Tony Proudfoot: a celebration of a full life
Tony Proudfoot: a celebration of a full life
BY DAVE STUBBS, MONTREAL GAZETTE JANUARY 6, 2011
Much has been spoken in recent days about the great number of lives touched by the late Tony Proudfoot, who died last Thursday after a lengthy battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
This is the story of one, from yesterday’s moving, emotional and uplifting memorial service at Pointe Claire’s Cedar Park United Church:
Proudfoot’s widow, Vicki, the couple’s three adult children and his mother, Janet,
entered the church shortly after 11 a.m. behind Black Watch Regiment bagpiper Sylvain Jetté.
Few of the estimated 700 who packed the standing-room church and its adjacent hall
knew that the kilted man playing Amazing Grace had been a wide receiver in 1983 for coach Tony Proudfoot’s Montreal Junior Concordes.
Or that Jetté had taken it upon himself to contact Rideau Memorial Gardens,
the funeral director, to offer the Proudfoot family his services.
“Sylvain emailed (Rideau) to say that Tony was one of the reasons he had become a coach and a teacher,” said Rick Morgan, the husband of Tony’s sister, Patti.
Jetté explained to Morgan during Tuesday’s funeral-home visitation that he’d joined the military and learned to play the pipes, and that he had taken it upon himself to sometimes go to the heartbreaking return of fallen Quebec soldiers and pipe them home “because it’s the right thing to do.”
It was Proudfoot, he said, who instilled in him qualities that have become cornerstones in his life.
And it was for this reason that Vicki Proudfoot gratefully accepted Jetté’s offer
to pipe her family in and out of the church.
“She thought it was the most fantastic thing,” Morgan said.
There were many Proudfoot stories circulating before and after yesterday’s service,
a celebration of a full life that ended in palliative care last week, the terminal neuromuscular disease
ALS finally overtaking the former Montreal Alouettes Grey Cup champion at age 61.
It was almost a shame that Pointe Claire had so thoroughly salted the snow-dusted sidewalks outside the church, for how perfect would it have been to have Proudfoot’s former teammates banging staples into the boots of all who arrived?
For decades, Proudfoot has been best known for being the architect of the Alouettes’ 1977 Ice Bowl Grey Cup victory, devising the low-tech solution of putting staples into the Als’ shoes to provide traction on the skating-rink field of Olympic Stadium.
But to those who knew him well, especially the three who remembered him during yesterday’s service, Proudfoot was much more.
“Kid, athlete, student, artist, adventurer, teacher, coach, builder, educator, scholar, broadcaster,
author and, most recently, philanthropist all help to describe what this life held for you,” said Tom Peters, Proudfoot’s best friend since childhood.
“I thought he was Superman,” said his younger daughter, Lauren, flanked by her sister, Lindsay,
and brother, Michael.
“He was able to fix anything, do anything, he never got hurt,
and I believed every word that came out of his mouth.”
Don Proudfoot, eldest of Tony’s four siblings, lightheartedly recalled Chuck, the baby of the family,
helping an incorrigible dinner-table joker to develop the good reflexes that served him well on his way to the CFL Hall of Fame.
“Chuck once speared Tony in the hand with a fork,” Don said, grinning. “Drew blood, too.”
Rev. Ron Coughlin’s service was simple and bright.
If Proudfoot had refused to feel sorry for himself, ALS clawing at him through his 3˝-year illness,
how could this gathering mourn him?
That’s not to say that marvelous guitarist Sule Michael Heitner, whose bluesy Amazing Grace and soulful House of the Rising Sun didn’t leave a few eyes swollen as the sun filtered through the stained glass window onto the altar and Proudfoot’s urn.
Never once as his final breath neared did Proudfoot utter a negative word.
Indeed, Lauren was hard pressed to ever remember a frown from her father.
“To be honest, his ‘suck-it-up’ motto used to drive me crazy,” she said.
“Sometimes, I wanted sympathy from my dad when I bruised my knee or scraped my elbow.
But looking back now, I see that he was just teaching us to see past some small obstacles
and to look at the bigger picture. And not sweat the small stuff.”
For five hours on Tuesday, Vicki Proudfoot and her children greeted those
who came to pay their respects at the Rideau chapel.
For more than two hours in the afternoon, 92-year-old matriarch Janet had a word for everyone.
The queue mid-afternoon was many dozens of people long; in the evening, it stretched out the door, around the building, into the parking lot and back to the cemetery office.
The funeral home said that as many as 600 came – a remarkable sign of how Proudfoot and his life story had touched friends and people he’d never met.
Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo stood in line with the rest,
still recovering from throat-cancer surgery he underwent on Dec. 16.
Morgan thanked him for coming, and Calvillo replied that he’d have been there
even had he still been a hospital patient.
Former teammates arrived in number. So did Canadiens legend Dickie Moore.
There probably were times since her husband’s disease was diagnosed that Vicki would have preferred a little privacy. But she also understood Tony’s need to use his illness to create awareness
of ALS and do what he could to raise funds to research and treat it.
Vicki’s sister, Ann Eynon, in from Vancouver, has helped steer the ship the past week.
With Peters, Morgan and Patti took on most of the work of organizing the memorial;
Pointe Claire mayor Bill McMurchie deployed the city’s public-security team to manage the traffic that choked the blocks of the neighbourhood.
The church emptied shortly after noon with more smiles than tears,
exactly what the family had hoped to see.
The ashes of the man everyone had come to celebrate would exit a side door into the sunlight 60 minutes after piper Jetté’s first notes.
That’s the precise length of a game of football, something that Proudfoot loved to the end.
SOME ADVICE FROM TONY PROUDFOOT
Through the years, Montreal Alouettes star Tony Proudfoot encouraged his children Michael,
Lindsay and Lauren simply to “be brilliant,” a motto worn by his daughters on bracelet charms he gave both of them just days before his Dec. 30 death.
But Proudfoot, an avid outdoorsman and fitness devotee, also had these five pieces of advice for life, which were related yesterday by Lauren at her father’s funeral:
1. I believe you aren’t camping unless you’re carrying a canoe over your head to the next campsite.
2. Lafleur’s is the only place to go for a steamie and fries.
3. If there are stairs next to an escalator or an elevator,
you should always take the stairs – if you have legs, use them.
4. Kickers are not real football players.
5. The Habs are the only respectable team to cheer for.