|Remarks from Emery Leger|
My name is Emery Leger, and I am glad to be here today celebrating Ossie’s marvelous life and legacy. I’m the archivist at Skate Canada and as you may imagine my position there gives me the opportunity to have access to rare documents and items related to figure skating. When I started thinking about what I could say here today about Ossie, I went back to his files and found an unpublished exclusive interview Ossie gave to Yvonne Butorac, in 2002 in a project funded by the Hall of Fame.
I decided to reveal some of the things Ossie said that day in February 2002, which I hope will help us remember him as an Icon and a Mentor who loved his sport and felt a deep connection with his skaters.
|Ossie was very pleased with all the skaters he worked with, either as their coach, their choreographer, or special advisor, and proud of all his, and their, accomplishments. He never got tired of chatting about it. As many of you know, Ossie had an incredible unique sense of humour. Let me share Ossie’s exact words on some of his accomplishments.
He coached Donald Laws from Washington and Donald Tobin from Ottawa and both became champion of their country the same year. And Ossie said, “I coached both and I don’t think that’s been done since”.
He also coached Ice Capade’s star Sarah Kawahara, who has become a renowned choreographer. This is how he felt about her “She’s brilliant. She’s an extension of myself. Not that I’m brilliant. In choreography she has that wonderful way. She’s one of my best friends.”
Another skater he is credited for coaching was Gordon Forbes, who did seven triples at the Canadian championships, which was unheard of at that time. When Gordon left Ossie for another coach he told him “Mr. Colson, I have to leave you because I will lose my mind. I have learned volumes but I will lose my mind because you’ve taught me so much.” And Ossie replied, “Well I’m glad you lose your mind first, and good luck”.
Ossie was an advisor to Olympic ice dance medalists Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall. He remembered Tracy as very methodical and said: “she still is, and wrote her notes down in a book – everything I said, every time. So when I came back I didn’t have to correct, it was done. She controlled it. Rob didn’t have any discipline at all. You know the girl pairs – in most pairs the girl is the leader”.
Canadian champion Karen Preston was another skater that benefited from Ossie’s skating experience. He liked to say about her that: “she worked really hard and was clever. She didn’t like figures. She hated them. She must be delighted they are out of the curriculum. She’s so funny.”
The children that took from me were all inclined to be mischievous children. Prissy children never took from me because I was a free spirit too – a bit of a party animal. They realized the personality was going to work. They size things up. They’re smart, very smart.
Once his own competitive skating days were over, Ossie enjoyed focusing on choreography. He did a number for world champion Donald Jackson. He also choreographed Canada’s Olympic Gold Medalist Barbara Ann Scott ice show The Skating Sensations Tour of 1950.
And I could go on and go about how well his skaters did under his coaching…
Before turning to coaching, Ossie seized the opportunity to be a star performer himself. He joined the Ice Follies in 1939 and skated in the show for seven years.
Through his Ice Follies adventure, he met and worked with Joan Crawford and Jimmy Stewart. Later, he was introduced to stars such as Boris Karloff, Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan and Judy Garland.
Ossie had great advice for coaches. “I go to the theatre like mad, and I go to the ballet, and I go to everything. The interest in those other arts strengthened my teaching. I wrote an article for the Ottawa coaches’ paper and said, take a night off and go to the opera, go to the symphony. It’s wearing because you go and you almost choreograph while you’re listening to the symphony, instead of listening to the sounds, but it is so worthwhile, experience-wise to me” His mind was always focused on skating even when he was doing something else.
His love for the sport was obvious to anyone who spoke to him. He used to say: “The passion and love of the excitement of a stage made of ice far surpasses a wood floor, in my estimation. A glide you can’t duplicate in anything and I’ve done dance. I’ve studied ballet; I’ve studied modern; I’ve studied jazz. I love it all for the sake of learning movements and it’s been helpful in my work, but skating is better”.
One of Ossie’s first coaches was Olympic Coach Gus Lussi who said of Ossie “Although he was a rather self-opinionated boy, he had unique views and ideas about everything,”
At the end of the interview with Yvonne, Ossie commented “This little machine (referring to the tape recorder) has quite a lot of things on it. I haven’t treated it as a machine. It’s just a little bit of a reflection of the kind of person I would like to be and hope I am”.
At the time of the interview he said his doctor asked him “Do you want to just die on the rink and have a heart attack or do you want to retire; ‘recognized coach retires’ or ‘recognized coach dies of a heart attack’. Your choice. It’s up to you” and Ossie said, “I don’t know I’ve got to think that one over”.
Since that interview, Ossie went on to coach Patrick Chan who became Canadian Junior Champion.
On a more personal note Mr. Colson was a very generous man. He would always say hello and come over to tell me my skater had a great program, great feet, great edges and I really appreciated this. It gave me a lot of confidence as a coach especially coming from him. He will be missed.
I hope these excerpts from that interview have helped you remember the wonderful man Ossie was, whether you knew him as a skater, a coach, a choreographer, a performer, an advisor, etc… I believe you can summarize what I’ve said with these four key words: mentor, icon, connection and love!