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Ottawa Golf Community Loses a Friend – John McConachie

John McConachie contributed a lot to sport in Canada. He passed away on February 14, 2016 (Photo: Joe McLean)
John McConachie contributed a lot to sport in Canada. He passed away on February 14, 2016 (Photo: Joe McLean)
John McConachie contributed a lot to sport in Canada. He passed away on February 14, 2016 (Photo: Joe McLean)

The Ottawa Citizen Amateur Golf Championship was a fixture in the Ottawa golf community for eleven years from 2001 – 2011. The tournament featured many talented golfers, but the key to the success of the event was the hard work and organizational skills of Tournament Director John McConachie.

Sadly, we have to report that Mr. McConachie passed away on February 14, 2016, leaving behind his wife Diane and his two sons Sean and Ryan as well as three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 pm at the Day Springs Church, 999 Moodie Drive in Nepean, Ontario on Saturday, February 20th, after a visitation beginning at 12:30 pm.

The following is John’s Profile story from the July, 2005 edition of Flagstick Golf Magazine.

Organized And Tenacious – John McConachie Is Bringing His Talents To A Whole New Field Of Play

Before the arrival of the Ottawa Citizen Amateur Golf Championship in the National Capital Region few golfers had ever had the name “John McConachie” cross their lips.  Of course, if they had been any kind of avid Canadian Sports fan that would have been a different story.  The setting may have changed for McConachie in his role as the coordinator for this major amateur golf championship, but leading the way in a sports organization – well, that wasn’t quite so new to him.

The Ottawa Citizen Amateur Golf Championship is John McConachie’s baby and the successful event is remarkable in that John was not an avid golfer at its’ inception, but he did know a lot about marketing.  The event speaks volumes about the tenacity and organizational skills of John and his company – Inside The Leather Golf Promotions.

After his retirement from the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU, now CIS) in 1998, where he was Director of Marketing and Communication, John had formed a small consulting company with adult recreational hockey and women’s ringette as clients.  At the same time he was also producing a marketing plan for Planned Parenthood.  A friend at MacLaren McCann Ad Agency in Toronto advised John that the Ottawa Citizen, a staple of the capitals newspaper market, wanted to run an Amateur Golf Championship along the lines of the highly successful Toronto City Golf Championship, sponsored by the Toronto Star and Buick and wondered if he was interested in managing it.  The “Tiger” phenomenon was to have an effect on John’s retirement.

An initial meeting to discuss the project was held on March 9, 2001 with the Ottawa Citizen’s Jim Orban, Buick’s Jean- Yves Laberge and Gord Byers from MacLaren McCann Ad Agency in attendance.  Remarkably, the 1st Ottawa Citizen Amateur Championship took place in July of that same year.

Suddenly being thrust into the golf tournament world would have been daunting to some people but for McConachie it was just the evolution of a lifetime that had always interspersed with the joys of sport.

John grew up in the Greenfield Park area of Montreal, had the obligatory paper route as a youngster and caddied at the Country Club of Montreal in St. Lambert. Caddies were allowed to play the course on Mondays, but John was unable to play. “Being left-handed, I didn’t have the access to clubs that the other caddies did.”  No matter, golf would come to John later in life and anyways, he had plenty of other athletic outlets to fill his time and he did so with vigour and success.  He was high school athlete of the year from 1958 – 1960.  “It was a small school,” says John with his ever-present humility.

John credits his former school principal, Ulric Russell and his former school gym teacher, John Prince, for their help in his formative years.  “My dad passed away in 1952 at the age of 39 and I was 10, and these two gentlemen looked after me and helped me immensely at Royal George Elementary and High School.” John played on the 1960 Canadian Junior Football Championship Team – the Rosemount Bombers and credits his coach Ike Amromin in also helping with his personal development.  “Ike was a tough but fair man.”

After high school, John worked for two years and then attended Sir George Williams University, where he played varsity hockey and graduated with a BA in Canadian History. “I was going to be a teacher,” John commented about his original career intentions.  During the summer months, he worked at Ford Motors to pay for his schooling.  In December of 1966, John became Business and Facility Manager at Loyola College and stayed at that job for four and a half years.

John’s most well known role would come about in September of 1971 when he made the move to join the staff of the CIAU at their Ottawa offices.  He became Assistant Executive Director of Marketing and Communication under the legendary CIAU Executive Director Bob Pugh.  John’s functions included event management, communications and recruitment of sponsors.  His tenure put him in touch with sports media personnel from coast to coast, as well as amateur and professional athletes, coaches and club owners throughout Canada. John is proud of his association and time spent with the CIAU. “We had some super people involved in the organization and it was a pleasure to assist in building the organization for over 20 years. I enjoyed going to work every day.” His admiration for his work is evident when he talks about his association with legends of amateur sports, including John Metras from Western University, Frank Tindall from Queen’s University and Bruce Coulter from Bishop’s University.

Bob Pugh had the following to say about his former co-worker.  “He was a quality person to work with and I am proud to call him a true friend.  John was committed to his job at the CIAU and he felt that university sports provided a cornerstone for the future for student athletes.”

Highlights of his CIAU career are too numerous to mention in this article. The two that stand out are the CIAU trip to Moscow the year after the Munich Massacre (ask John about the cab ride and the police if you run into him) and the movement of the Intercollegiate Football Championship, The Vanier Cup, from Varsity Stadium to Skydome, where a crowd of 32,800 was in attendance.

All good things come to an end and when he was asked to move to Toronto and set up a corporate office in 1998, John decided that life in Ottawa with his wife Diane and his two children Sean and Ryan was more important and he retired from the CIAU. He first met his wife, Diane Gregory, in high school where she was one year behind John.  They did team up in high school, but only to win a mixed doubles badminton championship.  Re-united in 1966, they married in Vancouver on Christmas Eve in 1968.  John says that he never forgets his anniversary.

Two awards that John received near the end of his career are cherished and they both speak volumes about the character of John McConachie. He received the Frank Ratcliffe Communications Award at the 26th Annual Canadian Sports Awards in 1998. This award is given annually to an individual or corporation deemed to have made a significant contribution to the Canadian Sport system and / or sports governing body, multi-games organization or sports-related organization in the areas of internal communications, public relations, media relations, reporting, broadcasting or promotion. He also received the JP Loosemore Award in 1999, given to an individual who exemplifies the best in university sport, in terms of ethics, integrity and honesty.

In 1996 John acquired a set of left-handed golf clubs, took some lessons at the Kevin Haime Double Deck Golf Centre in Kanata and became a social golfer. He enjoys the game and his best round to date is a 93 in the fall of 2004 at the RideauView Golf Club. An eagle, with a 45-yard chip on the 10th hole, is his claim to fame.

During his 4 years at the helm of the Ottawa Citizen Amateur Golf Championship, John has many personal memories. “I am impressed each year by the quality of the amateur golfers participating in the championship. I remember the 1st event at Kanata, played from the tips on a cold and wet day with the resulting 6-hour rounds. That was a steep learning curve and the last event played with foursomes. Eventual tournament champions Ian Johnson hitting shots off the tee with his 1 iron and Leigh-Ann Ellis not even carrying a driver in her bag are notable as was the play-off between Susan Holtom and Bonnie Wolff.”

John is equally impressed with his tournament team, many of whom have been with him since the start of the 1st tournament. “They all apply the event philosophy, which is to service the players,” says the tournament organizer with obvious pride.  As to the future, the tournament team is exploring the “possibility” of a seniors division, as well as finding more women’s division participants.  “We will continue to make our event a top notch tournament for area golfers,” was the comment from John.

As to John’s personal future, he would like to devote more time to his 3 grandchildren and travel south in the winter with his wife. His gardening in his own words, “screws up travel in the summer,” but his self-taught woodworking skills have helped around the house. His grandchildren, by all accounts, have certainly enjoyed their winter sleds made by their grandfather. John is also helping write the history of his hometown, Greenfield Park, Quebec and working to get the story published.  Good to see that that BA in Canadian History is being utilized.

Whatever project comes John McConachie’s way, you can be assured that he will handle it in the same manner that he has throughout his life, with an honest assessment and effort.  In some ways he has become the teacher he originally intended to be.  If you just watch him in action you will quickly learn that the integrity of any sporting event is safe in his hands.  It’s an example we can all learn from, and one from which many already have.

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