In Memorium

MR. WHITELAW ― A GREAT MAN

 

Had his career been on a larger stage, movies would be made of his life.  Not just because of his considerable accomplishments coaching, but also because of the successes of so many of those he coached.

When he retired, several hundred former players honoured him at a dinner at the El Rancho Hotel.  As I looked around the room at his players, I could see in their eyes the gratitude they had for the prominent role he had in their lives.  Four years ago, players held a 50 year reunion attended by over one hundred former players, all of them still strongly bonded by what he had created and provided so long ago.

Two years ago, I watched him being inducted into the Alberta Sport Hall of Fame.  In his unscripted acceptance speech, he lucidly spoke of his coaching philosophy, how each athlete was special and how he made sure each had the chance to feel  success.  After fifteen minutes before a captivated room of eight hundred, he received a loud and spontaneous standing ovation.  Leaving the podium, he walked by me.  I was so proud of him, and wishing I could be his player again.

Prominently displayed on the wall above my desk is a picture of Mr. Whitelaw and one of his winning teams.  Much less noticeable, in the far corner of my office, is a picture of me and Alberta’s Premier Lougheed; and another picture of Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, both great men in their world ... Mr. Whitelaw, a great man in our world.


 

Reflections

I never talked to Mr. Whitelaw .… during  three years of LCI football and three years of basketball, and captaining two of those teams.  Yet he was the most influential person in my life.

At his memorial yesterday, I recognized only a few from high school:  Don Hughes and Don Stouffer (each of whom played both sports, and with whom I played Little League Baseball.  Stouffer is an honoured patron of Mount Royal University sports); Glen Berry (a respected public servant); Don Doran (former editor of the Herald); Laurance Jones (now in the Montana Sports Hall of Fame for football); Jim Furlong (a CFL success);  and Mary Lou Sindlinger (highly regarded score keeper and long-time teacher of 54 years, and admirably still at it). 

I’m sure there were many others not in attendance thinking of Mr. Whitelaw, but who had said goodbye to him ― and each of us ― five years ago at the 50 Year Rams Reunion organized by Peter Berry and Don Hughes.

There were about 150 at the memorial yesterday.  My experience at funerals of the elderly (Mr. Whitelaw was 92) is that they have few surviving friends and relatives to attend, so I was surprised, and pleased.  But it raised a question, and that was “why were we there?”.  Why were there 200 at the 50 year Reunion?  Why were there about 300 at his retirement held so long ago in the room below where we were today?  Why did so many show up for the “Whitelaw Whoop-up” (organized by, among others, Glen Berry)?

Joey Shackleford gave a very touching tribute.  His name is often mentioned post LCI Mr. Whitelaw.

A slide show put together by Mr. Whitelaw’s family had two pics that prominently featured Don Firth (principal of Winston Churchill High School), one with hair down to his shoulders and one with considerably smaller hair.  There were also pics of Mr. Whitelaw in naval uniform, something else for which we respect and thank him.

Of course Mr. Whitelaw had personal reasons, as we all have, for why he pursued championships the way he did, and of which we were the beneficiaries.  I think of the time he encouraged the students in the bleachers to wear specific colours so that the letters “LCI” would be spelled, an impossible task given the small size of the gymnasium.  He was trying to replicate the experiences he had attending large football games when he went to school in California.

I never talked to Mr. Whitelaw, due to my extreme shyness, and he obviously recognized that.  We did talk eventually.  I visited him in hospital, at which time it was obvious that he would never leave there.  I had been warned not to expect much, but for half an hour he expounded on his coaching philosophy and his respect for whatever there was in each of those in his life.  I left him wishing I could see as much in others as he did.

Mr. Whitelaw had  “Je-ne-sais-quoi”, an indescribable something, many would be very fortunate just to see, never mind having.  This is why so many honored him a half century after passing through his life.  In our world, in our lives, Mr. Whitelaw was a great man.  We were witness to a magnificent era …..

 

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