Lash's Place- Downey High News!

by William O'Neill

I met Jerry Quarry in the spring of 1965, a few days after he had turned pro by decisioning a veteran trial horse named Gene Hamilton on the Vicente Saldivar-Raul Rojas featherweight title card in Los Angeles. Jerry didn¹t look particularly devastating against Hamilton‹but just a few weeks earlier, he had stood the boxing world on its cauliflower ear by scoring five consecutive, ten-count knockouts in winning the National Golden Gloves heavyweight title in Kansas City.

To tell the truth, Jerry was responsible for getting me back into sportswriting, and back into boxing, after a ten-year hiatus during which time I did my best to give up journalism and go straight. I was living in Whittier, earning an honest living as a supervisor in a household products manufacturing company‹and then along came the most exciting white heavyweight since Rocky Marciano.

I first saw Jerry in an amateur bout against All-Navy Lightheavyweight Champion Jimmy Rosette, in 1964. He won, against a very skilled southpaw, but failed to impress. Then I saw him beat a really tough kid named Clay Hodges, for the right to represent Los Angeles in the National Golden Gloves, early in 1965. It was a tumultuous brawl, with Jerry winning by the narrowest of margins. It was perhaps the most exciting amateur heavyweight fight ever seen in L.A., with both young men displaying tremendous heart; but, truth to tell, neither looked like a future world title contender.

Thus it came as a shock to me, along with just about everyone else, when the strapping 185-pounder who had been changing tires at the Greyhound Bus Depot went to Kansas City and devastated everything in sight. A few weeks of intense training and instruction from new trainer Bill Slayton had transformed him, somewhat mystically, from a free-swinging amateur into a deadly fighting machine.

So here was a kid with an Irish name, suddenly the hottest prospect in Southern California boxing‹and he lived less than a mile from where I was raised in South Downey. It occurred to to me that Jerry Quarry just might be the second coming of Jack Dempsey‹and if he was, I wanted to be there to witness it. And I wanted to make his acquaintance, to follow his journey first-hand. But how? No problem. Through journalism, of course.

And so it was that I called my friend Mickey Davies at the Olympic Boxing Club, got Jerry's phone number, and made an appointment to interview him for a free lance magazine story. I found Jerry living with his wife, the former Mary Kathleen Casey, in a small apartment just off Downey Avenue, in Paramount. They were a happy, enthusiastic couple, soon to become parents for the first time. (That first son, Jerry Lyn Quarry, is a slightly-smaller replica of his father, and is today a knowledgeable boxing historian and a friend of mine.) But let's get back to 1965:

The young man who answered the door at that little apartment in Paramount didn't look all that imposing, for a heavyweight boxer. It was his first magazine interview, and he might have been a bit nervous about it; but he exuded confidence. He had the ruggedly handsome features of a matinee idol, with the only negative in his appearance being a slight overlap of his two upper front teeth. (A fighter named Memphis Al Jones would take care of that little problem two years, later, in San Francisco‹knocking out those two teeth and almost de-railing the Quarry Express, before himself being rendered unconscious in five rounds.)

Anyway, the free-lance article sold, to a miserable publication known as Boxing International. Much to my dismay, they turned my beautiful prose around, changing "Last of the Irish Heavyweights" into "At Last! An Irish Heavyweight!" But I was back into journalism, and within a few months had established a "syndicated" boxing column in the Huntington Park Daily Signal and the Whittier Daily News. And I was writing and selling other magazine stories, and sitting ringside at the fights and other athletic events‹and, of course, swilling a lot of free booze, just like a regular sportswriter--all thanks, in a way, to Jerry Quarry!

I followed Jerry¹s rise to fistic prominence, doing my best to conceal my partisanship for him behind a screen of journalistic objectivity. I wanted to jump up and down and cheer for him‹but such behavior would be very unbecoming of a sportswriter. So I cheered silently, while doing my best to give the outward appearance of a Jim Murray.

It was during Jerry's first year as a pro that I became acquainted with the rest of what became known as the "Fighting Quarry Clan." Jerry was the second-eldest of eight children (four boys, four girls) in a poor but proud, very rambunctious working-class family. Actually, the Quarrys were not all that different from other large young families in that place and time‹except that their boxing connection brought them frequent media attention.

Jerry's parents, Jack and Arwanda, became known as "Ma and Pa Quarry," and their family was dubbed "The Quarrelsome Quarrys." Jack co-managed Jerry along with friend and former neighbor Johnny Flores, while Arwanda was the long-suffering earth mother whose love and compassion held the family together through good times and bad.

The four Quarry sisters were all knockouts, which added to the family¹s high profile.

Jack wanted his sons to be boxers, as he himself had been in his youth. He was openly disappointed when Jimmy, the eldest, became disenchanted with the game. "Jimmy could've been better than Jerry or Mike, if he'd just stayed with it," Jack once told me‹implying, at least, that Jimmy had let him down. And Jack was not alone in his estimation of Jimmy's fighting ability. Others who were around at the time have told me that Jimmy, in the words of Terry Molloy, coulda been a contendah. But strangely, he did not enjoy getting hit on the head; and more importantly, when he looked around and observed what had happened to some guys around the gym who had stayed in the ring too long, he decided to do something else‹pretty much anything else‹for a living. Thus he saved himself from the fate that was to befall his three brothers, later on.

Jerry ran off a string of impressive wins at the onset of his pro career, before being held to a draw by the very competent Tony Doyle in his thirteenth start. Along the way, he picked up a valuable "souvenir"‹a hulking, 240-pound , loosey-goosey Italian named Big Dave Centi. Big Dave was Jerry's opponent in his fourth bout. He managed to last the six-round distance while taking a terrific pounding; and thereafter, he attached himself to the Quarry camp more or less permanently, as sparring partner, court jester, and good luck charm. Ever the boxing historian, I considered it a good omen. John L. Sullivan, on his way up, picked up vanquished opponent John Flood; and now the Quarrys had Big Dave Centi.

Veteran contender Eddie Machen handed Jerry his first loss, in July of 1966. It turned out to be a good thing, and a bad thing. On the good side, it taught Jerry a lesson about conditioning. He won the first five rounds handily, actually outclassing one of the finest boxers of his era. But then, having neglected his roadwork in preparing for the fight, the young phenom began to run out of gas. Too tired to continue the pace he had set, he got whacked around pretty good in the late rounds and lost the decision.

On the bad side, the Quarry braintrust of Jerry, his dad, and Johnny Flores decided to fire Trainer Bill Slayton and hire someone who could work with Jerry full time and see to it that he did his roadwork. That someone, for a time, turned out to be Johnny Flores. I always felt that Slayton got a raw deal. Had he been allowed to stay aboard as Jerry's trainer, things might have gone a lot easier in the years that followed.

The big money began to flow in when Jerry drew with former champ Floyd Patterson, in 1967, and it continued for the next ten years. Not really big money, like some boxers are earning nowadays; but enough to support a fine lifestyle.

Two factors kept the Quarrys out of the really tall pesos: the fact that Jerry fell short of winning the heavyweight title; and the fierce resistance of father and son to committing themselves to any particular promoter. Aileen Eaton of the Olympic Boxing Club in Los Angeles considered it a personal affront that Jerry did not sign an exclusive contract with her. So did Don King, of Don King Promotions; and so did other, lesser purveyors of the pugilistic art.

Along the way, a lot of things happened in Jerry's personal life that I am loathe to discuss. It is a matter of record that he had three seemingly happy marriages that ended in divorce; a bunch of great-sounding investments that went bad; and, in the end, a series of "comeback" attempts that were extremely ill-advised. The guys who led him into the investments and the ridiculous returns to the ring all disappeared. And the kid who had everything ended up with nothing.

But it was a beautiful run, while it lasted. Jerry loved people, and he loved the celebrity that his fighting ability brought him. He was generous with his family, with his friends, and with his time. He rarely, if ever, turned down an autograph request. He was a notoriously soft touch for a hand-out to people he had never seen before, and would never see again‹unless, of course, they came around looking for yet another hand-out.

The fighting ace of the Quarry family loved to dance, to sing, to recite poetry, and to make people feel good. He was a major "party animal," with at least a moderate taste for the booze and the night life--but would not condone anyone taking the Lord¹s name in vain in his presence. In that respect, he seemed to emulate his friend and hero, Elvis Presley.

Oh yes, something else about Jerry: he was a Mama's Boy, all the way‹and was very up-front about it. When Jerry walked into a room in which his mother was present, hers were the first eyes he sought, and she was the first person to whom he spoke. He and Arwanda were soulmates, and best friends. When his parents divorced, Jerry sided with Arwanda and had little time for his father thereafter.

It goes without saying that after ten years in the ring, Jerry should have walked away and gone into some other field. He had taken some bad beatings (most notably from Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali) and his ring skills had faded, but he still had his intelligence and his health. There were a thousand things he could have done, and done well. Yet the lure of ring riches and glory was still there, and he kept mounting those recurring "comebacks." I saw little of Jerry during those years; but I am reasonably certain that it was during those years that the thousands of head blows he had taken over the course of his boxing career began to take their toll.

What most people fail to realize about boxing is that the punches taken in actual contests comprise only a small part of the over-all head trauma that a fighter endures. If he¹s a great fighter, as Jerry certainly was, he gets through a lot of bouts without being hit a whole lot. It is in the gym that the punishment builds up. A boxer in training for a fight may spar four to six rounds almost every day for several weeks‹getting whacked on the head by a professional who does it for a living. The gloves may be oversize, but the thumps are hard and frequent. And they are cumulative.

Apparently, Jerry didn't see his brain damage coming. By the time he finally realized and admitted that he was damaged, it was too late to do anything about it. Repeated concussions, even when they do not render one unconscious, cause damaged cells and leaking fluid within the brain. It's all downhill from there; there is no cure, and no turning back.

When Jerry became cognizant of his growing dementia, he felt betrayed by his sport. Kid brother Mike was already showing the effects of damage traceable to his ring career; and the youngest of the Quarrys, brother Robert, seemed headed down the same path.

It was in long, late-night, brother-to-brother soul-barings that the two senior Quarry brothers laid the foundation for The Jerry Quarry Foundation for Dementia Pugilistica. His personal resources pretty much depleted, Jerry wanted to at least have a hand in the establishment of an organization whose twin purposes would be: 1) to provide comfort and financial assistance to individuals who have suffered brain damage in contact sports; and 2) to alert young athletes, especially boxers, to the dangers of cumulative head trauma.

That organization is now in existence, and it bears Jerry Quarry's name. If it continues to grow, and if its objectives are indeed met, it will be a fitting legacy to The Greatest Fighter Never to Hold the Heavyweight Title.

# William O'Neill, now retired, is a former amateur boxing champion, sportswriter, and President (in 1984) of the World Boxing Hall of Fame