Ian Gibson avoids driving by his late, close friend Don MacDonald’s East Hill home these days. Gibson choked back tears the first time he did. Remembering the good times the boxing legends spent together comes easier.
Both men enter the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame at a Friday induction luncheon at the Schubert Centre.
“I spent 33 years driving around B.C. with Don MacDonald,” smiled Gibson, 79. “You should have seen some of the motels we stayed in. You wouldn’t let beggars stay in them. We would have four boxers with us and two would sleep on the floor, Don would have his own bed and I’d be on the couch.”
A miner and amateur boxer in the tiny Scottish community of Kirkconnel, Gibson moved here in 1975. He offered to help MacDonald coach the Vernon Boxing Club, but MacDonald politely rejected his offer, instead asking if he would referee and judge.
The retired Riverside Forest Products employee has officiated more than 4,000 bouts since and is respected as one of Canada’s premier referees. He heads to the junior nationals next month in Quebec City where he will judge or referee two bouts a day for a week. He was inducted into the B.C. Boxing Hall of Fame last year.
“I had a 20-minute lecture on how to referee from Freddie Fuller from Vancouver and I got thrown into the ring at the rec centre,” laughed Gibson. “I stopped two bouts that night and Freddy was happy as hell with me for a change. I enjoyed it very much; it was quite an experience.”
He worked his first B.C. Championships in 1977 at the PNE Gardens in Vancouver, returning to officiate the Golden Gloves the same year. He studied for various classes and earned his national ticket in 1987 when he manned the ring in Sydney, N.S.
Gibson is amazed at MacDonald’s courage and strength throughout his life. Don finished his 15th round in June, 2010 after donating 60 years to the boxing club he founded.
“Four weeks before he died, he said to me, ‘Let’s go downtown and see if we can find a place to teach kids how to box.’”
In a 2005 Morning Star article, MacDonald said of Gibson: “He’s a good official. He looks after the fighters very well. He’s fair and they don’t get hurt when he’s in there if he can help it.”
Gibson refereed the first girls fight in Kelowna, in 1995, and put the first female referee in the ring in Kamloops two years prior. He says his wife, Elizabeth has always been his No. 1 fan, noting ‘She was a better judge than some of the ones we had.”
Gibby, as he’s affectionately known in boxing and soccer circles, met World Boxing Association light heavyweight champion Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini in Kelowna one day but his main devotion and interest was to the amateur fighters.
“John Henry Wilson was the best boxer Don ever had. He was devastating with both hands. He was terrific.”
Gibson served as Chief of Officials in B.C. and received the Harold Mann Boxing Achievement, a seal of approval from members all over the province.
He has two adult children, Ian Jr. and Beth, and three grandchildren.
Gibson, John Zinz and Al Hodson formed the Vernon Women’s Soccer League in 1976. Gibson coached and refereed for many years, always offering advice and encouragement to young officials.
“I refereed an oldtimers game on a Thursday night three years ago when I was 75,” he chuckled. “The referee didn’t show up and they asked me to help out. My whistle’s in the van all the time.”
Even while he was taking chemotherapy for colon cancer last year, Gibson never stopped volunteering at the VantageOne Indoor Facility.
“In my world, Ian means everything,” said youth soccer administrator Marina Korberg. “Ian comes to ‘work’ every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning to see what he can help with – he is the assistant youth registrar, NOYSA postman, sometimes floor sweeper, light bulb changer and so on. He also makes the best cup of tea – like a good Scottish boy should.”
President of the Vernon Soccer Referees Association, Gibson is still a mentor for the younger officials and a valuable member of numerous discipline committees.
He and referee buddies George Garrett, Zinz and Karl Krause were fixtures in the Okanagan Valley men’s league with Gibson working five Royal Cup finals.
Gibson started the indoor league in 1976 and a year later, was asked by Bob Scott and Jim Domokos to create a city league.
Paralympic gold and world champion wheelchair athletes Sonja Gaudet and Marni Abbott-Peter, along with the two-time Western Canadian senior baseball champion Enderby Legionnaires (1982 and ‘84), will also be inducted.