Furlong at the Vancouver luncheon. (ATR)
(ATR) The CEO of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics admits to stealing newspapers -- and battling depression in the troubled years he has faced since the Games.
Furlong elicited laughter when he recounted the newspaper theft during a speech at a November 25 Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon. He told the audience of 500 that he and his late wife Deborah Sharp spent five hours stealing hundreds and hundreds of copies of the Georgia Straight newspaper from boxes around the city on the September 2012 morning when the free paper hit the streets with an expose alleging a secret past for Furlong.
The article headlined “John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake” by journalist Laura Robinson, noted several inconsistencies in the memoir written by Furlong after the Olympics, Patriot Hearts. The article included allegations by former gym class students that he physically abused them at a northern British Columbia elementary school in 1969.
The same day the article appeared, Furlong held a news conference where he emphatically denied the abuse claims but downplayed his time in Burns Lake as “fairly brief and fairly uneventful.”
On Wednesday Furlong told the Board of Trade luncheon that Sharp and he later drove to Seattle, but stopped before crossing the border to dump the newspapers in a recycling bin, drawing laughter with the confession.
But the episode failed to keep the story out of the public domain and despite the grief it has caused Furlong, remains online at the Georgia Straight website.
November 27 coincidentally marks the third anniversary of the defamation lawsuits that he filed and eventually withdrew against the newspaper and author Robinson.
Robinson proceeded with a defamation suit of her own in 2014, but in September a British Columbia Court ruled in Furlong’s favor.
Furlong calls Sept. 19 “that day life began again” for him and he now claims to live by the words of his father: “the truth has to be your friend.”
“You can overcome the worst,” he declared. “I found my way out of the dark, I found love and peace and I have to say I’ve never been happier than I am today, no matter all the things that have happened in my life.”
The cover of the Furlong memoir.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated Furlong over a sexual assault complaint from one of his ex-students, but no charges were filed. That ex-student and two others filed abuse lawsuits, but none got to trial. The allegations contained in affidavits were never tested in court, but Furlong claimed he was exonerated anyway.
Furlong said the adverse publicity ruined his public speaking career. He had been receiving $20,000 appearance fees.
Throughout the saga, he did retain high-profile jobs, such as chairing Own the Podium and Vancouver Whitecaps FC and board memberships with the Whistler Blackcomb resort and retail chain Canadian Tire.
The public humiliation in early 2013 led him to retreat to his native Ireland with Sharp. In April that year Sharp drove on the wrong side of a rural road and crashed into an oncoming vehicle. She was airlifted to a Dublin hospital and died not long after Furlong arrived.
Furlong, 65, said Sharp’s death left him with a sense of rage.
Back in Vancouver, comments from a stranger on street while he walked to a Whitecaps game caused further emotional harm and motivated him to seek help.
“I went to counseling and therapy and sat down with two professional people who I think now need therapy,” he said.
“I know I wasn’t easy to help, I’m an introvert at heart, I like being private. But friends and family were there when I had no spirit,” he said during his 36 minute speech.
The crowd was heavy with ex-VANOC sponsors and executives. Among them were deputy CEO Dave Cobb, vice-president of transportation Irene Kerr, director of licensing Dennis Kim and vice-president of sport Tim Gayda. The head table included Furlong’s daughter Molly, Furlong’s companion and former VANOC communications vice-president Renee Smith-Valade and Furlong’s brother Eamonn.
“For a long time I thought I would not have the chance to ever do this again, to be here to talk in a forum like this to people like you,” Furlong said.
Until 2012, Furlong spoke often and eloquently about arriving as a landed immigrant in 1974 in Edmonton from his native Ireland and being greeted by an unnamed customs guard, an anecdote that features prominently in the memoir.
But in his speech this week he didn’t mention living in northern B.C. from 1969 to 1972, or the place or the customs guard. In June, during the defamation trial, he revealed under cross-examination that his Edmonton arrival was actually in 1975.
“When the sky fell for me and my family, I felt in a way that I was accused of letting the country down. I had done something that had embarrassed people, humiliated or hurt them. That was a burden, far too heavy to carry,” Furlong admitted to the Vancouver audience.
Trevor Linden, the president of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks, introduced Furlong, calling him “visionary, creative, patience, leadership, determination, integrity and hero.”
Furlong made annual November appearances at the Board of Trade during his years as VANOC CEO. An October 2012 Board of Trade promotional event for the Whitecaps was cancelled by Furlong.
Written and reported in Vancouver by Bob Mackin.
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