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Canadian legend Barbara Ann Scott passes away

Ottawa native first North American woman to win Olympic gold

Barbara Ann Scott King and her husband in August 2012 at the gallery with her memorabilia at Ottawa City Hall.
Barbara Ann Scott King and her husband in August 2012 at the gallery with her memorabilia at Ottawa City Hall. (courtesy of Skate Canada/Jean-Marc Carisse)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(10/01/2012) - She would often refer to herself as a "little old lady," but nothing could have been further from the truth. Barbara Ann Scott King was quite simply an icon in the sport of figure skating, particularly in her home country of Canada even 64 years after she won her Olympic title.

Scott King passed away Sept. 30 at the age of 84 with her husband of 57 years, Thomas King, at her side.

Elegant, warm and always interested in people, she carried her enduring renown with a sense of grace. Yet she never lost her sense of humility or accessibility.

When Moira North, founder and artistic director of Ice Theatre of New York, phoned Scott King to tell her ITNY wanted to honor her at its rehearsal fund gala in 1996, Scott King said she didn't expect many people would turn out.

"Of course, it was one of our more successful events ever," North said. "She was always so gracious, warm and unassuming. She was beautiful inside and out."

Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, she became Canadian junior ladies champion in 1940 and won the senior ladies title every year from 1944 to 1948. The quality of her skating took a huge leap forward when Sheldon Galbraith became her coach. Just six years older than his student, Galbraith was hired by the Minto Club in Ottawa right after leaving the military at the end of World War II.

They showed what a formidable duo they were when international competitions resumed in 1947 and Scott became world champion. She defended her world title in 1948 and also became the first North American woman -- and to date, the only Canadian -- to claim Olympic gold.

"Barb was the consummate perfectionist. It didn't matter what she did. It showed up in her skating and it showed up in her whole life," said Frances Dafoe, two-time Canadian Olympian in pairs and two-time world pairs champion with Norris Bowden, as well as a championship judge and renowned costume designer.

Scott King skated professionally for several years, but after falling in love and marrying King in 1955, she put away her skates and became a full-time homemaker in Chicago. King gave her a horse, and she enjoyed taking part in dressage and showmanship competitions. She said having spent years practicing figure eights, she never had trouble finding her center when on her horse. In recent years, the couple lived in Florida.

"Her greatest love, I have to say, was for her husband, Tom," Dafoe said. "They were totally devoted to each other. They enjoyed each other and had fun together always. It was quite extraordinary to watch them."

While she no longer skated -- in a 2010 interview for SKATING magazine, she said she hadn't had skates on in more than 40 years -- she continued to stay involved with the sport.

"She took her role as part of skating's history very seriously," Dafoe said. "No matter how tired she was, she would always take time to encourage young skaters and fans who wanted her autograph. She was a very gracious and kind person."

North said she will always remember Scott King's beautiful eyes because "when she talked to you, she really looked at you."

Scott King was one of eight notable Canadians to carry the Olympic flag into the stadium at the Opening Ceremony in Vancouver. She also ran in the torch relays for both the 1988 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The run preceding the 2010 Games was particularly spectacular, as she carried the Olympic torch onto the floor of the House of Commons in Ottawa. Although shocked, those in attendance soon began chanting "Go Canada Go."

Scott King donated the torch from that run to Skate Canada, an organization to which she has given many pieces of memorabilia. In August of this year, she gave all remaining items of her extensive memorabilia collection to her hometown of Ottawa, where it is now a part of the City of Ottawa Archives.

"She was just thrilled to have her lovely things she treasured be placed somewhere people could see them and enjoy them," Dafoe said.

"She set a very high standard," she added. "She encouraged the sport in Canada. It's the people that went first who really established our sport. Barbara Ann certainly established it in Canada, no question."