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by: , CONWAY

Jimmy Conway would probably be a little embarrassed by all the fuss. A lot of friends and family are going to a lot of trouble to pay tribute to the local soccer legend, who turned 64 on Tuesday. The former Portland Timbers captain and assistant coach is being honored with a series of “testimonial” events that stretch nearly a month and begin with a golf tournament and dinner/silent auction on Aug. 25. For Conway — recently diagnosed with trauma-induced dementia — it means a chance to reunite with scores of old friends and family, including sons Paul and Mark, who will be arriving next week from their homes on the East Coast (daughter Laura McGraw lives in Portland). Family is important to Conway, the eldest of 12 children — six boys, six girls — born to parents in Dublin, Ireland. “Two of his brothers and two of his sisters are coming, three from Ireland, one from Germany,” wife Noeleen says. “Jimmy is super excited to see them. Our sons are coming in with their wives. When we talk, he’ll say, ‘When are the boys coming?’ He has been asking that daily. On that level, he knows.” Sadly, there are other things that slip past Conway these days. That’s the reality of dementia, which robs the mind of short-term memory and affects a person’s life in every way. Doctors believe several concussions sustained during Conway’s lengthy playing career are at the root of the problem. “I suspect it began in his 50s,” Noeleen says. “The declines were there. They are so subtle. I’d noticed some things, but you kind of brush them off. And then something else pops up.” Conway, who retired a year ago, still reads the newspaper daily, plays golf often and stays close to the game that has been his life. “I take him to Timbers games,” says ex-Timber Mick Hoban, who has spearheaded organizational efforts for the testimonial. “He still loves his Timbers. “But (the dementia) is progressing. He is coherent in some phases, but it’s growing more difficult. It’s a challenge for Noeleen.” Noeleen is up to it. Married for 41 years — “I’ve served my penance on earth. I’ll go straight to heaven,” she jokes — Jimmy’s better half has been “blown away” by the outpouring of support and involvement in her husband’s tribute. “When Mick and I originally talked, it was going to be just a dinner,” she says. “It has morphed into this kind of global party, if you will. We’ve reconnected with people we haven’t talked to in 30 years. People are coming from Ireland and England and the East Coast and Canada. People have sent videos. “It has been mind-blowing, it really has. Very humbling. It is like somebody wrapping a great big warm blanket around you. It feels so good.” With the possible exception of the late Clive Charles, no one has given more to soccer at every level in the state than Conway. After 12 years as a player in England, he played five years with the Timbers indoors and outdoors, was twice an assistant coach for the club and spent 16 years as a head coach at Pacific and Oregon State. Conway and Charles were the first full-time coaches employed by the fledgling Oregon Youth Soccer Association in 1981. When he gave it up last year, Conway had put in 28 years working with youngsters of our state. “Dad has literally influenced thousands of players in Oregon over the years,” says Paul, 40, an attorney in Charleston, S.C., who starred at Jesuit High and played professionally in England and the U.S. for 13 years, ending his career with the Timbers in 2005. Hoban wasn’t close to Conway but has long admired the man “I’m proud to call a friend.” “He’s a family man, which I admire,” says Hoban, who operates a soccer and sports marketing consulting company in Portland. “He’s a man of faith. There are no airs about Jimmy. He loves to laugh. He always has a joke to share with people, always brings laughter to the table. “The man is as honest as the day is long. You can take him to the bank. He’s a man of high integrity.” In the United Kingdom, soccer testimonials are a tradition for a player who has spent a decade or more with a club, with proceeds going to the player as a going-away gift. Near the end of his 12 years with Fulham, officials offered one to Conway. He respectfully declined. With the upcoming testimonial, the Conways will do the same. Proceeds from the Aug. 25 events will go to the Oregon chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Conway hasn’t been diagnosed with the disease, but his mother has Alzheimer’s, and the family figures the cause is appropriate. “When Jimmy turned down Fulham’s (testimonial) offer, he felt the fans had spent their hard-earned money paying his salary, and he didn’t need to take any more money,” Noeleen says. “That resonated with me when it came to this. “Looking down the road, there are going to be a lot of long-term care issues. Even at that, I see how hard the young coaches work here in the clubs. These are our friends. They were his colleagues. For us to ask them for money doesn’t seem right. I know Jimmy wouldn’t like it, and I didn’t feel good about it, either. We’re hoping whatever (the Alzheimer’s Association) makes out of this will help the cause.” The golf and dinner/auction events are invitation-only. Eighteen foursomes are scheduled to play golf at Pumpkin Ridge. More than 200 people are expected for the dinner/auction at Nike’s Tiger Woods Center. “Every one of the people who will attend, Jimmy knows,” Hoban says. “That’s the way we wanted it. When it’s over, we’ll have a big check to present in Jimmy’s name. “It’s been eight to nine months of preparation, with 30 to 50 people involved. The response from the soccer community has been fantastic. The people at Nike have come through unbelievably in helping us pull together something of this magnitude. The people at Pumpkin Ridge have held their arms out. It’s been a grassroots project that has been put together by mirrors and duct tape.” There also will be a game prior to the Aug. 26 Timbers match against Austin at PGE Park, with a side of Timber alums facing an Oregon Select 11 and sons Paul and Mark taking part. And there will be tributes during games at the University of Portland on Sept. 5, Oregon State on Sept. 17 and Pacific on Sept. 19. Jimmy Conway deserves it. So does everyone who has been privileged to be around the man through the years. Good for all of them. (To read more about the man being honored, see jimmyconway.com.)


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