstar status. Will be sorely missed but long remembered. Rest in peace Harry.

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  39. Brian Merriman Said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 9:46 am

    Remembering Harry, wow, hard to nail down just one thing that would stand out. For me it would be the endless days we sat around Avonlea all afternoon playing hearts, the Kurl for Kids spiel, the golf games, singles, and so many stories and laughs. I had the fortune of attending one of Harry’s “Beach Parties” in TBay, the “best party ever without sand”. Harry truly was bigger than life and I for one cherish every having met him. So long for now Harry, keep the cards close at hand.

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  40. Donna Merriman Said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 10:04 am

    Jane, Amber and Sean. May you find comfort in your beautiful memories. We are all saddened by his passing, but he will live forever in our hearts. A wonderful gentleman with a great smile and a twinkle in his eyes. Rest now in God’s gentle care.

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  41. Steve Payette Said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    We were proud to have Harry at the House of Hearts Celebrity Bonspiel in Duluth, where he will be always remembered by those who met him. Always gracious and welcoming, Harry would give time to all who met him. Harry treated everyone with respect. I can honestly say that anyone here who met him considered him a friend. Thoughts and prayers to Harry’s family and to those closest to him.

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  42. Ross Scarrow Said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 7:06 pm

    It seemed that even more than playing the game Harry loved to talk curling. He loved to analyse situations and I always learned something from listening to his insight. And his ability to recall those situations long after they had occurred was amazing.
    I’ll miss the laugh, the wry smile and the little lighthearted jab that poked fun at you – it was all Harry.
    I hadn’t seen him much in the past years, but I know that the world is a little less interesting without Harry around. Rest in peace Harry, we are going to miss you a lot.

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  43. Mike Hanafin Said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 2:27 am

    Saddened by the loss of such a friend of curling. I had the great fortune to play against Harry a few times, in the Major League, and at the Weston ‘spiel in 2003 when Werenich made his comeback. And in Kurl for Kids too, when I was just getting into the game. You always wanted to play AGAINST Harry, because that meant you got to sit with him after the game. And listen. And laugh. Not many people could tell a story like Harry. I also did some writing for Sweep! but I always opened up Harry’s column first — especially when he commented on women’s curling! He loved getting the ladies agitated. I moved to B.C., and Harry’s last email to me… he wrote “Hug a tree for me, will ya”. Done. RIP to a one of a kind.

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  44. Doug Hayes Said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

    I met Harry through my dear friend John Kawaja, and while I am certainly not a curler, I thought this might be the best forum to express my condolences to Harry’s family. The world was a better place because of him and he will be missed. His sense of humor will always resonate with me, and as a fellow Peterborough native, Harry and I appreciated a laugh. In a golf game from decades ago, I snap-hooked a drive in to someone’s back yard at Aurora Highlands, and without missing a beat, Harry says, “Don’t worry, Hazey barbeques are 90% air”
    RIP Neil and may the days/weeks ahead be bearable for those that loved him so much.

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  45. Jim Corrigan Said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 7:15 pm

    Harry is going to be missed by everyone who knew him in the curling world.

    In the early 1990s, our team had the questionable fortune to play in the same region as both the Werenich and (Russ) Howard foursomes. We had many legendary thrashes with both teams – intense, tough, well-played battles usually decided by a couple of misses over a 10-end game.

    Although we came second in these tilts more often than first, it was a privilege to compete against Harry. He was intense without being mean, never disrespectful, always funny, and classy in victory or defeat.

    People may not remember the revolution that the ‘Dream Team’ (Eddie, Paul, Johnny K. and Harry) brought to the game in the early 1980s, but every front-end player that has come along since owes a debt of gratitude to these guys. Front-enders used to throw either 20 guards or 20 peels per game. We were not considered to be ‘skill players’ in that era. Eddie used the great abilities of Harry and John to ramp up the level of difficulty for front-ender’s shots. If you couldn’t play touch shots with your own front-end, your team was not going to beat the Dream Team.

    These days, nobody blinks when a lead throws perfect freeze after perfect freeze, but it has not always been that way in our game. Harry had, and played, all the shots (as long as they were out-turns – GRIN), and his great skill allowed the Werenich team to take curling to a new level.

    Salute to the new All-star Lead on Heaven’s curling team!

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  46. Norm Hales Said,

    March 1, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

    I first met Harry at the 1982 Canadian Firefighters Curling Championship in Winnipeg. I was the skip of the Saskatchewan rink and and drew a bye the first round, and played Harry and Ed for our first game in the second round. It was like meeting my idols and as everyone expected they beat us. hey went on and won the hydrant undefeated the entire week. We played him at a few more Firefighter championships and looked forward to it every game. Harry was truly one the greatest gentleman to ever play the game. Many, many laughs we had and always looked forward to seeing him.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)
  47. Nancy Cameron Said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 3:44 pm

    May knowing that Harry is in the thoughts and hearts of such a huge curling fraternity help Jane, Amber and Sean through this time of great sorrow… No one lit up a room like Harry did… His laugh, his smile and let’s not forget how much he loved to sing! I can hear him now, belting out a few notes from Don McLean’s “American Pie” in the hospitality room at the Kurl for Kids… Rest in peace my dear dear friend… Thanks for the memories!

    VA:F [1.9.20_1166]
    Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes cast)

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