HAVERHILL – Russ Conway led a busy life.
Not only did he dedicate nearly four decades to a career as a journalist and newspaper editor, he spent nearly five decades as an auto racing promoter and racetrack owner.
Conway died at age 70 at his home in Haverhill after a lengthy battle with coronary disease. His death was announced Tuesday by longtime colleague, attorney and friend Peter Caruso.
Conway’s efforts in both pro hockey and auto racing were recognized with hall of fame inductions in the respective sports.
In 1999, Conway was awarded the prestigious Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for journalists in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Wayne Gretkzy was inducted, as a player, in the same ceremony.
In 2006, a year after his retirement from The Eagle-Tribune as sports editor, Conway was inducted into the New England Racing Hall of Fame. He had helped promote over 1,000 events and more than 10,000 races.
Conway was also recognized for his investigative journalism. In 1992, he was nominated as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting for stories that exposed corruption at the highest levels of professional hockey.
Conway started at The Eagle-Tribune as a co-op student from Northeastern University. Among his duties was covering the up-and-coming Boston Bruins. It was an assignment that Conway cherished, beginning in 1967, as he built relationships with members of the team, particularly a young defenseman named Bobby Orr whose birthday was only a month apart from Conway’s.
“It’s a sad day,” said Orr on Tuesday afternoon upon hearing the news. "He was a friend to all of us. He’s going to be missed.”
Conway’s relationship with Orr, which continued after his Hall-of-Fame career with the Bruins had ended, was integral in Conway looking into stories of retired hockey players not receiving proper benefits. Conway's meticulous reporting uncovered illegal activity in the NHL Players Association by its longtime executive director, Alan Eagleson, also an agent for many players.
One of the most powerful and well recognized people in the sport, Eagleson was brought down and charged by U.S. and Canadian authorities as a result of Conway’s work. Conway's subsequent book, "Game Misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the Corruption of Hockey," revealed that Eagleson had deceived Orr into leaving the Bruins for the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of his career.
“That was the thing about Russ, he looked out for the little guy, guys that were long retired and struggling,” said former Bruin Rick Middleton, whose number was retired last winter.
“He just cared about people,” said Middleton. “We respected him as players. But after I retired, he became a true friend. I love the guy.”
As a sports writer and later editor, Conway always made a point of covering Lawrence High football games.
He also made an impact as an organizer of charity events, taking over the local Greater Lawrence golf tournament and turning into something special, the Allan B. Rogers Memorial Golf Tournament.
Local golfers got royal treatment in the what was known as “The Masters of the Merrimack Valley,” which included four days at four area courses, followed by a huge banquet and awards ceremony.
“It was the best tournament I was ever a part of,” said Mike Menery, former Andover Country Club head pro, who worked the four-day event for a quarter-century.
“Everything Russ was involved with was special,” said Menery. “He added a personal touch that people admired. And he treated people, especially the little people out there, like they were special.”
Conway was born and raised in Haverhill, the son of Deputy Fire Chief Paul S. Conway Jr., and Betty G. Conway, a school teacher and member of the Groveland School Committee. He was predeceased by his parents and a younger brother, Mark E. Conway.
Bill Burt is executive sports editor of The Eagle-Tribune. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @BurtTalksSports