Beau Jack: A Christmas Story

By Hackie Reitman M.D. on December 19, 2017
Beau Jack: A Christmas Story
He was wearing a T-shirt and shivering. I had on full sweats and was chilly even in them.

Those of us who knew Beau Jack were not surprised that he was broke but content, because we knew that money was not the currency of his life…

In 1989, at the age of 39, I began a career as a heavyweight professional boxer that lasted until I was 52. At the time, I was an established orthopedic surgeon in south Florida, but I was also a former Lowell New England Golden Gloves heavyweight champion, so starting a pro-career one year short of forty for personal reasons was a little crazy—but not absolutely bonkers, especially because I had my hero, the immortal Hall-of-Famer Beau Jack, helping me out.

I fought under the ring moniker “The Fighting Surgeon” and compiled a professional record of 13-7-6. But this short piece is not about me—it is about my hero Mr. Beau Jack.

Not long before my manager Tommy Torino had me start working under Beau Jack’s watchful eye, there had been a big spread in Sports Illustrated about Beau Jack, his stature as world champion from 1941-1943, his toughness, how he lost his money, shined shoes at the Fontainebleau Hotel, but was happy. Those of us who knew Beau Jack were not surprised that he was broke but content, because we knew that money was not the currency of his life. Not by a long shot.

It is chilly this December in Fort Lauderdale. I’m wearing warm clothes and we might even light the fireplace up tonight. We are about to finish the eight days of Hanukkah, and were getting ready for Christmas. I was thinking about the true meaning of the Hanukkah/Christmas season, and it brought me back to a little story about one of my mentors.

It was a very chilly Christmas time in South Florida and Beau Jack was often cold. My daughter Rebecca, former wife Marilee, and I decided to give Beau Jack a beautiful red sweater that had his name monogrammed on the back. It was a warm fire engine red sweater. I presented it to him at the 5th Street Gym. He was beaming with thanks and admitted that he could really use it. 

A few days later, still well before Christmas, I came to the 5th Street Gym for one of my early Sunday morning workouts. There was Beau Jack ready to go. We were alone in the gym. He was wearing a T-shirt and shivering. I had on my full sweats and was chilly even in them.

“Where is your sweater?” I asked.

“Oh, I think I must’ve lost it.” Beau replied.

He saw the disappointment in my eyes. Here we were trying to be nice, to give him a nice gift in the spirit of Christmas and Hanukkah, and he goes and loses it. 

Beau Jack was a diabetic on top of it and as a doctor, I gently admonished him, “Beau Jack, you have to take better care of yourself. Want me to help you look for it?”

“No, no, I’m not even cold and now let’s get to work. Stop stalling and stop stealing my time. You need work. Let’s get to work. Get up in that ring, let’s go.”

I wanted to pursue my point, however, but nobody was stupid enough to argue with Beau Jack. The boxing gym was his kingdom, and he ruled it as a dictator, a benevolent dictator, but a dictator just the same. One of the greatest fighters of all time, Beau would either mold you into shape or force you to quit.

As I climbed up into the ring, I heard somebody coming up the creaky old steps of the 5th Street Gym.

A big muscular young man entered the gym with a steaming hot cup of coffee. He was wearing Beau Jack’s beautiful red sweater. Had he stolen it?  I was ticked. Beau Jack was freezing. And this tough athletic looking guy has the nerve to come prancing into the boxing gym in the sweater that we knitted for our esteemed friend.

I began walking across the ring. Now smiling, the young guy yells “Beau Jack” and hands the old man the cup of coffee, saying, “This is for you. It’s all I could afford.” Then he added, “Thanks so much for the sweater, Beau Jack. Otherwise I would’ve frozen last night.”

Beau Jack smiled and sipped his coffee. Then he called the young man and aspiring boxer over to the ring, saying, “I want you to meet the doctor.”

The big fellow reached his hand through the ropes, shook my hand and asked, “Are you really a doctor?” I nodded yes.

He responded, “The last doctor I saw was two weeks ago, when I was still in the joint, and he didn’t look nothing like you…”

“You go back and get ready,” Beau Jack commanded. “You got work to do. And the doctor as sure as God is my witness has a LOT of work to do. Go ahead into my office. I left your trunks and stuff there.”

The young man scurried to Beau’s office (which used to be Chris Dundee’s office) and then back to the dressing area.

I witnessed all of this. I started to put two and two together. It took me a second, but I figured it out. This guy had just gotten out of prison. Beau Jack was looking after him, and the young man was grateful. Beau Jack walked up to the ring, looked up at me, and read the expression on my face. I was totally embarrassed and in awe. After all, I had just witnessed the true meaning of giving and the true spirit of Christmas.

Beau Jack looked at my reddening face, as I tried to form some words. Before I could say a thing, Beau Jack said:

“Now stop stealing my time, and get to work. We got a lot of work to do today. So help me God, you sure need it.”

I sure do. And I wish you were here, Beau Jack, to make me do it.

Hackie Reitman M.D. is the author of “Aspertools: The Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Neurodiversity.”

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Ike Williams KOs Beau Jack This Day in Boxing July 12, 1948

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  1. NYIrish 05:50am, 12/24/2017

    Thank you.

  2. peter 06:49am, 12/20/2017

    A wonderful article! Thanks for sharing! Two quick Beau Jack stories ...My former neighbor, a tall pro heavyweight named Dick Snyder (spelling?), was working out in the gym. When he walked past Beau Jack, he mistakenly stepped on Beau’s boxing shoe. “Beau didn’t like that too much and he got in my face,” remembered Snyder, grinning. “I quickly apologized. I didn’t want the guys in the gym to see little Beau Jack, a small lightweight, kick my heavyweight butt—which he certainly woulda done.”...Back in the seventies, I was working out at The 5th Street Gym. Beau Jack was leaning on the ring apron, watching me hit the heavybag. I wasn’t much to look at, but he made me feel special—holding the bag for me and offering nice comments. All that time, while I’m hitting the bag, I felt I was in the presence of boxing greatness. I cherish the photos I have of that 5th Street workout.

  3. Stanley Holloway 06:55pm, 12/19/2017

    In the video above Ike Williams literally begging the ref to stop the fight. Even the refs who had boxing careers didn’t seem to comprehend the damage that a hard puncher like Williams could do to a helpless opponent! Maybe it was the times….. when full ten counts were tolled over stricken fighters clearly incapable of beating the count or even being aware that the ref was counting. In the present day there are judges that have to see a fighter go wobbly and even go down before they discern that an impactful/hurtful punch has landed which accounts for a lot of the crazy ass scoring!

  4. Bob 03:37pm, 12/19/2017

    Beautiful piece for the holiday season. Beau Jack was a man’s man.  The holidays just got happier with this beautiful tale of selflessness.

  5. Gordon 12:06pm, 12/19/2017

    Right on the button. Great piece on a great man. Thanks

  6. Bill Angresano 11:44am, 12/19/2017

    Beautiful article Dr. Classic story of a Champion prizefighter and a Dickens like Christmas Carol. And you Doc are one in a million!

  7. Stanley Holloway 11:40am, 12/19/2017

    This article is a nifty Christmas Hanukkah gift for visitors!

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