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Byline: ROBERT MORALES Staff Writer

Had Mike Quarry retired from boxing in 1972 after he was knocked out by Bob Foster in a light heavyweight championship bout, he might be alive today.

But like his older brother, Jerry, Mike stuck to the family credo:

``There is no quit in a Quarry.''

Mike fought 10 more years. On June 11, he died at 55 of dementia pugilistica, just as Jerry did in 1999 at 53.

The deaths of the former Bellflower residents broke hearts and ruffled feathers. Some members of Mike's family are unhappy that he spent the last eight months of his life on a tranquilizer that helped control behavioral problems associated with his condition, also known as punch-drunk syndrome.

Mike's widow, Ellen, has dealt with the animosity of Mike's family, as well as the loss of a teddy bear of a man whose life was snuffed out by a condition born of boxing's brutality.

A stricken husband

Mike Quarry was a sad sight at Seasons, an assisted living center in La Habra that has a locked dementia unit, in his final days.

``I remember when I went to the convalescent home and she'd be there, brushing his teeth in his state,'' Mina Taylor, a family friend, said of Ellen. ``She'd be plucking his ear hair. She'd be grooming him, cutting his nails.

``She was there until the end doing those kinds of things out of her love for him because she wanted to give him dignity as he died.''

One look inside the La Mirada condominium where Ellen cared for Mike before committing him to an assisted living center last year spells dignity in capital letters.

Still covering one dining-room wall are hundreds of sympathy cards expressing admiration for her care.

Ellen Quarry, a bible professor at Biola University with a doctorate in education and a thriving practice as a family counselor, has photo albums filled with pictures of her and Mike on trips to Alaska, Mexico and the Bahamas. In most, he was smiling. Always, he was well-dressed.

Ellen and Mike met 24 years ago, shortly after Mike's career ended in 1982. In 13 years, he went 62-13-6 with 16 knockouts.

It was not long after they married in 1983 that Ellen noticed something was wrong.

``He started getting sick with short-term memory loss,'' Ellen said.

Ellen encouraged Mike to go to school so he could seek steady work, but his memory became so poor he couldn't hold down a job. She can't remember exactly when Mike was diagnosed with dementia pugilistica, but she said that it was more than 10 years ago.

In 1998, Ellen began taking Mike to UC Irvine, where he was examined yearly by doctors specializing in neurology.

His neuropsychologist, Dr. Malcolm Dick, was responsible for administering tests that would determine the pace the disease was progressing.

``During that time, Michael showed a significant decline in his abilities,'' Dick said. ``He went essentially from, I would say, a mild dementia to a severe dementia.

``It is sort of not surprising that he had these behavioral problems and was more confused.''

Over the first seven years of testing, Quarry's condition worsened gradually. Last year, it escalated.

Ellen became faced with the burden of not only caring for a husband with advanced dementia pugilistica, but one whose aggressive behavior began to rise at an alarming rate.

She has threatening handwritten notes she said were signed by her husband. One to Ellen read, ``I'm going to get you.'' Others were made out to neighbors Mike believed were stealing from the condominium garage.

``He got aggressive on me,'' Ellen said.

Ellen, not a big woman, feared for her safety, and for Mike's. She had him committed to Brighton Gardens in Yorba Linda in a locked dementia unit, but she said he escaped after a month. Then he was put in Sunrise, a home in Seal Beach. He was there 10 months, from March 2005 through last December.

Ellen said she moved Mike to Seasons, where he died, because it was better equipped to deal with patients with severe dementia. Seasons cost her $5,000 monthly.

By January, Mike had been on Haldol, an anti-psychotic tranquilizer used to control behavior, for three months. Neurologists at UC Irvine prescribed the drug, Dick said.

But neither Mike Quarry's sister, Wilma Pearson, nor her husband, Robert, is convinced that Mike had become violent enough to warrant being put on Haldol. Robert Pearson drafted a letter signed by his wife and her two remaining sisters, Janet and Diana, questioning Ellen Quarry as to why Mike had to go on Haldol.

``I don't know her motivation; all I know is what was happening,'' Robert Pearson said. ``She kept telling everybody how violent Mike was, and that was why she had to keep him on this medicine. But he was never violent. His caregiver told us Mike was never violent. And he was fired.''

David Finns, the caregiver, was one of two who helped care for Mike prior to his being placed in a home. Finns, who described Mike as having the mind of an 8-year-old, admitted that Mike did head-butt him once, but playfully.

``I said, `Michael, don't ever do that again,''' Finns said. ``He said, `I'm sorry, Dave.' He would get in my face, but he would never, ever hit me. I really loved that man.''

However, Ana Kunz, supervisor of the dementia unit at Seasons, said that nurses sometimes had difficulty with Mike.

``When we would try to clean him up, he would try to punch you like he was boxing,'' Kunz said. ``He was pretty much aggressive at that point. We would just try to talk to him, tell him to put his hands down because he was a very strong guy.''

Familiar situation

For Wilma and Robert Pearson, seeing Mike on Haldol was all too familiar. In the 1990s, as he too battled dementia pugilistica, Jerry Quarry was living with his brother Jimmy, who later died of cancer. Jimmy had been designated as Jerry's caregiver, and Jerry was on the drugs Haldol and Thorazine, also a tranquilizer.

``Even when he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame, he couldn't sign (autographs),'' Wilma said.

Jerry, according to several reports, was on the dais drooling, and couldn't make an acceptance speech.

``We ... got him off the drugs and he really came out of that,'' Wilma said of Jerry, who was honored Aug. 12 by the Golden State Boxing Association.

``Jerry got his speech back.''

Wilma said she couldn't bear visiting Mike once the effects of the Haldol began to take hold.

``He immediately started to have an arm that was shaking,'' she said, noting one of Haldol's side effects. ``He had to drag his leg. (Ellen) would tell us we could only visit for 30 minutes. But it took us at least 30 minutes to get him conscious, to get him out of drowning in the drugs.''

Ellen disputed the assertion and said she never put any visitation restrictions on Mike's family. Ellen also said that Mike's sisters rarely visited, coming down from Bakersfield to do so only every ``three months or so.''

``I had a birthday party for him in March,'' Ellen said. ``I brought in musicians, I had streamers put up, balloons. They didn't call. Not even a card.''

One observer said Ellen was always by her husband's side.

``From what I have seen there with Michael was the relationship he had with Ellen,'' said Ken Garnett, community director at Seasons. ``She was a very dedicated family member. She was there almost every day.

``I have never even met the (Quarry) family. I can't remember a time that they were here. I know they never checked in with me to see how he was doing.''

According to Ellen, Mike's sisters visited him only once or twice during the six months he was at Seasons. So she said it is unlikely that they could understand just how much their brother had regressed and how erratic his behavior had become.

Prizefighting family

Perhaps, more than anything else, Mike and Jerry Quarry died young because they were members of the fighting Quarry family.

Three of the four brothers had lengthy pro careers. Mike contended in the light heavyweight division, Jerry in the heavyweight division.

Jerry was 53-9-4 with 32 knockouts and he was knocked out by the best -- twice each by Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and by George Chuvalo and Ken Norton. Making matters worse, Jerry retired in 1977 but came back for two fights in 1983.

For him, it wasn't enough. He came back again for one fight in 1992 at the age of 47.

Bobby Quarry, the sole surviving brother, was 9-12-2 with six knockouts fighting as a heavyweight from 1982-92. Bobby, 43, is scheduled to be released in November from Folsom State Prison, where he is serving a sentence for grand theft.

Jimmy Quarry had one pro fight. He was knocked out and never fought again.

``The boys had to eat, sleep and drink boxing,'' Wilma Pearson said, referring to the law of the land laid down by her father, the late Jack Quarry. ``They weren't allowed to do anything else.''

But Wilma refused to blame her father for the deaths of Mike and Jerry.

``When my father was 14, his father told him to hit the road because he couldn't afford to feed him anymore,'' she said. ``So he had to hop on a train and fight here and there, wherever he could. My father has been named as an animal. But my dad was a very loving man.

``My brothers tried to do everything to get his attention, especially Michael. No, I don't think Michael would have fought if it wasn't for my dad, but it's all my dad knew.''

Retired sports writer Bill O'Neil eulogized Mike at the funeral held by Ellen Quarry (the Quarry sisters held their own funeral a week later).

O'Neil said of Mike Quarry's condition after a knockout at the hands of Foster: ``He didn't have the same spark, the same cockiness. I think if he would have retired from boxing, that would have been the right thing. But that would have been like quitting.''

Perhaps for Mike Quarry, dying young was better than being a quitter.

(562) 499-1388


3 photos


(1 -- color) Ellen Quarry holds a pair of boxing shoes that belonged to late husband Mike Quarry. On the wall of her home are cards and letters from loved ones.

Christina House/Press-Telegram

(2 -- color) Mike Quarry is knocked down by Bob Foster in the fourth round of their light heavyweight title fight in 1972 in Las Vegas.

Associated Press

(3 -- color) Mike Quarry speaks wtih his father, Jack, during a training session in an undated photo. Mike Quarry died June 11 of dementia pugilistica.

Press-Telegram file photo
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 23, 2006

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