Parks and recreation was not a television show for Harold Cammy, but a calling that became a profession that he practised with distinction.
At the end of December, Cammy retired as sports manager of Côte-St-Luc’s parks and recreation department after 45 years, making him one of the longest-serving municipal public servants in the Montreal suburb. He left to spend more time with his family.
Cammy is universally respected and liked by citizens, elected officials and fellow employees alike. They credit him with being a driving force in the development of Côte-St-Luc’s enviable sports and recreation facilities, as well as its top-level competitive and leisure athletic programs.
It was an unusual life’s work for a middle-class Jewish boy whose two siblings became educators. He might have followed a similar path, having initially studied history at university, but Cammy was a sports-mad kid. In his 1970 Wagar High School graduation yearbook, he listed his ambition as becoming a professional football player. But given his size, baseball was a more realistic pursuit.
It was baseball that brought Cammy, who spent the first 10 years of his life in NDG, to Côte-St-Luc. He played pickup softball there at Wentworth (now Kirwan) Park, which, at the time, was the only sports “facility” in the town, except for an outdoor pool.
In 1970, he moved up to the hardball Midget AA Avengers, a team coached by local sports store owner Lenny Goldfarb, and then moved on to coaching.
His first paid jobs, starting in 1973, were wading pool attendant, day camp counsellor and outdoor skating rink monitor.
When the city decided to turn the makeshift field where they played into what would become Centennial Park, Cammy was among the petitioners for a baseball diamond. The new field was not only home to the inter-city Avengers, but also spawned thriving bantam and peewee programs.
Soon, Cammy, who was also a hockey coach at the time, was among those lobbying for an arena for the growing community. A few fears later, in 1977, the Samuel Moskovitch Arena opened.
Cammy might not have made his passion a profession if Concordia University had not coincidentally offered the first English-language recreation and leisure studies program in Quebec. Cammy completed a degree in the field and, as luck would have it, there was an opening at the same time in the Côte-St-Luc recreation department.
He became the city’s full-time manager of sports in 1978.
He worked with five mayors, as well as eight recreation directors, throughout his career.
Harold is one of the finest professionals I have ever met.
– Roy Salomon
Cammy excelled at organizing sports, as well as sports-themed charity events that rallied armies of volunteers and attracted celebrities from the Montreal Canadiens, Expos and Alouettes.
Johnny Elias, who had pitched professionally in the minor leagues in the United States, set up his famous Grand Slam Baseball School in Côte-St-Luc and partnered with Cammy in many high-profile tournaments.
Maccabi stalwart Roy Salomon, who was recently selected for the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, says Cammy did much to encourage Jewish kids to get involved in sports, including many who later excelled competitively on a larger stage.
“He had a tremendous influence,” said Salomon, a standout in the city’s legendary Slo-Pitch Association for two decades. “Harold is one of the finest professionals I have ever met. No matter what the situation, however tough, he always had a smile on his face, he never lost his cool.
“If you gave him something to do, you never had to worry. He did it to the nth degree, and with style.”
If he has to pick a highlight, Cammy recalls 1997, when he and former MNA and sportscaster George Springate helped retired Habs great Jean Béliveau reach his goal of donating $1 million to disabled children through a celebrity softball tournament.
More recently, in 2005, the Israeli national hockey team, on its first visit to Canada, played at the Moskovitch Arena, attracting a standing-room only crowd.
It doesn’t take a great effort to be kind and helpful; it just takes a little empathy, compassion and understanding.
– Harold Cammy
Cammy is particularly proud of creating the Pierre Brunet Parks and Recreation Bursary Fund (named for the local McDonald’s franchisee and generous collaborator) with councillor Mike Cohen three years ago. It supports local families with special-needs children or financial problems, enabling them to participate in Côte-St-Luc recreational programs.
Cohen credits Cammy with being the architect of what Côte-St-Luc’s parks and recreation department offers today. “Harold was an innovator. He was never satisfied with the status quo, he always went the extra mile,” says Cohen.
More importantly, Cohen says that Cammy, whom he has known since he was about 10 years old, is a prince of a human being. “He’s dedicated, caring, he’s always been there to respond, whatever the time of day,” he says.
Cammy, who’s lived in Town of Mount Royal since 1979, wanted to step down five years ago, but was persuaded by the city to stay a little longer. He is grateful to his wife of 34 years, Beverly Cammy, for allowing him the freedom to put in so many long days, because she stayed home and looked after their daughter, Lacey, who has special needs.
Ever self-effacing, Cammy stresses that, “I must make clear that our achievements were all part of a team effort.…
“It doesn’t take a great effort to be kind and helpful; it just takes a little empathy, compassion and understanding of human behaviour.”