Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Son of Notre Dame Indeed

Book reviews are off my usual beaten path, but my mantra has always been to pass info on to folks when I have it. So when I encounter an excellent book, I tend not to keep quiet, which is what leads me to recommend A Son of Notre Dame: My Life in Baseball, the FBI and Radio by James Gillis.

Gillis was graduated from Notre Dame in 1951. He was an exceptional baseball player from California, and had two academic stops before war and fate intervened to send him to in South Bend and Jake Kline. Deciding not to make a pro career after one season as baseball player with the Philadelphia Phillies, Gillis distinguished himself as an officer in the FBI before getting into broadcasting. His success in sports marketing and chartiable work made him the recipient of Notre Dame's Harvey G. Foster award in 2003 ... a special day for Gillis, as Harvey Foster had been his supervisor in the FBI.

But the best way I would describe Mr. Gillis is a man who was ahead of his time. In a society where lots of men spent their entire working lives in the same career, Mr. Gillis moved between baseball, law enforcement, broadcasting, and philanthropy as deftly as he handled quick throws across the infield. He utilized his Notre Dame education whenever and however he could to the benefit of his family and his fellow human beings. Along the way, he got the opportunity to meet people like J. Edgar Hoover, Robert Kennedy, Earl Warren, James Caan, Jack Nicholson, Dick Enberg, and many others.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of the book when I got it. Mike Frank's much more of a baseball guy than I am, and while I knew of Mr. Gillis from his recent award, I didn't believe I was the right guy to review it. But that all changed once I got into it. Starting with his difficult childhood and family life, moving through his Notre Dame career and on to his post-graduate exploits, Gillis keeps the story moving and the reader entertained. His descriptions of work on FBI cases that were very much in the public eye gives depth to stories one would previously only have read in newspapers. The struggles to get his media company off the ground leave you rooting for him to succeed, even though you probably already guessed he would.

In fact, the only complaint I have about the book is he didn't talk about his charitable work enough. When the story comes to the Foster Award ceremony, you're almost taken by surprise because you've forgotten that in addition to a colorful professional life, Gillis has always been about helping others, both within the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles and without.

I can't recommend this book enough. Although it's not available at the Bookstore (a hassle with which I can certainly identify), I'm investigating other avenues. The proceeds for the book are going to fund the Gillis' ND baseball scholarship they've established.

For those of you headed to campus for UCLA, Mr. Gillis will be having a book signing on Friday the 20th and Saturday the 21st at the Eck Center. I encourage you to take the opportunity to meet a fine Notre Dame man and learn about an interesting life led in the spirit of the best of the school's teachings.

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