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For Don Chargin, boxing was only his second love

The longtime promoter, 82, helped make L.A.'s Olympic Auditorium a crown jewel of West Coast boxing for 20 years, from 1964 to '84. But the April death of his wife and business partner, Lorraine, has been hard for him to deal with.

August 15, 2010|Jerry Crowe

From Cambria, Calif. — Outside the living room window, two blocks down a gently sloping hill, the Pacific Ocean sparkles.

Up the hill stands a forest.

Nestled into a corner in his living room, longtime boxing promoter Don Chargin sips coffee and nibbles on cookies. His custom-built, sharply angled home sits in an idyllic spot along California's Central Coast, the rocky shoreline and other natural wonders mere steps from the door.

Until a few months ago, the former Olympic Auditorium matchmaker thought he'd found heaven on earth.

"This," he says from his easy chair, "was our Shangri-La."

In his eyes, tears well.

Chargin's Shangri-La lost some of its luster in April, when the love of his life succumbed to cancer. Lorraine, his wife of nearly 49 years, also was his business partner, advisor and confidant.

"There's no such thing as a perfect marriage," Chargin, 82, says, "but I think we had the closest thing to one."

The Chargins, working in tandem, promoted boxing shows all over the world for nearly five decades.

For 20 years starting in 1964, after legendary Olympic Auditorium maven Aileen Eaton persuaded them to leave the Bay Area to come work for her, Don was the boxing matchmaker and Lorraine the building manager at the Olympic.

"It was the place," Chargin says of the building's heyday. "It was the Madison Square Garden of the West."

Don, once described as "maybe the last gentleman promoter left in boxing," remains a consultant for Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Productions, which he helped launch, and still promotes the occasional card. But he and his wife planned to scale back after moving up the coast from the San Fernando Valley in 2003.

Chargin, at one point so busy that the late Jim Healy dubbed him Don "War a Week" Chargin, estimates he has staged more than 130 world title fights since his inaugural promotion in 1951.

For the majority of them, Lorraine was at his side, known to some as "The Dragon Lady" and to others as "Mom," depending on their relationship with the feisty businesswoman.

"No one in boxing has done more good or cared more about people or caused more folks to laugh or think, or, occasionally, duck," longtime boxing reporter Ron Borges wrote in a tribute to Lorraine. "As legacies go, that, plus Don, is pretty good."

Before meeting Lorraine in Oakland in 1957, Chargin notes, "I was sort of wild. She calmed me down."

Growing up in San Jose, Chargin as a teen was an amateur boxer in the 165-pound class. At Bellarmine Prep, he captained the boxing team as a junior and coached it as a senior.

"I didn't know much more than my classmates," he says, "so I used to go down to the pro gyms and pick up a few things. That's the way we did it, and I got the bug."

Though a heart condition forced him to stop competing, Chargin remained in boxing "because I was really hooked on it."

In the late 1940s, the budding businessman says he was barely out of his teens when he learned a valuable lesson while working for a promoter going through a bitter divorce.

"He went on a two-week drunk," Chargin says, "and I did everything . . . and nearly killed myself because I felt bad for him. Well, when the thing was over, I thought I would be rewarded in some way — and he gave me $50.

"I swore right then, 'I'm going to get my own license and I'll never treat anybody like that.'"

Chargin also vowed to take the man's drawing card, which he did, staging his first promotion on Labor Day 1951.

His profit: $16,000.

Six years later, after a failed first marriage that had produced a son and two daughters, Chargin met Lorraine.

The couple presided over the careers of champion boxers such as Bobby Chacon, Tony "The Tiger" Lopez and Loreto Garza, a personal favorite who named his firstborn Lorraine.

When their Olympic run ended in 1984, the Chargins continued to promote shows, Lorraine once famously standing up to Don King when he barged into Arco Arena in Sacramento without credentials to watch future heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.

"Security asked me if I was worried about her," Chargin notes, "and I said, 'No, I'm worried about him.'"

In 2001, when Don was enshrined at the International Boxing Hall of Fame at Canastota, N.Y., he explained the couple's working relationship in his induction speech.

"Everyone knows that I'm a terrible, terrible details person," he said. "I love to make the matches, but my wife Lorraine does all the work. She does everything."

In his mind, they should have been honored in tandem, as they were in 2007, when they became the first husband-and-wife duo inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame.

"If I'm in," he says, "she should be."

They were a team — which is why it's so rough for him now.

"I'm really pushing myself," Chargin says. "Without Lorraine, it's tough to be here. But I've got to do it.

"Some people have said, 'You ought to move,' because of the memories and that. But I really don't want to. If I can, I'd really like to stay here because I know she loved it so much."

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