On Owen Canfield And Silver Linings

Finding The Positives After A Scary Situation

Your dad goes to work every day. You know he's a sports writer for a newspaper, a sports editor, a sports columnist, then a general columnist in his semiretired years.

He's written thousands of newspaper columns and stories. Maybe tens of thousands. Touched the lives of many, many people he's written about and many others who have read his work.

He's an understated guy. Humble. Doesn't call attention to himself. So you don't really realize how much your dad means to so many people. That's how it was for Steve Canfield this fall when his father, Owen Canfield, was hurt in a car accident.

The outpouring of support and love came in the days following the early morning accident Sept. 13 in Torrington which left the 78-year-old Canfield in critical condition and his 78-year-old passenger and friend, Maureen Pugsley, in serious condition. Canfield had just picked up Pugsley at the airport and was driving home. The two were supposed to go to Torrington High's 60th reunion that weekend.

"Honestly, I was [amazed]," said Steve, who lives in Torrington. "With his demeanor, he's never come across that way. You would never know. You don't realize the reach he has. I was very surprised. People in my workplace, people in general, people who I didn't know were asking, 'How's your dad? I read his column. It's a godsend.' A lady at work asked when he's going to start writing again."

Owen is home in Torrington and on the mend after spending three weeks at Hartford Hospital and about a month rehabbing at Litchfield Hills in Torrington. Maureen is back home in California, also on the mend. Owen broke his left arm and left leg in the accident — "I not only broke them, I shattered them," he said. "I'm full of metal" — and lost a lot of blood. "That's what put me in such critical shape," he said.

As he gathered with his family at daughter Sheila Burke's house in Southbury on Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner, he was one of the most thankful guys on the planet.

"Judging by the mail and the emails and all the things I got, I'll never be able to express how appreciative I am of that and how good it made it feel," he said. "They were from all over the place.

"[Former UConn basketball coach] Dee Rowe called me three times just to say, 'Owen, how are you doing?' He's a good, good guy. It's been an experience that has sobered me a little, has made me feel kind of humble. Gee whiz. That people would care that much."

Owen had 10 children with his late wife Ethel, and many of them still live in the area.

"No. 1 in the forefront of all this is my own children, who have been incredibly solicitous," he said. "Every day, somebody is here, every day I get phone calls. All I could think of was 25 years ago when their mother died. They came from all over the place. God, they're good kids. They're just extraordinary kids. They take care of each other, and by God, they take care of me."

His son Owen Canfield III, a former Associated Press sports writer who is now an editorial writer at The Oklahoman, came to visit his dad when he was in rehab. Every day, Owen III said, there was a stack of 15-20 pieces of mail for his dad.

"It was kind of amazing," Owen III said by phone Saturday from his home in Oklahoma City. "Flattering. But he's been landing on people's kitchen tables for a long time.

"There were beautiful notes from people whom he hadn't heard from in a long time. Readers, local folks. It was very heartening, very humbling. He was truly moved by it. He touched a lot of lives, in however many years he's been doing that. I told him you reap what you sow. The reason you like my dad is he's a decent guy. It comes through in his writing."

His daughter Sheila took him to Price Chopper in Torrington to fill a prescription Friday.

"He's a rock star," she said, laughing. "It's hilarious. Everybody knows him. He's asking the pharmacist, 'How's your grandmother?' There's a line about six-deep behind us and I'm saying, 'Maybe we need to move it along.' People are pleased to see him and see he's on the mend, and that's a testament to the type of man he is."

Canfield worked at The Courant for 30 years, retiring in 1995, but he still wrote a weekly column until it became monthly. He always wrote about people, more than sports, something I have always tried to emulate in my own writing. I guess I was doing OK because every few months, I'd get an email from Owen saying things like, "Hello, Riley. You're doing some great writing. Keep writing, You're cooking. Love, OC."

Yeah, that made me feel good.

"I always wrote about people," Owen said. "At UConn games, I used to sit next to [the late New Haven Register columnist] Dave Solomon, and on purpose, I would ask him the dumbest goddamned questions, like, 'Hey Dave, uh, which team is UConn?'

"Here's the numbers and here's the analysis — I didn't go for that stuff. I always went for the people. It always worked for me."

At the time of the accident, he was still writing for the Register Citizen in Torrington and writing a monthly sports column for The Courant. But he hasn't been able to write since the accident.

"I can't make my left hand work very well yet," he said. "Pecking it out with one finger doesn't do it with me. You know how that is. I also don't have any energy yet. It's astonishing. Fatigue is my No. 1 trouble."

But he's good. He sounds great, vintage OC.

"I'm a lucky man," he said. "It's been a both very traumatic and a wonderful-at-the-same-time experience. It's a paradox, I know.

"It refreshes you and reminds you, for the most part, people are darn good. They're awful good. They'd rather be good than bad."

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