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Barbara Ann Scott King, a former Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater, dies at age 84


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Updated: November 5, 2012 11:43AM

She was a Canadian snow princess and national heroine.

Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Barbara Ann Scott King was credited with helping to pull Canada out of a national malaise after World War II.

In 1942, she became the first woman to land a double Lutz in a competition, according to the Museum of Vancouver.

At 19, she won Olympic gold in figure skating at the 1948 games in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

To this day, she is the only Canadian to capture the gold in women’s figure skating.

She also was the only person to hold the Canadian, North American, European and World championships titles and the Olympic gold medal at the same time, according to the Barbara Ann Scott Gallery in Ottawa, Canada.

“Barbara Ann” was a marketer’s dream. The public was captivated by her — and not just because of her porcelain-doll looks and exquisitely feminine skating style.

She displayed strength and steeliness in her Olympic performance, skimming over slushy ice that had been previously pockmarked by hockey players.

Some newspapers called her the new Sonja Henie, a Norwegian skater whose blond-bombshell looks made her a movie star.

A Barbara Ann Scott doll became the must-have toy for many Canadian girls. She toured with the late Arthur Wirtz’s Hollywood Ice Revue.

Canada never forgot her. A roar went up when she appeared at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, helping to carry the Olympic flag.

What many Chicagoans don’t know is that, from 1955 to 2000, Mrs. King led a low-profile life on the city’s North Side. After marrying Thomas King, an aide to Wirtz, the late Chicago Blackhawks owner, she settled in a Belle­vue Place brownstone and became a champion equestrian and charity fund-raiser. She socialized with then-Mayor Michael Bilandic and his wife, Heather.

The Tippi Hedren look-alike often passed unnoticed when she was out and about. But things were different when Canadians were nearby, recalled Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, an investor in Wrapports LLC, which owns the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The Canadians would come to the hockey games,” he said. “She and Tommy would walk in, and they would know immediately who she was. Their eyes would light up, and they’d say, ‘Is that Barbara Ann Scott?’ ’’

Mrs. King died in her husband’s arms Sunday at their home on Amelia Island, Fla. She was 84.

She was born in Ottawa.

“My father always taught me that anything you can do for Canada, do, it comes first,” she once said in an interview. “And so, I tried in my little way.”

After her Olympic win, she returned to her hometown, expecting a few friends to greet her. Instead, she was met by an ecstatic crowd of 70,000. It has been estimated that one out of three Ottawa residents turned out to greet her.

“Canada was certainly kind, my goodness,” she told an interviewer. “I couldn’t believe. I thought maybe a few friends would turn out at the train station, and the whole city came out.”

After negotiations fell through for Henie to star in Hollywood on Ice, the show’s publicist — King — was sent to meet the new skating phenom at Midway Airport. He thought she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen.

And Barbara Ann Scott couldn’t believe her luck. She had been expecting a cigar-chomping, out-of-shape press agent. Instead, she found a former pro basketball player for the Detroit Falcons; a good-looking guy with an ebullient personality.

“He turned out to be the nicest man I ever met,” she told the Sun-Times.

She starred in the ice show for several years, but once she married King, she focused on domesticity. After the grind of performing, she said she enjoyed laying out his clothes, shining his shoes, washing his golf clubs and serving him breakfast in bed.

“We had a great love affair for 56 years,” said King, who later became a general manager for the Merchandise Mart. “We just had a wonderful life together. We never had any problems. We never bickered.”

“I loved her so much,” he said. “She made my breakfast in the morning and made me happy all day and happy all night.”

She bought her horse, Tipper, in 1964. Riding Tipper satisfied her need to compete, she once said.

His 250 blue ribbons eventually began to crowd out her skating trophies, according to a 1973 interview in the Sun-Times.

Her riding helped her retain her girlish figure. At five feet three inches, she hovered around 100 pounds her whole life and was an impeccable dresser.

Despite her accomplishments, “She was always very modest,” said Heather Bilandic Black. “She had a deep love for the people of Canada. . . . She never lost that sense of where she had come from, and she never bragged about the adulation that she did receive up there.”

Visitation for Mrs. King is planned for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at Oxley-Heard Funeral Home in Fernandina Beach, Fla. Her funeral is 11 a.m. Friday at her graveside in Bosque-Bello Cemetery.

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