Boxing great, restaurateur dies Obituary»Ross Virgo

 

Bob Matthews Staff writer

Democrat and Chronicle

June 30, 2011 ET

Ross Virgo, arguably Rochester's all-time best boxer and owner of one of Rochester's best-known restaurants, died Wednesday morning at his home. He was 81.

"All due respect to Charles Murray and the oth­er top local fight­ers, but Ross Virgo was the great­est pound-for-pound boxer in this city's         

history," Tony Liccione, pres­ident of the Rochester Boxing Hall of Fame, said Wednesday. "He was a mas­ter boxer. He didn't have many knockouts but he seldom lost a deci­sion.

"He was 46-2 as an am­ateur, a combined Army/Air Force champion, made the 1948 Olympics in Lon­don as an al­ternate on the U.S. team, and had a 32-2-2 record as a pro, including a victory over Car­men Basil­io (Sept.       

26, 1951 in New Orleans; Mr. Virgo won a clear-cut deci­sion as 2 ½-to-1 fa­vorite)."

Mr. Virgo and Basil­io, an Irondequoit res­ident and International Boxing Hall of Famer who won the welterweight ti­tle in 1955, entered the ring as friends that night and re­mained friends for­ev­er. The sportsman Virgo always pointed out that Basil­io had suffered two cuts above his eye­brows in a fight nine nights earli­er, was vulnerable to preci­sion punches, wasn't in top shape and was only approach­ing his prime when they fought. Mr. Virgo made $3,000 and Basil­io made $1,800.

In Mr.Virgo's final pro fight in 1952 (aside from a very brief comeback in 1953), the Franklin High School dropout was leading Johnny O'Brien in New Orleans when the ref­eree dropped dead in the ring and the bout was called off. At the time, he was the No. 5 world welterweight con­tender (the champion was Sugar Ray Robin­son). He then abruptly quit boxing at age 22, partly because he was weary of the politics in out­side the ring and mostly at the urg­ing of his fiancée.

"That's true," Joyce Virgo confirmed Wednesday. "I saw Ross fight once, and that was more than enough. I walked out before it ended. I couldn't stand watch­ing him get hit. I wanted him to quit boxing. He also agreed it was time to con­centrate on our restaurant."

Mr. Virgo had entered the restaurant busi­ness around 1950, be­ginning with the neighbor­hood bar Park­side Inn on Culver Road (now The Reunion Inn). It's where he learned to cook and tend bar. He then bought The Dickens Restaurant (named for au­thor Charles Dickens) on East Av­enue.

Construction of the Can of Worms forced re­location of The Dickens to 1501 Uni­versity Ave., where from 1959 through April 1994 it was a popular meeting place, partic­ularly for sports-minded patrons.

"We specialized in jumbo shrimp cocktails, veal Virgo and prime rib on Sat­urday nights, and oth­er restaurants tried to duplicate our recipe for lobster bisque," Joyce recalled. "They couldn't then, and they still haven't."

For years, Mr.Virgo was chairman of the Walter Hagen Golf Tourna­ment at Midvale Golf and Country Club, to ben­efit the American Can­cer Society. In 1974, with Bob Hope as the top celebrity, the one-day event raised $44,000 to fight can­cer. Mr.Virgo is a char­ter member of the Rochester Boxing Hall of Fame and was elected to the Fron­ti­er Field Walk of Fame in 2004.