Reminiscences of Hockey and Schizophrenia

By Marvin Ross

This past week Johnny Bower, the 93 year old former great goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs, passed away. One of the comments made of him was his charitable work along with the fact that he was goalie the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup. I’m old enough to remember that it was so long ago.

His passing twigged my memory of the time that the Hamilton Chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario were the recipients of the charity of old hockey players. I’m not sure when this began but I became involved in the chapter in the late 1990s and was chair for a few years. The largest and most successful fund raising event was the annual National Hockey League (NHL) Alumni Association golf tournament put on for us at a course north of Toronto.

The moving forces were our executive director at the time and Keith McCreary who was one of the founders of the NHL Alumni. Sadly, both are no longer with us. I attended two of the golf tournaments in 2000 and 2001 and Johnny Bower was there along with many of the hockey greats from my childhood. I certainly remember Red Kelly, Dennis Hull, Eddie Shack, at least one of the famed French Connection line for the Buffalo Sabres, and numerous others.

What struck me was their incredible generosity. Some donated memorabilia to be auctioned off and all of them were more than happy to peel off $50 and $100 bills to enter the many raffles that were held. Hockey players of that era did not make the big bucks that they do today as Dennis Hull mentioned in his after dinner stand up comedy routine. He commented that today’s players earn more in a day than most of the guys in that room made in their entire careers. But their generosity to a disease that most of them probably knew very little about was remarkable.

Another guest who was much beloved by the hockey crowd was Michael Burgess who often sang the national anthem at Leaf games and who played Jean Valjean in Les Mis. The players all loved his rendition of Danny Boy which he did that evening. The link above is to his singing on Youtube.

Also incredible was one mother who positioned herself on the first tee and subjected each and every foursome before they teed off with her lecture on the horrors of schizophrenia and the need for more treatment, family support and research. She was not a young woman but stood in the sun and heat for hours without either a pee break or a drink break so that she would no golfer would forget what they were supporting.

That night, I drove home with our executive director and what was left over from the day along with about $10,000 in cash for the bank when I was stopped in a police road block looking for impaired drivers. Fortunately, I had cut myself off early in the evening.

That was September 10, 2001 and we all know what happened the next day 9/11 that changed the world forever.

But, the moral of the story is that there are good people out there who can understand serious mental illness and do their bit to make the lives of those who suffer just a tiny bit better.

schizcover  For more on schizophrenia, see Schizophrenia Medicine’s Mystery Society’s Shame and other Bridgeross titles

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3 thoughts on “Reminiscences of Hockey and Schizophrenia

  1. Yes, there are people who grasp what it is to have a serious mental illness without having one themselves. But alas many of their voices have been silenced amid muddled stats too much harping on stigma and hyping that up. These are illnesses and services must be in place .STigma busting is easy when there are appropriate timely services in place. Thank you again for the article.

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  2. It is nice to hear about someone who took time out to advocate for better treatment for those with schizophrenia. My mom had it for many years and finding treatment and paying for it were huge challenges in those days. Sadly it doesn’t seem to have improved much yet so we need all the help we can get in raising awareness.

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