Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame Welcomes Tunney
Date: 2008-11-28 00:00:00
Submitted By: Boxing Dump
Many people passing by his grave marker at Long Ridge Union Cemetery in Stamford wouldn't know it is the resting place of one of boxing's earliest icons. "James Joseph Tunney (1897-1978)," reads the simple gray stone flush to the ground. " World War I — France; Pvt. U.S. Marine Corps; World War II — Capt. U.S. Navy." Gene Tunney was one of the sport's greatest, but he never allowed boxing to define his life. And boxing may never have truly recognized what it had until long after his death at 81 in 1978. In 1990, he was finally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Friday night, he will be enshrined in the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame. "Because Dad became a businessman and he dealt mostly in a life of privacy being married for 50 years, it doesn't surprise me that the boxing establishment didn't recognize him for some time," said his son, Jay, 72, who lives in Roxbury. "If they didn't recognize him earlier, well that's just the way the cookie crumbled. At least they have recognized him. That's something to be honored by and be happy about it." His induction in Connecticut's Hall wasn't immediate, either, even though the New York native spent much of his life in the state. "There was a discussion in regards to when he lived in Connecticut and if he lived in Connecticut when he fought," said Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame president Glenn Feldman. "We got over that. It took a few years, but we got over it. If anybody deserves to be in our Hall of Fame, of everybody including Willie Pep, it's Gene Tunney. He lived in Connecticut for many years." On Sept. 23, 1926, Tunney stunned the boxing world when he scored a unanimous decision over Jack Dempsey to win the heavyweight championship. On Sept. 22, 1927, Tunney beat Dempsey again by unanimous decision to keep the title. But Tunney fought only one more time, knocking out Tom Heeney on July 26, 1928. As the world heavyweight champion in his heyday at 31, Tunney walked away from the sport with a nearly spotless record of 80-1-3 with 48 knockouts. His lone loss came in a 1923 middleweight bout against Harry Greb, a fighter he would defeat three times later. In October 1928, Tunney married Mary "Polly" Lauder of Greenwich, an heiress to steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie's estate, and settled in Connecticut with his new wife. Romantic myth is that Tunney retired at the demand of his new bride. "That is not true," said Jay, who will represent the Tunney family at the reception. "He retired because there was nobody around at that time to keep his great training schedule going. There was nobody in the offing. There was no fighter like a Jack Dempsey. He sent Jack Dempsey into retirement. And he was very conscious of getting hit too often and the worry of dementia. It was a problem of a lot fighters in those days. ... He knew he was young enough still to have another kind of life where he wasn't getting belted in the head all the time. "It was just by coincidence that he had met my mother at just about that time. It was kind of a perfect storm for him. The fact that my mother didn't want him to be a boxer is true. She did not want him to continue to fight, but he had already decided that he wasn't going to fight anymore." Tunney then distanced himself from the boxing establishment. "He did that because of the kind of life that he chose for himself," Jay said. "He had grown away from the world of boxing." After serving in World War II, Tunney went into real estate development before venturing to Wall Street as a professional investor. In later years, he served on the board of directors of numerous companies in the financial and industrial marketplace. Tunney's wife died in April at 100. His youngest daughter, Joan, died in September at 69. His oldest son, Gene, who lives in Idaho and New York, is 77. His son John, 74, is a former U.S. senator from California. Legendary newspaper columnist Jim Murray, who grew up in Hartford, wrote of Tunney: "He was unloved, underrated, shunned by his own people, rejected by history. Still, he was the best advertisement his sport has ever had."