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This article was published 10/8/2019 (571 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
To this day, nearly three decades later, Carol Jones can still remember the look on her husband Larry’s face when their daughter won her first provincial junior curling championship. Larry was her coach then, but he was most of all a father, and in the wake of victory his eyes danced with a boundless pride.
It’s a look that, over the years, would became a familiar sight to curling fans across Canada, caught on television cameras from St. John’s to Sochi. But at that first Manitoba junior win, the couple couldn’t have imagined how far their daughter Jennifer’s curling journey would go: six Canadian titles, two world championships and an Olympic gold medal.
And when Larry died May 21 at the age of 80, he left behind a local sports legacy of his own. It was built through countless hours of community work and volunteering, through lifelong friendships lovingly tended, and by a tireless commitment to guiding the next generation of Manitoba youth.
To think it all started with a cosy curling club, a pure love of the game and a single red rose.
Flash back to the mid-1950s. At the time, Larry was a teen in Fort Frances, Ont., where his father managed a grocery store. He wanted to play hockey, but his family couldn’t afford skates; instead, he discovered the local curling club, where he started learning how to throw rocks.
Right away, he was captivated by the sport. When the family returned to their hometown in 1955, Larry joined the neighbourhood St. Vital Curling Club. Long after he graduated from Glenlawn Collegiate and took up a career in the growing computer field, he would make his way to the club on cold winter nights.
Soon, he found the perfect companion with whom to share his love of the club. And his life.
In 1963, Larry was visiting a friend at St. Boniface Hospital, when he met a student nurse named Carol. He asked her for her last name, but she initially demurred; he returned to offer her a Red Top burger and ask her on a date. She accepted, and when she arrived at their first dinner, she found a red rose laid on her plate.
More flowers followed, with some regularity, for the rest of their 56 years together.
"He was a romantic soul," Carol says. "He knew how to win my heart, and he did."
The couple married in 1966 and later bought a house in Windsor Park, where they would live for the next 48 years. Seven years into the marriage, they welcomed their first child, Heather. Jennifer followed 18 months later, and with two bright young daughters, their family felt complete.
Life at the Jones household was lively, full of activity. The family took regular camping trips and Larry and Carol embraced volunteering, spending a decade helping out with the Children’s Hospital telethon. Larry discovered a passion for officiating baseball and then wheelchair basketball, something he did for more than 30 years.
But the hub of their bustling social and community life was, always, the St. Vital Curling Club. Carol wasn’t a curler when she first met Larry, but she learned, and the couple became fixtures on and off the club’s ice. Larry rose through the executive, and in 1983 served a term as president.
For much of his life, Carol says, there wasn’t an event at St. Vital — or indeed, a major curling event anywhere in the city — without Larry helping out. He was a jovial man, easy to get along with, and became a popular figure around the tight-knit curling scene.
"It was such a great little community," Carol says. "He used to say, ‘I think we could go to any province in the country, and go to a curling club and we’d have a friend.’ That’s how he felt. So that was our life."
Before long, the kids were also involved. The couple took their daughters to the club — it was easier than finding a babysitter, Carol says with a laugh — and one day, Jennifer asked to watch her mom curl. The rest of that story is written in Manitoba sport history.
From the start, Larry delighted in his daughters’ interest — Heather curled too, though with a more recreational arc — and set about teaching the foundations of the game. He had a knack for strategy, with a keen eye for how to deliver rocks; he spent hours on the ice with his girls, going over releases and shots.
As coach, he guided Jennifer through her early career successes. When she won her first Maple Leaf in 2005, with the legendary in-off known simply as The Shot, Larry was right there beside her. The victory came with a jewelry prize, which for Larry was a ring with four hearts and a diamond. He never took it off.
By then, Larry had come to believe that the team’s talent had eclipsed his ability to coach — "I think they’re a bit beyond me," he told Carol — and he stepped away from coaching Jennifer soon after. He was excited to be just a dad, cheering her on from the stands. He was at every big event, every practice.
But his experience coaching his daughters had changed him, igniting a passion for shaping curling’s next generation. For decades, Larry worked tirelessly with St. Vital’s junior program, helping to build it into one of Canada’s top environments for budding young rock-throwers.
"I don’t remember a day that he wasn’t there on the weekends, teaching junior curlers how to become a champion," St. Vital Curling Club past-president Annette Giguere says. "He was just a very loyal person. And he was very passionate to make sure that St. Vital remained open, remained strong, and as a community base."
Over the years, the program would yield players such as two-time Canadian junior champion Matt Dunstone and 2017 Manitoba champion Kate Cameron. Today, Cameron remembers the St. Vital junior league fondly.
"It was the best," she says. "It was kind of like this family that was together every Sunday."
In 2006, Larry offered to coach her team at the U16 provincials. At the time, Cameron was 15 years old, and just starting to dip her toes into competitive curling; she lost more games than she won, she recalls, laughing. But under Larry’s mentorship, she absorbed a new respect for the sport, and some finer points of its strategy.
"He was passionate about the game," she remembers. "Being young, you don’t necessarily take all that information in.... But he was just a special person and put a lot into the game. That’s how he touched my curling life."
As the years rolled on, Larry contributed to the game in many other ways. He helped craft a computerized draw for the Manitoba Curling Association’s 100th anniversary bonspiel, and the couple became well-known at St. Vital for diligently updating online scores at events; they knew what it was like to wait for updates.
In 1992, Larry was named an honorary life member at St. Vital Curling Club, a laurel he cherished; Curl Manitoba also bestowed him with a lifetime membership honour. Recently, St. Vital recognized his service by establishing an annual junior bonspiel in his name.
In September 2018, even as his health faltered, he told Carol that he had to make an appearance at the Larry Jones Junior Classic. He wound up attending the event every day.
He was proud of those achievements, Carol says, especially the success of the junior program. But nothing made him prouder than his marriage, his daughters and his five grandchildren. Family and friends were always the core of Larry’s life. And for more than 65 years, he and his group of high-school buddies chatted at least once a week.
So at his celebration of life, Glen Lawn Funeral Home filled up with hundreds of people who loved Larry. When it was over, his family gathered to lay his ashes to rest. They did it in the manner he loved best: a glass of good scotch, a single ice cube and a toast to a life of community and sport, fully and joyfully lived.
"He was a man of great integrity and honesty, and he loved his family," Carol says. "We had a really good life."
Those wishing to honour Larry’s life are invited to make donations to St. Vital Curling Club’s junior program, or to the Sandra Schmirler Foundation.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.