From The Canadian Press. Chris Haney, one of the co-creators of the wildly successful board game Trivial Pursuit, died in Toronto Monday at the age of 59. The former journalist died in hospital after a long illness. He was remembered by friends as a kind, generous man who brimmed with ideas and charm. “He was at least as impactful on my life as anybody, including my parents, my wife and son,” Scott Abbott, who co-created Trivial Pursuit with Haney in the 1970s, told The Canadian Press. “We did a lot together.”
Born in Welland, Ont., he was photo editor at the Montreal Gazette when he and Abbott, a Canadian Press sports journalist, teamed up to create the game that went on to become a staple of pop culture and went through numerous incarnations.
Haney, who had worked for The Canadian Press in various cities, met Abbott after arriving in Montreal in December 1975 to co-ordinate photo coverage of the 1976 Summer Olympics for the national news agency.
Abbott recalls photographer Doug Ball told him he would probably like the new guy in the bureau.
“Doug was right,” Abbott said. “By noon Chris’s first day there, we were fast friends, and we stayed fast friends for better than 34 years.”
Game took off after slow start
Trivial Pursuit was born when Haney and Abbott got together for a game of Scrabble in the late ’70s. Their banter turned to ideas for their own game, and by the end of the evening, they had come up with the formula that would eventually turn them into millionaires.
They sought financing by offering shares to their colleagues for $1,000. Not everybody bit.
“I was the first guy asked to invest, [and] I told him to piss off,” Ball said with a laugh when recalling Haney’s approach. “I thought he just wanted the money for a beer.”
Ball said he was just starting a family so he didn’t take the risk. But Haney didn’t hold it against him and later approached him with the suggestion to help him build a golf course in Caledon, Ont.
“So, we built the Devil’s Pulpit and Devil’s Paintbrush, and they’re in the top 20 [courses] in the country,” Abbott said. “We loved golf; we always did that. We liked photography and golf, and we worked out great that way. It was a lot of fun.”
The Devil’s Pulpit opened in 1990, followed by the second course two years later.
“We were close, so close,” Ball said. “He was shy and generous. Just terrific.”
Abbott said he and Haney always had a “blind faith” that Trivial Pursuit would be successful if it got to market. Released in 1982, it took off after a slow start, and the duo sold the rights to toy giant Hasbro in 2008 for $80 million US.
“We had no idea just how successful it would become,” he added. “We didn’t realize it would transcend games players and become, with the Cabbage Patch Kids, what Time magazine in 1984 called an American social phenomenon.”
Pair faced lawsuits
There were a few hurdles. Lawsuits were filed against the Trivial Pursuit distributors in 1984 and 1994.
One man claimed the creators had lifted questions from his trivia books while another said he had been picked up hitchhiking by Haney, outlined his idea for a game and then watched as Haney hijacked it.
Both suits were thrown out, one by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Like many of Haney’s friends, Abbott chuckled when asked to suggest a defining anecdote about Haney, suggesting there were too many to choose from.
“He was not a scholar in the conventional sense,” Abbott said, laughing. “He had no use for the classroom. He always said, ‘I quit school in Grade 12. It was the biggest mistake I ever made. I should have done it in Grade 10.’
“That being said, he was one of the most knowledgeable, widely read people I’ve encountered.”
Abbott said his friend was a voracious newspaper reader.
“You could always discuss the affairs of the day [with him],” he said.
Never left photo editor roots
Chuck Stoody, a veteran Canadian Press photographer who worked with Haney in Montreal and did invest in Trivial Pursuit, described Haney as a generous, kind-hearted guy with “a great sense of humour.”
He recalled that Haney loved Spain, where he spent his winters. Stoody said he and Haney frequented a Spanish restaurant in Montreal with their families.
“We had lots of laughs, drank lots of sangria, and Chris inevitably would start singing some Spanish song of some sort,” Stoody said. “A lot of fun times. Great memories.”
Jim Ware, who knew Haney for 25 years, described him as a colourful, charismatic man with big ideas.
“He lit up a room,” said Ware, who is president of Tripur Ltd., the successor to Horn-Abbott Ltd., Abbott and Haney’s original company.
“If I could capture Chris in four words it would be: larger than life character.”
Ware said that although Haney had become an entrepreneur, he never left his photo editor roots, citing Haney’s performance at an anniversary celebration for Trivial Pursuit attended by journalists.
“Chris, always looking for the proper photo-op, takes a great big piece of cake and mashes it in Scott’s face. Of course, that was the photograph in all the papers the next day.
“It was so Chris. He saw the moment, saw what the press would want, what would capture attention — that was Chris.”
Haney is survived by his wife, Hiam, as well as his first wife, Sarah, their three grown children, John, Thomas and Shelagh, his brother John and sister Mary.