R.I.P. Joe Hawkins

By Patrick Kennedy
Kingston Whig-Standard

 
KINGSTON — Throughout each baseball summer, and certainly during the off-season when much of the crucial behind-the-scenes toil was required, the telephone would ring shortly after sunrise.

“Joe knew I’d be up, so he’d phone at 6:30 in the morning and say, ‘Put Tom on,’” Anne Carty said, taking a moment on Thanksgiving morning to reflect on indefatigable volunteer Joe Hawkins.

She’d tell the caller that her husband was still in bed.

“Well, I need him,” Hawkins would reply with a trace of disarming charm. “Besides the day’s half over.”

For tireless souls like Hawkins, time of day meant little when there was work to do, a task to fulfil, a commitment to uphold, a promise to keep.

The longtime city alderman, baseball executive, volunteer extraordinaire and wonderful family man died on Friday. He was 81.

“Joe had his fingers in everything: politics, sports, family, hunting, fishing, you name it,” Anne Carty added. “Such a pillar of strength.”

Imagine, if you will, a city or town chock-full of Joe Hawkins types. Picture an entire citizenry scurrying to and fro’ in a collectively selfless effort to improve the community and life within. The finest Swiss watch would not run as efficiently.

“He’d do anything for anyone anytime,” trumpeted Hawkins’ longtime friend and fellow city councillor Ken Matthews. “He’d never ask anyone to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He was a good, upright, honest individual. You could trust Joe to get things done.”

Hawkins, the oldest of eight children, left the family farm in Tweed in 1952 and commenced work as a janitor at the local DuPont plant. Forty years later he retired as a lab technologist.

His first foray into politics was a six-year stint (1969-75) as a separate school board trustee. He sat on Kingston city council from 1975-88 and again from 1993-2000 and served on numerous boards and committees over the years.

Dennis Hamilton, a Dupont work colleague, called Hawkins “one of the finest fellows I’ve known, a solid, sound, principled man.

“Joe was a black-and-white guy,” he added. “Sometimes he was out to lunch on things he’d say, but most of the time he was right on the money.”

During his 15-year tenure as Kingscourt Baseball Association president, the league increased four-fold from a dozen teams to 48.

In a successful bid to freeze player registration fees, he instituted the KBA’s annual potato-chip drive during which time the Hawkins house on Macdonnell Street was transformed into a Humpty Dumpty depot.

“Hard to believe,” Joe recalled back in 2010. “We’d start on Friday night and by Saturday supper time, all 10,000 bags were gone.”

He served on the steering committee that founded the Kingston and District Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. The silver-haired dynamo served as the institution’s first president and was later himself inducted in the builders category (2004).

In 1965 he coached the Nylon Aces to the Ontario intermediate softball title. Four decades later seven members of that club were on hand to toast his hall-of-fame selection.

In the early ‘70s he guided the Kingston Lions to the Eastern Ontario junior baseball crown.

For more than a score of years he was involved with the Kingston Ponies senior baseball team. He served as team president for 17 seasons beginning in 1993, when the team captured an all-Ontario championship.

He was also a director of the International Hockey Hall of Fame and in 1980 was the Kiwanis Club’s choice as Sportsman of the Year.

Following the 1998 ice storm, Joe joined Bill Hackett and Garry McColman in organizing the annual Kids4Kids hockey tournament, a fundraiser still going strong today.

“He was a little man with a big heart,” lauded retired city police chief Hackett.

In 2002, in recognition of a half-century of unpaid service to amateur and youth athletic activities, Hawkins received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal.

By far his greatest accomplishments were as a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

He and his wife Alice, his high school sweetheart who predeceased him in 2009, had six children, who in turn produced 17 grandchildren. Seven great-grandkids arrived years later.

“He instilled in all of us that incredible work ethic,” said Patsy Hawkins-Hogan, fifth-oldest of the half-dozen Hawkins children. “We had no choice.”

One of Joe’s last unsalaried positions was volunteer co-ordinator for Robinson Community Garden, a co-operative in Westbrook that generates produce for local charities.

As was his nature, he led by rolling up his sleeves and getting dirty.

“Joe was much more than a volunteer,” said John Abrams, one half of the Abrams Brothers band. “He was a fundamental part of that farm program and was integral in bringing charities on board.

“People like Joe Hawkins -- specifically Joe Hawkins -- inspire people of my generation to get involved,” the singer added. “He was a cornerstone of the community.”

Happy time for the Hawk was anytime spent near a favourite fishing hole, in a duck blind or on a deer watch. Having family along only enhanced the experience.

In the wee hours of the morning at the Sheffield Lake deer camp, sons and grandsons had grown accustomed to being awakened by the nasal barking of the patriarch.

“Up and at ‘em, everyone!” he’d roar as sleepy-eyed bodies slowly spilled out of the four double bunks.

“Before our feet hit the floor,” recalled son Stephen, “we could smell the eggs and burnt bacon.”

Even unwearying types need sleep, and Joe was careful to occasionally recharge with a cat-nap.

One in particular became part of family lore.

After a bitterly cold day of ice fishing, Joe came ashore to build a fire before dozing off. He warmed up plenty: The frigid fisherman awoke to the smell of his burning boots.

Deepest sympathies are extended to the family.