Book brings life, career of ‘Happy Jack’ into focus

Admit it, not only did you not know Jack Fairs, BSc’46, LLD’05, coached Western’s fishing team, you had no idea Western ever had a fishing team.

“Although his Western teams did quite well at the fishing tournaments, Jack was afraid of the fish,” laughed author Sandy Lubert, BA’89, noting Fairs emphasized he was only afraid of hurting them. “I find it funny this man, who is hugely successful and legendary in so many ways, was afraid of the fish.”

This is just one of the many light-hearted and genuine stories shared in Lubert’s latest book A FAIRS to Remember: The Life and Times of Happy Jack.

Outstanding mentor. Humble coach. Loving husband. The countless accomplishments in Fairs’ illustrious career at Western all seem to end at the same conclusion – he is a true gentleman.

“With Jack, I really wanted to get at the heart of how this incredible man was built,” Lubert said. “You hear story after story about his incredible legacy and I just knew it needed to be in a book.”

This past year, the former Mustang soccer player sat down with Fairs and his wife Peigi to reminisce about his time at Western.

“Jack has a great sense of humour and the range of his accomplishments is truly jaw-dropping,” Lubert said. “He’s humble, yet the man has achieved so many awesome feats.”

A native of Tillsonburg, Ont., Fairs was a naturally gifted athlete growing up. He enrolled at Western in 1942, playing football and basketball while earning his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. He then went on to Columbia University and earned a master’s degree in Physical Education in 1947.

After graduating from Columbia and returning to Western, Fairs joined the London Majors of the Senior Intercounty Baseball League, playing with the team for six seasons and helping the squad win the North American Sandlot Championship in 1948.

After splitting time between responsibilities with the football and basketball programs, Fairs quickly established his reputation as an instructor, coach and mentor, taking over Western’s squash program in 1962.

“Jack is the epitome of an outstanding mentor, leading and genuinely cared about his students and athletes,” Lubert said. “The people he taught and coached, most of them credit Jack with planting the seeds of their successes. I found the most impressive aspect of the legendary ‘Happy Jack’ had little to do with wins, titles or record-setting winning streaks, and everything to do with his role as a mentor.”

Still, Fairs was no stranger to winning, leading Western’s squash team to its first provincial championship in 1964. It would be in the 1970s when he would show how dominant his teams could truly be, winning nine out of a possible 10 provincial titles in the decade.

He would win eight more Ontario championships in the 1980s, however, there’s no way anyone could have predicted the streak he started in the 1983-84 season. The Western squash team would take home every single provincial championship for the next 37 seasons – with their most recent title in February.

Between all of his championships, Fairs also had time to establish a long and successful teaching career from 1947-89. He is recognized as one of the founding fathers of Western’s Physical Education Department, which became Kinesiology in 1972.

Fairs is a member of seven different sports halls of fame, including Western’s W Club Hall of Fame, the London Sports Hall of Fame and the National Intercollegiate Squash Association Hall of Fame. He is also a three-time member of the Mustangs Football Wall of Champions.

“I learned Jack is smitten with, and entirely devoted to, his wife,” Lubert said. “He told me, ‘I inducted Peg into my Hall of Fame many years ago.’”

While Fairs championship legacy is one few could ever dream of, and will likely never be matched at Western, Lubert gives readers a glimpse beyond the coaching persona and into the life of the 96-year-old who would do anything for anyone.

“All of the people I spoke to for this book spoke of Jack’s integrity, dedication and moral fibre. Jack is a true gentleman; his kindness is absolutely genuine,” Lubert said.  “Over the years, he and Peigi have guided and nurtured player after player. They think of them all as family.”

The sparkle in Fairs’ eyes reflects perfectly his wit, enthusiasm and, most definitely, his humour, she added, sharing a fun story his time at Colombia University.

Fairs become friends with members of the basketball team and worked as a switchboard operator at Army Hall, where many of the players lived. In the late 1940s, you had to go through the operator to place a call. His friends learned the Canadian national anthem and would keep calling and singing it to him.

In return, when they wanted to place an outgoing call, Fairs would sometimes put them through to the police station.

“It’s was an honour to play a role in telling Jack’s story,” Lubert said. “Over the course of many interviews with him there were endless stories and a great deal of laughter. It lit up the room.”