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Life story: Founder of boxing’s Fidow Gym was Christchurch Samoan community pioneer

Or le wing i le polish, or le tautua – the path to leadership is through service.

OBITUARY: Few people can claim to have had the endurance – let alone reached the required age – to have had amateur and professional sporting careers in two countries and over 60 years as a trainer and administrator.

Samoa-born Lolesio (Lole) Fidow, who died on April 19 aged 93, achieved that distinction and earned widespread respect for guiding the lives and sporting careers of hundreds of young Canterbury boxers.

Fidow’s Gym has been a feature in the Canterbury boxing scene since 1962.

The gym’s name suggests one person started it, but it was best known as the base of three Fidows: Lole – the eldest sibling and the first of the Fidow family to settle in Christchurch; Lovino (Alex) – an adept pro-boxer in his time; and the late Simi (Jimmy), cousin to Lole and Alex and another intelligent pugilist.

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Now known as Alex Fidow’s Gym, the boxing club continues vicariously, today in Woolston, with Alex, 83, still coaching.

Lole Fidow was regarded by former New Zealand decathlon champion Sua Mene Mene as one of the “pioneers” of Christchurch’s Samoan community.

In the early 1950s, Lole Fidow and his wife decided he should move from their home in Apia, Samoa to Christchurch. The plan was that he would get established before sending for his wife and two daughters – Flo and Anna – to join him.

Christchurch in the early 1950s was a grey, post-war city, English in design and culture, and half the size it is today. Fidow absorbed himself in his work from him – for a time at the Lane Walker Rudkin factory, and later in the metal industry. His English was limited and the culture was different, but his commitment and diligence served him well. He was thus able to regularly send funds back to Samoa to assist his parents and his wife and children.

One by one, various Fidow siblings moved to Christchurch, each attending newer arrivals. The Fidow family is now well established in Christchurch with the third generation growing. Prominent Samoan families – notably the Seinafo family – are aiga (cousins, uncles, aunties, etc). Keep an eye on the Linwood senior rugby team list. All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu is also related to the Fidows.

Fidow, left, and his brother Alex ran a boxing gym that began in 1962 and is still operating in Christchurch today.

Supplied

Fidow, left, and his brother Alex ran a boxing gym that began in 1962 and is still operating in Christchurch today.

Lole Fidow set up home in Linwood, just outside the CBD and her daughters attended Catholic schools nearby. Younger daughter, Anna Marie Lucas, who returned from the United States for her father’s funeral, recalled her dad and uncles training boxers – hundreds of boys – while raising her and her sister de ella.

“The gym was always in our lives. Always. But Dad still kept time for us.” Ana recalled Lole biking alongside her while making her run from their Hereford St home in Linwood to Hagley Park. He then oversaw a fitness regimen that ultimately led to her success in whatever sport she turned her hand to – athletics, softball and basketball. “He knew what he was doing when it came to fitness,” she said.

Fidow’s contemporaries of some six decades recalled his sporting evolution from boxer to trainer.

Very few people still around can claim to have watched any of his professional performances from 1955 to 1962, but there remains little doubt that he was a fine exponent of the art and craft of boxing.

One of Fidow’s most memorable bouts came in 1962 when he fought Fiji’s South Pacific light-heavyweight champion Leweni Waqa for a £100 purse. About 2500 fans – reportedly the biggest boxing crowd in Canterbury for 25 years – packed Canterbury Court. Queues were so deep that a door burst open, and 200 spectators slipped in for free. Fidow fought gamely, but suffered a cut above his eye in the second round. By the fourth round it was so swollen the referee stopped the fight and awarded Waqa a technical knockout victory. Waqa was so highly rated he went on to later fight Jimmy Ellis, who won the world heavyweight championship in 1968.

Dion Murphy – national lightweight boxing champion in 1963, and undefeated in 17 professional outings – remembered many training sessions with Fidow. “Sparring with Lole, it was always enjoyable – very technical – each of us looking for openings, adjusting and assessing”.

Noted boxing trainer Paul Fitzsimmons, a former New Zealand and Australasian lightweight champion, said many high level boxers, Lole Fidow included, would train and/or spar at Bob Palmer’s Gym and at Crichton Cobbers. “When Dion [Murphy] and Lole would spar, everyone would stop and watch,” Fitzsimmons said. “The skill level and the competitiveness was simply beautiful to watch from both of them.” The gym would break into cheers and applause whenever the pair finished sparring. Murphy was in his fighting prime, and Fidow 10 years his senior, but the older man’s boxing smarts and fluidity were equally impressive.

Murphy and Fitzsimmons attested to Lole Fidow’s qualities as a trainer who nurtured, coaxed and guided his charges in a calm and measured way.

Phil Shatford, a New Zealand team trainer for 16 years, also acknowledged Fidow was a respected coach who developed a lot of good boxers. “Lole was one of the biggest gentlemen in the sport.”

Fidow in Christchurch as a young man.

Supplied

Fidow in Christchurch as a young man.

Canterbury Boxing Association stalwart Myra Barry – wife of the late Kevin Barry senior, and mother of Kevin Barry Junior (Lupesoliai Joseph Parker’s former trainer) said: “Lole came from a proud boxing family and was widely respected both in and out of the ring and was a trainer who certainly looked after his boxers. “Some of the trainers would build their boxers up to be future world champs, but Lole would quietly say ‘my boy is a good boy’.”

Lole and Alex Fidow were both appointed to the Canterbury Boxing Trainers Association committee in 1965, most probably a first for Pasifika participation in sports administration on the South Island.

In his private life, Fidow committed his time to his daughters and his wider family. Lole, Alex and sister Nila Seinafo formed a close-knit group who shared a passion for church.

Renowned for his fitness regimen and clean living, Fidow neither smoked or drank. He dabbled in club rugby, propping for a Christchurch senior B team and seemed to thrive on distance running. He ran around Upolu island in Samoa, to raise funds to set up a Save the Children Fund trust to help Samoan families to send sick children to New Zealand for treatment and he also ran around the island of Savai’i to raise money for the Home for the Aged at Mapuifagalele.

He never got a driver license – by choice – instead biking, walking or occasionally using public transport to get around. His biking and walking of the local hills continued well into his 80s.

Sua Mene Mene, who came from Samoa to Christchurch in 1966, met Fidow many times. He recalled being on the board of the Pacific Business Trust as it considered applications from community bodies seeking funding or other assistance. “Lole was frequently pursuing opportunities for his young boxers to gain apprenticeships into trades or he was seeking funding to assist with gear or fares for his young men.”

Fidow also showed his aroha to his grandchildren at every opportunity. His American-based grandson de ella Andrei Lucas – a PhD student at the university of San Diego – recalls: “My grandfather would always challenge me. He would always talk about politics. He would ask me what I thought about things. He would say that regardless of what happens in the world, I should be a man of character. He would talk about social justice issues, and he emphasized that I should always aim to step higher. So that’s why I went for my PhD after my masters.”

“My brother always talks about this boy”, said Alex Fidow, nodding towards Andrei.

Alex Fidow’s final comments mirrored the views of everyone spoken to for this tribute.

“My brother was a good man, a humble man. He lived a simple life, and was committed to showing his love from him to those around him, in a quiet and peaceful way. He tried to show the young men how to behave well, how to have pride in themselves, to aim high, and to work hard – very hard.”

Fidow is survived by eight siblings, daughters Theresa (Flo) and Ana (San Diego, USA), five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and several hundred good men.

Manuia lou malaga lau tofa Lolesio. Travel well, respected elder.

– By Taitu’uga Geoff Siave, with assistance from Anna Marie Lucas, Alex Fidow, Andrei Lucas, Sua Mene Mene, Dion Murphy, Paul Fitzsimmons, Phil Shatford, Myra Barry.

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