Tiny Man Teaches Big Courage

Tiny Tim Dugan would walk into the Kensington Memorial American Veterans Post 146 in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoons, his stumpy legs carrying him to a black stool that he would climb to begin receiving the assembly line of beers curled in his meaty fists.

As the day wore on and the alcohol found its way through his veins, his impish grin would crease the fair Irish-American face and his royal blue eyes would sparkle before muttering the nonsense.

“Hoop-eye, shoop-eye,” he would say to those around the bar who didn’t have a clue what it meant.

You knew what was coming next: his favorite joke.

“Who’s ahead cabbage?”

The man with the slicked back white hair was somewhat of a neighborhood legend for of all things, boxing. In a tale fit for a Rocky movie, Dugan worked as a kid at a neighborhood gym when a fighter once failed to show up. The owner barked: Dugan, lace up.

He followed the orders, stepping into the ring and knocking the snot out of his opponent. A career was born.

He loved to fight and was good at it. Like Philadelphia’s short former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, Tiny Tim would recoil like a snake before lunging forward with a left hook that would stun his rivals.

He fought in the flyweight division, which at the time was the lowest weight at 112 pounds. But Dugan only weighed 95.

"He was giving over 15 pounds to every opponent,” said his nephew, Dennis Dugan. “He had some real talent.”

Dennis collected the memorabilia of Uncle Frank or Francis, his given name. The admiring son of Tiny Tim’s brother has pictures of his uncle at a weigh-in, a set of his trunks, his small heavy bag mitts and the 1946 and 1947 red and white title belts Dugan won in the Philadelphia Inquirer Diamond Belt Championships.

Someone once tried to make Tiny Tim a jockey. After visiting the area racetrack, the little man refused because he didn’t like the way the horses were being treated.

“Here’s a guy knocking men out and he’s concerned about how the horses are being treated,” Dennis said. “He had a real gentle side to him.”

My favorite Tiny Tim line was his trademark farewell. He never said goodbye but looked up at you encouraging: “Keep your left hand up and ass off the floor.”

Famed psychotherapist Viktor Frankl wrote a seminal book about surviving the Nazi concentration camps called “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In it, Frankl concludes that having courage to face what life throws at us is one of the keys to happiness.

Tiny Tim never went to college, instead retiring from Philco, where he made radio parts for three decades. But the old guys at the Amvets were professors of Life University. They held master’s degrees in how to stretch a paycheck to meet the mortgage, rush a loved one to the emergency room and survive a few weeks when the union went on strike.

In his own way, Tiny Tim’s message was the same as the scholarly Frankl’s: don’t let life knock you down.

Hoop-eye, shoop-eye

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