On June 2, the life of professional fighter Mary McGee was shattered when her brother Maurice was shot to death in Gary.
He was 27.
Friday night, McGee lost another loved one — popular CEO Octavius James of One In a Million Boxing who passed away unexpectedly at age 36.
“When my brother died, Octavius stayed on the phone with me all night. I was going through so much, I just couldn’t take it,” McGee said on Saturday. “But Octavius was like: ‘It’s OK. You’re gonna be all right.’
“I had told him when the police came to my house, they showed me a picture of my brother. Oh, man. I wish they hadn’t. And for Octavius to be a promoter, he didn’t have to care. But he stayed on the phone.”
James brought professional boxing back to Northwest Indiana in 2003 and quickly gained notoriety with his Las Vegas-style cards. The April 25 title fight between McGee and Hanover Central grad Kristy Follmar drew 2,200 fans to the Hammond Civic Center.
An official cause of death has not yet been determined, although the Gary native reportedly had been dealing with hypertension for some time. His top three fighters were McGee, Chicago middleweight Michael Walker and Hobart welterweight Ed Ochoa.
James is survived by one son and his mother, Pauline.
“Octavius came to me when I was 16 years old with the idea of me turning professional one day. He believed I would do well,” said McGee, who holds the WBC International Super Lightweight and NABC World Lightweight championship belts. “Even from me living in my car and needing help, he always was there to help. I’m still young, but I don’t know where I’m going to start from here.
“This is so hard for me. I stayed up all night again, crying. From where I came from and all the stuff I went through, Octavius helped me to where I could make some money in boxing. The sacrifices he made and the money he didn’t make to help me get to where I’m at were because he genuinely cared about me — and you won’t find that too often in your lifetime.”
Up and coming heavyweight Tyree Ortiz is James’ general manager and site coordinator at their Merrillville training facility. Ortiz fought Friday night in Chicago and was to meet James afterward.
“I tried contacting him because I thought something might be wrong, and that’s when I found out,” the California native said. “He was my mentor, my big brother, my guidance. He took me under his wing and basically raised me. What he did for the other fighters and kids in the community was just Octavius being Octavius. He was the most caring individual I had the pleasure of spending time with.
“There won’t be another Octavius James. He was one in a million — one of a kind. He put his heart and soul into the sport. It’s such a shame that he’s gone.”
Former pro boxer Jack Callahan spent four years as a trainer at One In A Million.
“Octavius cared a lot about his fighters,” Callahan said. “He was a very good businessman who did things the right way.”
Funeral arrangements will be announced at OneInAMillionBoxing.com when they are completed.