Mike Quarry, RIP

Over a decade ago I published a long story about Jerry Quarry, the former heavyweight contender from Bellflower who had sustained major brain damage because of the punishment he took in the ring. It was one of my first feature stories, and I was pretty proud of myself.

When I recently re-visited Quarry's career for a feature about his historic fight against Muhammad Ali in Atlanta, I discovered that at least two members of Jerry's family were still upset with me about the first story. They claimed that I'd been duped by another family member and so had missed part of the tale. They had a point: I'd concentrated so much on Jerry's condition that I ignored a sibling feud that would have greatly enriched the story.

I thought about this after reading two stories published following the death of Mike Quarry, Jerry's younger brother and an excellent boxer in his own right, who passed away prematurely in June due to pugilistic dementia. In the first story, the Times' Bill Dwyre wrote a heartfelt profile (some would call it "Plaschke-esque") of Ellen Quarry, Mike's widow, and the patience she showed in caring for Mike during his final years.

Having interviewed Mike Quarry in the mid-1990s, as the after-effects of the damage he and Jerry received in the ring were painfully obvious, I can attest to Ellen's courage. Looking after Mike was a challenging, thankless task – and Dwyre's column rightly praised Ellen Quarry for being equal to the challenge.

Wrote Dwyre: "[Ellen] became his second mother, deciding that, whatever it took, and however long, she would stay the course, leaning on friends, professional care-givers and strong faith to survive, one day at a time."

In the second story, San Gabriel Valley Tribune columnist Robert Morales journeyed to Shafter, north of Bakersfield, for Mike's funeral. There, he discovered that surviving family members had a very different opinion of Ellen (who didn't attend the funeral). Unlike Dwyre's uplifting tale of a widow's courage, Morales' column uncovered a complex, nasty feud.

Wrote Morales: "Neither Mike Quarry's sister Wilma Pearson, nor her husband, Robert, is convinced that Mike had become violent enough to warrant being put on Haldol. Robert Pearson drafted a letter signed by his wife and her two remaining sisters, Janet and Diana, questioning Ellen Quarry as to why Mike had to go on Haldol.

"I don't know her motivation; all I know is what was happening," Robert Pearson said. "She kept telling everybody how violent Mike was, and that was why she had to keep him on this medicine. But he was never violent. His caregiver told us Mike was never violent. And he was fired."

Continued Morales: "According to Ellen, Mike's sisters visited him only once or twice during the six months he was at Seasons. So she said it is unlikely that they could understand just how much their brother had regressed and how erratic his behavior had become."

Three follow-up comments. I also attended Mike's funeral, on a blisteringly hot summer day. Since Jerry's death in 1999, three siblings (including Mike) have passed away, as has their father Jack. Another brother, Robert, was at the funeral on a one-day pass from Folsom. (Sounds like a bad country song, eh?) The family has always boasted that there's "no quit in a Quarry," but clearly they're a shaken clan. What's sad is that, buffeted by much loss and pain, the family has been unable to find peace within their own ranks.

In another column, Morales profiled former welterweight contender Randy Shields. Morales wrote that Shields is helping to " produce a documentary called "The Long Road Home" . . . that details the sad plights of many boxers who sustained debilitating injuries in the ring that led to poor quality of life or death." According to Shields, the story of Mike Quarry will be featured in the documentary. I look forward to this film with the hope that it will spotlight the sorry condition boxing leaves many of its fighters.

And, finally, it's interesting to note how, at the tail end of Dwyre's reign as the Times' sports editor, the section virtually ignored boxing. The weekly column all but disappeared; if your name wasn't De La Hoya or Arum, you got no love. But since down-shifting to columnist earlier this year, Dwyre has made boxing one of his priorities, writing at least seven columns about the sweet science (including this past weekend's piece on Brian Viloria). Better late than never….

August 28, 2006 9:14 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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