It figures that beloved trainer/father figure Jimmy O’Pharrow would leave us during New York Golden Gloves season.
“Jimmy O,” founder and “director and dictator” of the fabled Starrett City Boxing Club in the rough and tumble East New York “hood” of Brooklyn, died Monday.
Jimmy O was all about the Golden Gloves Tournament sponsored by the Daily News.
My best guess is that this genuine hero was age 85 or 86.
This man was, as I know from personal experience, the heart and soul of amateur boxing in this city.
But the man who discovered and/or developed such successful pro fighters as two-time heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs, Orthodox Jewish boxer turned boxer-promoter Dimitriy Salita, perennial heavyweight contender Monte Barrett, unbeaten prospect Sadam Ali and welterweight contender Luis Collazo, played an even more important role than boxing coach to his young charges.
Briggs, known for his trademark orange braids, had a mother who was a nurse but who battled heroin addiction. He had a father and a stepfather who were in prison.
He spent many nights sleeping in the Brooklyn subway, a homeless teenager who was on the wrong path in life.
Briggs heard the siren call of the hustlers, the dope dealers and the mean streets and he needed a push in the other direction.
Let Briggs tell it.
“He treated me, from the first day when I was like age 16, as though I was Muhammad Ali. He kept telling me I had talent, to believe in my talent. I fought the great Cuban Olympic gold medalist Felix Savon in the Pan-Am Games, with only 18 amateur bouts under my belt, and Jimmy O told me I would beat him.
“A while later, I got in trouble with the law up in Westchester County and Jimmy went to bat for me. Jimmy got me a lawyer and then got me a job delivering “Meals On Wheels” to the senior citizens,” Briggs said.
“Jimmy was all about the community, he was entrenched in it and he knews all the cops and the guys on the city council. He didn’t care if you turned pro. Jimmy wanted to see young guys get a job and have families. Jimmy was never about the money, he was all about the kids and the community.
“I am really shook, losing Jimmy O leaves a big void, not just in the gym but in the community. He was there for all the kids, for any kid,” Briggs said.
Here’s what Salita told VirtualJerusalem.com about the coach:
“I grew up in a boxing club, and one of my mentors is my trainer, Jimmy O. Jimmy O is an old black man who grew up during segregation, so ever since I was young, I saw Jimmy preaching black pride in a healthy way and in a proper way. In me that strengthened my identity as a Jewish person, and I knew that when I’d get my success and have my 15 minutes of fame that I wanted to use it, and whatever positive energy that I had to support Jewish causes, and to talk and to promote Judaism because I thought it was very important and under-reported.”
Come to think of it, the Starrett City BC was an extension of the United Nations with Muslim kids such as Ali, Jewish fighters like Salita and the usual Brooklyn mix of blacks and Latinos.
Jimmy O never cared about anyone’s religious or ethnic backgroud. The way he saw it, they were all God’s children, most of them struggling in a tough environment, trying to find a way other than drugs and/or prison.
Despite his grandfatherly mien, O’Pharrow told it straight.
His aspiring boxers were always told “you got to have balls or heart” to make it.
And Jimmy O was talking about life in and out of the ring when he said that.
Jimmy O made champions for the neighborhood, not for professional boxing. That some of his “graduates” like Briggs won world titles, well to Jimmy O, that was just frosting on the cake.
More important to this man was that boys turned into solid citizens.
I don’t know what they’re attributing Jimmy O’s death to, other than old age.
Certainly, they can’t say his “heart” ever gave out.
FROM SHANNON BRIGGS, some heartfelt memories of Jimmy O:
They say you can’t be a boss until you take a loss.
It’s been the roughest few years of my life here on earth.
On other planets I did better.
Yesterday it got a lil rougher I took another loss. I lost what I called my grandfather last night.
He passed but he’s not dead. He was more like a father to be factual. No him. No me.
He saved me from a life of crime or death.
His words was “Boxing, a job or prison”. My step dad who had raised me had just been sentenced to life behind bars. I was looking to follow in his footsteps with ignorant pride.
It was to be my rights of passage to serve some time or my street credibility could not be built.
After a 22 day stay in a NY state resort called the beautiful Valhalla. Jimmy O Pharrow said those words to me. “Boxing, a job or prison”.
I choose boxing.
He taught me to box very well. He would yell at me, he would make me feel bad if I didn’t finish or I toyed with an opponent.
“Win that’s it”. “Never get hit.” “Dance”. “Be fast your too damn slow”! “Speak good when that camera comes on”. “Rhythm is the key to boxing”. “No sex before fights”!
He had me drink a half of cup of beer once during a hot summer day because I had fought day after day and he said I needed the salt. He licked my shoulder and gave me the half of cup of beer.
I wanted more he yelled at me for asking for the whole beer. He had his own commandments. I was a stray. He heard I was sleeping on the train and let me sleep in the gym. He took me in his apartment many nights with his beautiful wife.