Archive for Thursday, July 7, 2011

Writer and former Douglas County sheriff candidate George Kimball dies

July 7, 2011


In 1970, George Kimball (on right) ran for Douglas County Sheriff. At the time, Kimball was known as the leader of the street people, who were a collection of radicals, hippies and runaways that lived in the Oread neighborhood.

In 1970, George Kimball (on right) ran for Douglas County Sheriff. At the time, Kimball was known as the leader of the street people, who were a collection of radicals, hippies and runaways that lived in the Oread neighborhood.

A one-eyed radical who once campaigned as a “two-fisted” candidate for Douglas County sheriff died this week in New York, where he had become one of the country’s most acclaimed boxing writers and a longtime chronicler of the nation’s culture.

George Kimball, who enrolled at Kansas University with an ROTC scholarship in the early 1960s — only to be kicked out of school soon thereafter — should be remembered as more than a simple counterculture figure or as a sports reporter or columnist, said Bill Tuttle, a friend.

“He was a fabulous writer, and a very astute observer of our life and times,” said Tuttle, a retired Kansas University history professor who taught courses about the 1960s and had known Kimball since those early years at KU. “He should not be dismissed as a radical hippie who ran for sheriff. He did all that. But he should be remembered for his writing. He was the best boxing writer of his era, and that’s saying something.”

Kimball had returned to Lawrence earlier this year during a tour promoting one of his books. Tuttle notes that Kimball couldn’t speak for prolonged periods because of throat cancer, but had hired an actor to read passages for the audience.

Kimball didn’t hide.

“He actually mouthed the words,” Tuttle said. “It was very touching.”

Kimball, 67, worked as a columnist for the Boston Herald from 1980 to 2005, covering boxing, traveling with the Red Sox and writing about the personalities and the people who play games for a living.

Such work provided an outlet for his creativity, and an ability to make a living, but even his best of friends know he’ll be forever tied to the 1970 election. Yes, he won the Democratic nomination for county sheriff as the lone candidate. And he went on to lose to incumbent Rex Johnson.

But the spectacle was all Kimball, who didn’t hesitate to focus the campaign through his glass eye. Among his common campaign slogans: “Vote for me. I’ll keep an eye out for you.”

He would go on to have a warrant issued for his arrest, allegedly for inciting riots. He was a regular reciting poetry at the Gaslight Tavern, which was just north of the Kansas Union, and other locations in town. He would leave the state to write pornographic novels in New York before working at an underground newspaper in Boston and returning to Kansas every now and again to see friends, including author William Burroughs.

All along, friends say, he never was anything but interesting: Writing, rabble-rousing, even marrying.

“I could probably rattle off all the wives’ names,” Lawrence resident Wayne Propst said, but noted that the task would take too long. “One of them, her husband doesn’t even know she was married to George.”

Kimball had been diagnosed with cancer in 2005. He is survived by his wife, Marge Marash.


5thgeneration 6 years, 10 months ago

He was one of the Lawrence counter-culture icons that I wanted to meet. Bummer.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

Just heard him do a radio interview a couple of weeks ago. RIP, George.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

It was on NPR, but not sure which program. Here's a link to Only a Game, which may have been the one I heard, and the latest interview was in March. There are links to many other interviews there, as well.

Bob Forer 6 years, 10 months ago

George was quite a personality, and very talented. But if my memory serves me right, during the campaign he made a disparaging remark about Rex Johnson only having one-arm, which I thought was a little overboard. Rex served competently as Douglas County Sheriff and is one heck of a good guy.

funkdog1 6 years, 10 months ago

Yes, but Rex would also needle George about his one eye.

Chris Ogle 6 years, 10 months ago

“Vote for me. I’ll keep an eye out for you.”....... RIP

down_the_river 6 years, 10 months ago

What Lawrence needs is a two fisted sheriff!

Rex countered with - Lawrence needs a sheriff who can keep both eyes on the law.

Anne Tangeman 6 years, 10 months ago

Sychophant - I wasn't there, but his 'disparaging remarks' may have been the bumper sticker that read "what this town needs is a two-fisted Sheriff". Unfortunately the retaliatory sticker of "this town needs a Sheriff with both eyes on the job" did not really happen according to the source. He squeezed every last drop out of life, never stopped working, and had a mind like steel trap - invaluable in recounting the true tales as he did so well. If you have never read his work, or think he was just a sports writer, I urge you to check out 'An American At Large' or "Manly Art' - both brilliant collections of his essays that reach way beyond sports to recount the human condition in its many forms. He will be missed by many.

Bob Forer 6 years, 10 months ago

I was there. I remember him being quoted saying something about "the one-armed Sheriff" in "The Vortex," the underground Lawrence newspaper. I always wondered what happened to George. I knew he was a writer, but never knew he "made it" to the big time. .

riverdrifter 6 years, 10 months ago

I remember it well:

Kimball: "Douglas county needs a two-fisted sheriff."

Rex: "Douglas county needs a sheriff with vision."


And George was one fine boxing writer. I wonder if he ever did an article on Victor Ortiz?

mfagan 6 years, 10 months ago

Here's a note I received today from Robert Rodriguez, a fellow boxing writer who used to work at KU and is now at the Texas A&M-Commerce... It includes some info about Ortiz, his his late writing, and other items... Good stuff...

"Boxing has lost one of its greatest scribes. I almost can't believe he's gone because since we met three or four years ago he's been telling me -in a very candid way- that he was going to die soon. Despite his terminal diagnosis, he went on to publish three books, countless articles, the foreword to my book, and traveled across the country and to Europe many times. George Kimball was a walking, talking, heavily smoking encyclopedia of the sport. He knew pretty much everybody in boxing, and had scores of anecdotes on fighters and boxing matches over the past 30+ years. For a taste of these stories and his gifted prose, just pick up a copy of his recently published "Manly Art"- it's a must-read for any boxing fan, aspiring sports writer, or any writer, period.

"George and I organized three boxing symposia at the University of Kansas. The first was a solo event featuring his highly acclaimed book "Four Kings" in which he wrote about legendary boxers Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler. The second event was for KU's Hispanic Heritage Month, where we discussed the history of U.S. Latino and Latin American boxers. That event was special because it featured appearances by former World Heavyweight champion John Ruiz and current World Welterweight champion Victor Ortiz. Incidentally, I found out about George's passing through a message from John Ruiz on my Facebook page. But it was the third -and now final- event that was perhaps the most special. The University of Kansas Heavyweight Boxing Symposium held on February 4, 2010 featuring George Foreman. Kimball's masterful speech from that evening, where he placed Foreman in the context of 70's heavyweight greats Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton is published in "Manly Art". We had over 400 people in the KU ballroom that evening, and it was a historic event for all present.

"As a boxing writer myself, I covered several of the same fights that George did, but we didn't know each other until recent years. Since we became friends, however, we did cover one fight together at ringside in Chicago, that of a future world champion from Kansas- Victor Ortiz. Aside from all the public events, we also shared memorable dinners at Genovese with owner Alejandro Lule, coffee at the Bourgeois Pig, and gatherings at William Burrough's house. George was always very candid and had a great sense of humor- this always came through in his writing. He is already sorely missed."

-Robert Rodriguez

Catherinn 6 years, 10 months ago

My heart is breaking. I remember the election and "Douglas County needs a two-fisted sheriff." George and I stayed in touch over the years. I am really regretting not going to his birthday party this spring in New York. I was invited but had lots going on at the time. Darn. He was a rare one and one heck of a writer. RIP George.

Tandava 6 years, 10 months ago

I was here in Lawrence during the sixties and knew George. He was more (or less, actually) than interesting. He was simply an obnoxious person who liked to stir things up and annoy people. He was very good at that. And that's all there was to him.

Lawrence_Pilot 6 years, 10 months ago

He was famous for putting his glass eye in your beer while you weren't looking and then saying, "I got my eye on you!"

Talk about sense of humor!

ilovelucy 6 years, 10 months ago

Sounds like a colorful intelligent character. Would have loved to meet him.

rainydaze 6 years, 10 months ago

I remember George! In 1968, I was a freshman at KU, living in Corbin. One night on the way back from campus, my roommate and I were lured into the Rock Chalk by some friendly people standing outside, who invited us to a party at Keith Thomas' house on Mississippi St. Naively, we went. Inside the house, George was holding court, telling stories as he did, and he waved to welcome us in. He could see my friend and I were just naive little college girls and he said, "Do you want to do some acid?" We freaked out, ran out the door and crawled up the hill through the bushes back to our dorm, feeling we had escaped the devil! Every time I drive by that hill on Indiana I think about George, who actually turned out to be a pretty nice guy, as were many his friends - thoughtful, intelligent people who happened to have a different perspective on life. Stepping outside my comfort zone and into the wild and wonderful world of Lawrence totally changed my life.

5thgeneration 6 years, 10 months ago

Hey, LJW. You guys ran the wrong photo in today's issue.

Sarah St. John 6 years, 10 months ago

I am sorry to read of this. I ran across George's name when I was writing the "40 Years Ago" last fall, and I took the opportunity to write to him (he was on Facebook). We had a few nice back-and-forth letters. I didn't get the chance to know him as well as some of you did (and I wasn't in Lawrence during his heyday) but I'm glad I got to at least correspond with him before he died.

GUMnNUTS 6 years, 10 months ago

If you want to read some stories of his time in Lawrence, pick up a copy of Cows Are Freaky When They Look At You.

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