Eulogy by Carrie Blair (daughter #3)
Our father had a painful, crippling back condition, which constricted his life considerably. When spinal fusion corrected that in 1953, he discovered water skiing. He was exhilarated by this new sport that he could pursue on the Navesink River near his office in Red Bank, New Jersey.
His family quickly embraced his excitement and formed Family Ski School in Red Bank and Mirror Lake in Edison, New Jersey, which was active for nineteen years.
Our family of six skied behind a boat as the opening act in ski shows with the Jersey Ski-Ters Club—stair-step in height, George, Dorothy, Donna, GeeGee, Carrie, Robin—in matching bathing suits.
We learned newly-invented tricks, tried the newest equipment, and usually had the fastest boat. George quickly became a local, then national, then international show-off, widening his circle of friends and fans.
His repertoire included kite flying over water on flat wing and then Delta kites, slalom, tricks, shoe skis, endurance, doubles with ladies on his shoulders, air chair, hydrofoil, barefoot jumping and slalom, tumble turns, backward face-down starts in the water, jumping from a fifteen-foot platform into the water, and his signature Rope-in-Teeth trick.
For a little guy, he had huge ambition, and an unlimited appetite for fun, constantly challenging himself to try the untried.
He spent his forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, and one-third of his nineties touring the world, becoming an ambassador of barefoot water skiing on size nine feet.
That’s fifty-five years of public appearances, television interviews, teaching in many countries, being a guest of royalty, and speaking the universal language of sports competition worldwide. He knew everyone in the water ski world and everyone loved him.
George carried the torch of extreme sports well into what most would consider old age. He collected new sports like surfboarding, and snowboarding in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with his grandsons, Rob, Marcus, Ted, and Oliver.
Cypress Gardens was his home for years, the Aqua Maids and Strong Men his buddies. He valued his locker there as one of his most cherished possessions because it allowed him to play among “up-and-coming” ski champions.
He was photographed with, and by, millions of people from all parts of the world in his loud yellow ski suits and clothes. He wore yellow shirts, pants, shorts, hats, boots, sunglasses, and tuxedos.
A natural leader in everything he engaged in, precise and demanding, he instilled loyalty in his employees and students. He looked for the best qualities in himself and others, built them up, and shared them—and wanted you to do the same.
His super-charged energy gave him a unique position as the poster boy of American water skiing, barefooting, and senior athletes. Ski tournaments and shows always had a ready draw when Banana George was the guest or featured skier.
His aging actually improved him, his beloved spotlight allowed him to spread his message of healthy eating and exercise and having a passion for life.
His energy created a vortex that drew crowds to him. He lived courage and optimism.
He recovered over and over from athletic injuries, impressing his doctors with his power of recuperation far beyond expectations.
He kept setting the bar higher and higher and didn’t stop learning.
Fans old and young, fat and thin, able and not—all got a boost from watching him; they basked in his orbit. He was thrilling and terrifying to watch; controlled insanity seemed to describe him. I called him the “Oldest Jock in the World.”
Most people have “fire in the belly” for a short, youthful spurt and soon give it up, satisfied, complacent, lazy. George knew how to raise his endorphin levels, enjoying a natural high. George never lost his fire. He taught us to love life, be bold, take risks, thrive on thrills, test ourselves, accept challenges, be unique.
George made friends all over the world and happily introduced himself to new people all the time, spreading good cheer.
His mission gave his life purpose and pleasure. His ninety-eight years flew by, starting practically when cars were invented and ending when smartphones were in everyone’s hands. He was always excited about tomorrow and seeking the next adventure.
If you judge a person’s life by the show of support, by the quality of those who come to celebrate that life, then you all are part of a legacy George carefully nurtured and wants you all to continue. We have a legend to live up to.