By Michaelangelo Rucci
It was one of those typically scorching 40-plus summer days that tested everyone’s nerves, more so as deadlines were approaching in The Advertiser sports department during the early 1980s.
Gordon Schwartz, the long-serving deputy sports editor, opened his top drawer – and as was his wise daily habit – began to peel an apple. At the other end of the long desk of Adelaide’s greatest collection of sportswriters, chief football writer and 1961 All-Australian footballer Geoff Kingston noted and prodded: “Gordon, you never sweat.”
That was Gordon Bryant Schwartz. Immaculate, calm, the perfect image of control.
As the photographs rolled during his funeral service at Prince Alfred College, there was another reminder of how cool Schwartz would remain under intense heat. He was standing outside Football Park, West Lakes doing a live television cross with an update of an SANFL football match to Ken “KG” Cunningham at the Channel Nine studios in Tynte Street, North Adelaide.
Not once, but twice, some louts leaving the ground rudely interrupted Schwartz’s perfectly composed report with physical gestures and inappropriate verbal grunts that would have made others, such as Piers Morgan, use the microphone as a weapon.
Schwartz did not lose focus. He remained immaculate, calm and in perfect control of a difficult situation. He did not sweat.
Considering Schwartz survived World War II missions across the English Channel as a navigator of Sunderland flying boat patrol bombers, why would he sweat a deadline in a newspaper office or a few louts at a football game?
Another of those great sportswriters from the long desk at Waymouth Street in the era of the big, beautiful broadsheet at The Advertiser, Mike Coward, described Schwartz in his eulogy at Prince Alfred College as a “very considerate and gentle man”.
Schwartz certainly was a gentleman.
“Thoughtful, dignified and immaculately groomed,” added Coward.
“A titan in the worlds of sport and media in (Adelaide).”
Schwartz rarely reacted when provoked in an environment filled with jokers and clowns. He had a disarming laugh. But if he had to stand up for his patch, Schwartz could ensure he had the final – and most meaningful word – in any debate.
Former Australian Test cricketer and South Australian Sheffield Shield bowler Terry Jenner had the habit of testing Schwartz by questioning why a man with a resume in league football and tennis would be writing cricket. Rather than be stirred or shaken, Schwartz replied: “The Advertiser has a very good crime reporter in Bob Whitington – and he has not needed to commit a murder to write very well of them in his court reports.” Jenner walked …
Gordon Bryant Schwartz was born in Freeling, South Australia on June 23, 1922. From the moment he walked into the schoolyard at Tanunda in 1927 it was obvious he would dedicate himself to sports while his younger brother Blair became noted for his work on the piano and the growing fields of entertainment during the pioneer days of television.
From the Barossa to the Iron Triangle, Schwartz studied at Port Pirie High School after the family moved from Tanunda after he father Edwin took charge of a liquor outlet. Schwartz’s glowing academic record was matched with outstanding achievements as a goalkicker in football with the Propriety club and a double century in cricket at Memorial Oval. And then there was the tennis that shone after the darkest hours of World War II while stationed at Plymouth.
From Parafield – where he was assigned to navigator tasks while dreaming of being a pilot – war duty took Schwartz to Nhill, Victoria to Brisbane and Edmonton and Prince Edward Island while he celebrated his 21st birthday twice in 1943 by crossing the International Date Line on a naval passage to San Francisco.
Flight Lieutenant Schwartz had 729 hours on patrol in the English Channel and along the north coast of France for 13 months during a war he recognised as a futile chapter in world history. Sport influenced Schwartz’s moves at the end of his tour of coastal command.
Faced with the option of becoming a navigator instructor in Scotland or joining the welfare section in London, Schwartz opted to stay in England to join John Mehaffey, Roy Felan and Bill Sidwell in an Australian tennis team that practiced at Queen’s and Wimbledon and competed in tournaments, such as Beckenham where Schwartz made his mark in the singles event and won the doubles title with Mehaffey.
Schwartz returned to Australia in December 1945 and remained on the tennis courts forming a successful doubles partnership for South Australia with Tom Warhurst and pushed US Davis Cup captain Ted Schroeder to five sets in the State championships at War Memorial Drive. He did the same against Harry Hopman at the Australian championships in 1946.
Schwartz’s football career reached league status at Norwood (three games) and West Torrens (13 matches) while the SANFL reformed with eight teams after the war.
A physical education student at the University of Adelaide, Schwartz took charge of the liquor store at Port Pirie in rotation with his brother Blair after his father Edwin died in 1947. He also was freelancing as a sportswriter for The Recorder newspaper, setting up the base for a distinguished career from 1954 to 1987 at The Advertiser – along with pioneer moments in sports coverage on radio at 5AD and at Channel Seven with 17 years as host of World of Sport.
Hall of Fame status in South Australian football and at Adelaide Oval along with the Order of Australia Medal underline Schwartz’s status – and legacy – to sport and journalism.
Coward reflects on Schwartz’s immaculate work saying: “As a writer, interviewer and on-air host, Gordon was warm, measured, perhaps earnest. In a world of egos, he was always considered, self-effacing, sincere. He was always in the corner of the sportsman or sportswoman and they knew it. He felt he ‘didn’t quite make it as a sportsman’; they are the words he used. And consequently, he wrote and spoke with care and, perhaps, sympathy about his subjects. ‘Losing is hard,’ he would say.
“Perhaps unwittingly, Gordon mentored many young journalists. You only had to observe Gordon’s demeanour at the desk or the microphone to learn. Certainly, Geoff Kingston and I benefitted greatly from his friendship and guidance …”
Gordon Schwartz, as Coward concluded with his eulogy, enriched many lives, professionally and privately as a man of strong family values and immense decency.
In a world of frenetic silliness, there is a great need for men who did not sweat – and foolishly compromise their standards and principles – under intense heat. He was an immaculate gentleman Gordon Schwartz.