Earl Georgas, a local businessman and celebrated jazz drummer, died in Owen Sound hospital Friday morning after suffering a massive stroke at his cottage at Sauble Beach earlier in the week. Mr. Georgas was 88.
Cora Taylor-Georgas, his third wife, said the stroke dealt a sudden blow which left her husband's right side paralyzed and rendered him unable to speak. Over the past year he'd had to use a wheelchair, before and after a hip replacement.
"He was just so outgoing and so interested in everyone. And such a positive, positive person," she said Tuesday. He was so energetic too, which made his gradual decline over the past year difficult for him.
Mr. Georgas was the ninth of 10 children of Christos and Sadie Georgas, many of whom also gained public recognition through athletics, music and by simple force of character.
Everyone in the family helped out in the Owen Sound theatres the Georgases owned, the Classic and the Savoy. This began in the silent movie era and all the Georgas children except Earl Georgas played instruments in the orchestra which accompanied the movie, according to an online history of Mr. Georgas by local musician Al Walker.
Mr. Georgas continued working almost every evening until close in the early 1960s, taking tickets, sweeping floors, making popcorn, ushering and as a projectionist.
But music nourished his life and it was arguably what made him best known.
He was inspired to play drums after seeing a short film in his father's theatre about Gene Krupa, a flamboyant American jazz and big band performer, whose records he learned to play by.
One day, while working at an uncle's candy apple booth at the Ex in Toronto, he met Krupa, who was performing there in the early 1950s, Taylor-Georgas said.
"Earl snuck in and he hung around, gazing at Gene Krupa. And Gene Krupa said 'Well kid, you wanna be a drummer?' And he said 'Oh, yes.' So Gene Krupa gave him a pair of drumsticks, a pair of his drumsticks." It was a story Mr. Georgas loved to tell.
Mr. Georgas wintered in Florida for the past 20 years, where he sat in with other jazz players and became known in jazz circles there too.
Mr. Georgas was inducted into the Bruce Grey Music Hall of Fame in Hepworth in 2016, for his drumming in local jazz bands and teaching others how to drum.
Fred Parsons, who nominated him, played with Mr. Georgas with a number of his jazz bands over the past 38 years.
"He was just one of those people that just loved life and he loved music and he loved people. He encouraged everyone to be their best, always."
Their annual summer gig at the Fairy Lake pavilion at Southampton will go ahead July 15, at Mr. Georgas's wife's urging. Others who have played with Mr. Georgas are coming to turn the loss of Mr. Georgas into a celebration of his life.
Parsons snapped a photo of Mr. Georgas the day he was inducted in the local music hall of fame. He's shown smiling and wearing his trademark performer's hat and black T-shirt. "You can see right into his soul" in that photograph, Parsons remarked in an interview Tuesday.
The nomination said Mr. Georgas was "one of Ontario's top drummers and percussionists" whose career spanned well over 60 years.
He played with more than 40 bands, including the Lloyd Kibbler Orchestra, Empire Stove and Furnace Factory band, the Don Buchanan Orchestra and his own Georgas Alpha Jazz Band. Jazz was his thing, but he played rock, blues, country, calypso, polka and swing too.
He also taught more than 100 students to drum, including Lloyd Mercey of the Mercey Brothers, the seven-time Juno Award winners.
In business, Mr. Georgas ran Earl Georgas Ski Shop for many years until 2002. Once, while walking down a sidewalk in Athens, someone who recognized him told him their skis came from his shop.
Mr. Georgas was in the business of selling clothing, sporting goods and musical instruments for 52 years. Before Earl Georgas Ski Shop, he was in partnership with brothers Jim and Nick at Georgas Bros., then he ran the Bond clothiers.
He's in the Owen Sound Sports Hall of Fame twice: Once as a basketball player, with the OSCVI in the late 40s, then on the city men's league championship winner for 21 consecutive seasons, and second as a builder for work as a referee and sponsor.
Cremation has taken place. Mr. Georgas will be interred in his wife's family plot in Wingard, Sask., according with his wishes.
On July 8 there will be an Evensong Service and Prayers for the Dead, a visitation, at 7 p.m. at St. George's Anglican Church in Owen Sound. On July 9 a celebration of his life will be held at the church at 10:30 a.m.