Joe Byrne tackles biggest subject yet – The Jim Mahon story

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On Saturday, November 19, Essex lawyer Joe Byrne’s latest book will be launched as part of an on-ice presentation at the Peterborough Memorial Civic Centre in Peterborough. The special launch is a fitting tribute to the subject of the book, local hero Jim Mahon.

Mahon was the definition of phenom – “a phenomenon, especially a young prodigy.” He was a rising star who burned bright, a shining light that guided and gave strength to those around him.

The Maidstone resident is almost a legend in these parts, spoken of in the highest regard by all who knew him. He died in 1971 at the age of 19. And yet his life-story lives on even today.

Byrne’s job in writing his latest book – Called Home: Our Inspiration Jim Mahon – was to put Mahon’s story into print. It was no easy task.

“It’s phenomenal that a kid that was only 19-years old still generates so much praise,” Byrne said from his Essex office last week. “It’s remarkable. I talked to 600 or 700 people and he had no detractors.

“People wanted to share their memories and stories of Jim,” he added.

Growing up with Mahon – Byrne’s home was close to Mahon’s – Byrne has many of his own memories of Jim. He and Jim were chums and schoolmates, attending Sacred Heart School together. Byrne’s mom would sometimes give Jim a ride to the Essex arena when Mahon’s parents were too busy to do so. Byrne shares those personal memories and many more in the book.

“He was an amazing athlete and an amazing person,” Byrne said. “He was humble, never talked about himself, but he thought about others. Your well being was important to Jim Mahon.”

Thinking of others came naturally to Mahon. It was something he did even as a youngster. Byrne recalled that Mahon frequently picked the weaker players when picking players for ball teams. He would also praise others for simple hits when he was wracking up homeruns.

His athletic prowess was very apparent. Even when he was very young, Mahon stood above the pack. “Even as youngsters at school, we knew [Jim] was a special guy,” Byrne reflected. “He played with the big guys. We were hitting grounders and he was hitting homeruns.

“He lifted his team up,” he continued. “In Minor hockey and Juvenile his play was encouraging to others.”

Mahon carried this strength of character forward to when he played hockey with the Peterborough Petes.

Mahon was powerfully built but he had the agility and speed of smaller players. He also boasted an accurate and powerful shot. The vast majority of his goals were scored when the game was on the line – he rose to the occasion. At 19, he had only one more year left in his Junior career and then he would have gone pro.

Unfortunately, his life ended early and tragically. He was helping his grandfather move a sump pump out of a flooded basement. While he was carrying the sump pump he was electrocuted. All of the people in the basement were jolted by the shock. They joked about it, even Mahon, but then Mahon said he didn’t feel well. He was carried out of the basement and died in his mother’s arms. “It broke people’s hearts,” Bryne said. “We were all just devastated.”

There’s a lot of speculation about the impact Mahon would have made on the game of hockey had he made it to NHL. Everyone thinks he would have been one of the greats, one of the big names.

Byrne always wanted to read a biography on Jim Mahon and he hoped someone would write one. It never happened, so he decided to write a book about Jim himself. “For forty years I’ve waited for a book about him and I just felt the time had come,” Byrne said.

He added that he still hopes someone writes a formal biography about Jim.

As Byrne started to do his research, he quickly realized the size of the character he was writing about. “I had a very high opinion of Jim going into this and that opinion only grew talking to others,” he said. “He only lived to 19. The biggest part of his story was never told.”

To get it right, Byrne didn’t rush the writing. He described the book’s creation as a very deliberate and detailed process. “I wrote Wheat Fields in three days,” he remarked. “There were times when I couldn’t seem to write three pages in three days on this.”

Byrne hopes the end result is a fitting tribute to a childhood friend, an outstanding athlete, and a remarkable, caring human being – a person who was larger than life, blessed with great abilities and armed with an outstanding great character. “I wanted to do the best job I could at accurately communicating Jim’s life, especially the themes,” he said.

• The published book will be released at the Pete’s game vs. the Windsor Spitfires on Saturday, November 19, which will coincide with a 40th Anniversary Memorial of Jim Mahon. It is expected that around 200 people will travel from the local area to Peterborough specifically to attend the Memorial.   

               A local launch will follow on Tuesday, November 22 in Essex at the 73’s game.       


2 Responses to Joe Byrne tackles biggest subject yet – The Jim Mahon story

  1. Hello:
    My husband, Mick Beneteau played hockey on Jim’s team long before I met him. Recently an article about him appeared in the Windsor Star that brought Mick to tears – he still has a team picture. Mick couldn’t say enough good things about Jim. I would really like to buy Joe Byrne’s book for him for Christmas.
    Please advise how I can do this.
    Thank you!
    Becky Beneteau

    Rebecca Beneteau
    November 9, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    • Hello Rebecca, Joe’s website is:
      You could contact him about it. He has his contact information there as well.
      I hope this helps. Thanks.
      – Jessica
      The Essex Free Press

      November 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm