CONWAY, Russell G. "Russ" Led Unique Life with Honors in Three Careers Russ Conway led unique life with Honors in three careers. Living three distinguished careers, he was inducted as a Hall of Fame honoree in two professional sports, earned a nomination as a Pulitzer Prize finalist and authored a bestselling book named by Sports Illustrated to its "Top 100" reading list of the 20th Century. Russ Conway became known across America and a recognized household name in Canada. He died August 20, 2019 at his home in Haverhill of coronary disease for which he had several heart procedures during his later life. Best remembered for his journalistic influence within the world of big-time hockey, he was the sportswriter responsible for changing business practices of the National Hockey League after exposing the corrupt dealings of powerful players' union boss, R. Alan Eagleson. Conway's persistent eight-year series of investigative reports led to Eagleson's 1998 guilty pleas in both the US and Canada on multiple fraud convictions resulting in imprisonment in Ontario. Conway's tenacious work also uncovered evidence aiding a lawsuit by former NHL players, claiming league executives and team owners had misallocated pension funds for their own benefit that should have gone to the players. The case went all the way to Canada's Supreme Court, upholding a lower court's award of more than $42 million to 1,343 former NHL players and their families, plus court costs. He was an active voice for the "Senior Player" Benefit Plan. In 2013, he was voted by the National Hockey League Players Alumni Association to its Keith McCreary Seventh Player Award. The honor is the most prestigious given annually by the retired players group. In an impressive age of social media, corporate conglomerate-gobbling takeovers, mega media giants, and computer newsgathering, Conway was a throw-back to old-time reporting, building his own network of reliable insiders and sources, and producing responsible news stories for his readers. Eagleson's powerful career spanning four decades was exposed for his corruption, unveiling multiple conflicts of interest including fraud and misallocation of player pension funds. Conway's investigative findings also aided several former NHL players win disability insurance claims, which they had been either denied or shortchanged under Eagleson's rule. Hockey Hall of Famer Conway covered hockey as a journalist from 1967 into the fall of 2005. His reputation for factual in-depth, behind-the-scenes reporting became well known and trusted within the sport. From Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Maurice "Rocket" Richard, to Johnny Bucyk, Bobby Hull, Jean Beliveau and Ted Linsday, he knew them all well. From Stanley Cup championship games to All-Star games and major events, Conway covered them all and often broke news-making "big" stories before his competitors. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999 in Toronto as an honoree in the writer's category. His passions for hockey, car racing and newspapers developed early. As a child, his father took him to the Pines Speedway in the mid 1950's and to a Stanley Cup Final game in 1958 at Boston Garden. By 1959 he was delivering newspapers and launched his journalism career writing auto racing columns in 1964 for the Haverhill Journal. His self-proclaimed "age-is-only-a-number" lifestyle became a magnet for challenging adventures, noteworthy accomplishments, well-known celebrities, fast cars and beautiful women. He owned 18 Corvettes over the years and collectively drove them accident-free for more than two-million miles. Engaged five times, he remained a bachelor, claiming he never felt ready to settle down. Racing Hall of Famer Conway also built a long and respected reputation for organizing and promoting successful auto races, extending from Florida to the Canadian Maritimes. Along with business partners Ken Smith and Charlie Elliott, he helped form and operate the New England Super-Modified Racing Association (NESMRA) in 1965. Together they opened and operated Star Speedway in Epping, NH, Lee USA Speedway in Lee, NH, and Hudson Speedway, Hudson, NH. Their promotions included over 1,000 events between 1965 and 2013, including more than 10,000 races at 33 speedways. Long before New England's major league speedway was built in Loudon, NH, Conway personally recruited top-name drivers and national sponsors to his "Showdown of Champions" short-track events during the mid-1980's. Two of the sport's icons, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr., both seven-time NASCAR national champions, drove for him. Earnhardt won 10 of the feature events held between 1983 and 1986. Champions Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond, Ronnie Bouchard, Terry Labonte and Kyle Petty all raced in Conway's events. Once, after a race program at Stafford, CT, the millionaire stars even drove in "The Grand National Demolition Derby" - another one of Conway's "try-topping-this" brainstorms. Motivated to fill grandstands with his trademark expression, "Don't miss this one, tell your friends," his flare for unusual excitement delivered what he promised. In 2006, Conway was inducted into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame joining his two former NESMRA partners as lifetime honorees. At the time of his death, he was also a charter director of the Northeast Motorsports Museum in Loudon, NH, and board member of the Racing History Preservation Group. He was a longtime selection committee member and a promoter of the annual Pines Speedway Reunion. Award Winning Journalist Conway's journalism career spanned over 40 years, mostly as a sportswriter and columnist. He won numerous awards. He was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for "Beat Reporting" in 1992, and received a rare commendation from the U.S. Department of Justice and then-FBI director Louis Freeh in 1995. Conway authored numerous short stories for hockey and auto racing magazines. In 1995, his well-researched investigative accounts of scandalous business activity in pro hockey instantly became a blockbuster as a book he authored. "Game Misconduct" sold out its first of three printings in a week, remaining on the "Top 10 Best Sellers List" in Canada for 17 weeks. In 1998, Conway authored an updated paperback version of the book with additional chapters of information, which again became a bestseller. It is widely acclaimed to be among the elite of sports-related books, named by Sports Illustrated Magazine as one of the 20th century's "Top 100" books. Active Life He organized charity events, was a long-time contributor and participant in numerous community programs He was in charge of the Allen B. Rogers Memorial Golf Tournament between 1975 and 2005. Under his stewardship, it grew to become the largest amateur championship golf tournament in New England, to the point where it attracted 1,300 to 1,500 players for five separate phases of competition. It raised nearly $1 million for the Eagle-Tribune Santa Fund, helping thousands of less fortunate families and individuals in the Merrimack Valley when they needed it most during the Christmas holiday season. Calling on friends and his contacts, his fundraisers, charitable dinners and special events to aid badly injured or ill race drivers are legendary. There were times he quietly helped pay funeral expenses for his friends or their family members. The Professional Hockey Writers Association made him an honored member. He served during three decades as a nominated voter in annual balloting for the NHL's season-ending top player awards and all-star teams. He was a "honored-member" of the Boston Bruins Alumni Association, active member of the New England Auto Racers "Hall of Fame" Club, the Senior Tour Auto Racers Club, Tampa Bay Area Racing Association, Haverhill Fire Department Credit Union and Hundred Club. He was the Special Senior Advisor at Lee USA Speedway, Promotion and Selection Committee member of the annual Pines Speedway Reunion, an owner of the famed Ollie Silva supermodified/sprint car and anonymous sponsor of several race drives. He was chairman of Champ Enterprise Inc., a company he formed and owned since 1970. He enjoyed golf and played on some of the finest golf courses in North America including Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, Big Horn, Landmark and Tamarisk in California, Dural, Jupiter Hills and Boca Raton in Florida, Winged Foot on Long Island and Celine Dion's Mirage in Quebec. And he got to play with some of the games' well-known stars, including Arnold Palmer, former U.S. Senior Open champ Larry Loretti, Rocky Thompson and multi-time national blind champion, Joe Lazarro. He shared time at his residences in Hampton Beach, NH, Pompano Beach, FL, and maintained an office in Haverhill, MA, where he was born and raised before moving to Groveland. He was educated in Haverhill schools, Northeastern University and was an FBI Citizens Academy graduate in 1998. He traveled for years throughout Canada, and vacationed numerous times in Turks and Caicos as well as the Dominican Republic. His father, Haverhill Deputy Fire Chief Paul S. Conway, Jr., mother, school teacher and Groveland School Committee member Betty G. Conway, and younger brother, businessman and financial advisor Mark E. Conway, all predeceased him. Survivors include his confidant, Lucy Maria Peralta of Salem, NH; special friends Gina Marini and Chiara Panfili-D'Ilio of Montreal, Catherine Boksanski of Andover, MA and a dozen cousins located across the country. Visiting hours at the Monument Square Chapel of Paul C. Rogers Family Funeral Home, 334 Main Street, HAVERHILL, will be Monday, August 26. 2019 from 3 to 8 P.M. The Funeral Service will be held Tuesday, August 26, 2019 at 12 Noon at St. James Episcopal Church, 119 Washington Street, Groveland. Burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Racing History Preservation Group, 7 Bayview Road, Ipswich, MA 01938, which operates the Northeast Racing Museum, or Pines Speedway Reunion, c/o Groveland Historical Society, P.O.B. 178, Groveland, MA 01834.
Published in Boston Globe from Aug. 22 to Aug. 23, 2019.