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article imageOp-Ed: Remembering boxing's Gary Mason (1962-2011) Special

By Alexander Baron     Jul 17, 2011 in Lifestyle
Gary Mason may be remembered by boxing fans as one of the sport’s nearly men, but he has left a surprising legacy that requires “thumping” of a different kind.
Late morning/early afternoon last Saturday I was doing a bit of shopping in my local high street when I saw – well heard first – a group of people banging drums outside one of the many hairdressers of Sydenham Road. I figured it was something to do with Sydenham Arts Festival; as my idea of culture is Al Stewart, Bic Runga, Wishbone Ash, and a reluctant indulgence in soap operas, this was not something I had cared to report on for this website, but as I passed the drummers I noticed they were from the Gary Mason Charity. Not that Gary Mason, I thought? Indeed, it was.
Oh yeah, my idea of culture once extended to following boxing; I only ever attended two fights: Frank Bruno’s ill-fated challenge to Tim Witherspoon; and a Gary Stretch card. Stretch was another massive talent who didn’t quite make the grade, although he has since carved out a well-deserved career as an actor. Sadly, there was no such glamour after boxing for Gary Mason, but he has left us a fine legacy nevertheless.
Gary Anthony Mason was born in Jamaica, December 15, 1962, and with his formidable physique it was hardly surprising that he should have turned to sport, especially heavyweight boxing. Just as Larry Holmes made the mistake of being born in the shadow of Muhammad Ali, so Gary had the misfortune to be around at the same time as the much touted but ultimately flawed Frank Bruno, and the Olympic champion and future world champion Lennox Lewis.
While Lennox was groomed for stardom from the beginning, Gary had to prove himself in the ring, which he did, carving out a professional record of 35-0 with a massive 32 stoppages before fighting Lewis. The fight was stopped in the 7th round due to a bad cut on his eye. Gary had eye trouble in an earlier fight, having suffered a detached retina, and it was a wise decision for him to retire after two further fights on a relative high note with a 37-1 record instead of risking permanent damage, as some fighters have to their regret.
I was surprised Gary did not stay on in boxing as a trainer, corner man or some such, though he did some commentating for a while, something for which he was certainly cut out, but the glamour and the high life were not for him, and he soon faded into relative obscurity.
His loss to Lennox Lewis was far from the pinnacle of his career though; in 1989 he picked up the vacant British Heavyweight title with a 4th round defeat of Hughroy Currie, his 29th successive win. When Jess Harding was lined up to challenge Gary for his title, he appears to have made one or two derogatory comments about the champion which he lived to regret. In a previous fight, Gary had nearly run out of gas at one point, and there were some suspicions about his stamina. Prior to the fight in response, Gary asked rhetorically what Harding would do if the fight went on for several rounds and he didn’t tire? Gary had obviously been working on his stamina, but didn’t need to call on it because he despatched Harding inside two rounds.
There is big money at the very top of boxing; although Gary never had a world title shot, he should have retired comfortable if not wealthy, but like superstardom, the big bucks eluded him; Gary though does not appear to have been the sort of person who sought either fame or fortune for its own sake.
Gary was tragically killed in a road accident last January when his bicycle was hit by a van near his South London home. He died instantly. Although he had been out of the sport for some time, his funeral was attended by many of British boxing’s big names including old foe Lennox Lewis, stablemate Frank Bruno, former World Welterweight Champion Lloyd Honeyghan, and Michael Watson. Like the comedian Ronnie Barker, no one appears to have had a bad word to say about him. Which brings us to his charity.
The Rhythmical Empowerment Group was established in July 2007 by Gary Mason and Cyroy Morgan; its aim is to “combine to form an innovative, cutting edge collaboration, that brings together sport and culture. Working as a team to be able to motivate, inspire more people to take part in physical activity within their local community; and enhance the learning, skills and personal development of participants.”
After his death, it was renamed the Gary Mason Charity, or to give it its full title The Gary Mason Rhythmical Empowerment Charitable Foundation.
According to Christine Lindsay (founder/trustee of the Charity), who knew Gary for seven years, “He believed that hand drumming and following your heartbeat was something that everyone could do. He set up drumming workshops in the London Boroughs and found that people were able to communicate better...Hand drumming has proven benefits to special needs children and adults and it helps balance the brain as it uses both sides of the brain to use both hands in drumming.”
And this was not a case of a personality lending his name to a venture and then sitting on the sidelines, “Gary worked with a drumming leader to facilitate courses and soon found himself trained to present workshops himself, working with schools, communities, churches, local authorities, other charities and even groups of ex young offenders teaching them the skills. Everyone who was touched by Gary and his infectious enthusiasm for drumming reports how their lives have been improved by the experience”.
The Gary Mason Drummers perform at arts festivals, theatres, libraries, schools etc; last May they launched the London Borough of Sutton’s Imagine arts festival, and of course they also performed at the aforementioned Sydenham Arts Festival.
The Gary Mason Charity has two major forthcoming events in South London, and will doubtless at some point take its mission to the world, a fitting tribute to a much loved man whose life was cut tragically short, and who still had much to contribute.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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