A few days ago, a woman in her eighties named Patty Milford, passed away quietly in Florida as a result of the horrible virus, COVID19. She was no ordinary lady. To me and her family, she was a legend. To those who know the hockey world of the 1950s and 60s, they would recognize her name as Sawchuk, Pat Sawchuk, the wife of the legendary goalie, Terry Sawchuk. She would be part of his legend.
I first met Pat in the summer of 1996. Obtaining the blessing of the Sawchuk family to tell 'the real story' of Terry Sawchuk, she flew up from Florida to her son Jerry's house in Michigan where I would be interviewing her over a few days. Many dozens of more notable writers had tried before me to obtain permission, to get the "inside" Terry story, but all had been rebuffed. I was fortunate to connect with the late close family friend and Terry's best friend and teammate, Hall of Fame defenceman, Marcel Pronovost. "If Marcel trusts you, the Sawchuk family trusts you!" is what Jerry had told me as the reason for my go-ahead. I was forever indebted to Marcel and he and I grew close.
From the moment I met her, Pat put me completely at ease. We had an instant rapport. She was so friendly, down to earth and hip! We laughed, she cried a lot, we paused quite a few times--I handed her a lot of Kleenex. The memories, the wounds of living with Terry still fresh in her mind twenty-six years after his death at that time. She was the protector of her children from him. Still through it all, she loved him in many ways and her fierce pride in his hockey accomplishments shone through! "Don't anybody mess with the hockey career of Terry Sawchuk or you'll have eight Sawchuks after you!" she said laughing but yet deadly serious!
She knew Terry like no other and she also knew his physical pain and his inner demons. Our chats and the book, SAWCHUK: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World's Greatest Goalie, would be a cathartic experience for her and her seven children. She let me tell it, "warts and all!" Her reason for participating in the writing of the book resonates still.
"You know, it is truly tough to be married to someone in the spotlight, whether it be sports or entertainment," she said. "I wish in my heart of hearts, that I could take all of the bad memories and the hurt our kids have and are still going through. I wish I could make it disappear! If this book can help one person to get help, to live a normal life without abuse, and spare their loved ones the agony of watching someone you love destroy himself or herself, and everyone around him or her, to save their children, then I know Terry would truly be happy knowing this. He would give this story his blessing."
She said from day one, "I wonder who will play me in the movie?" She knew this story would just have to make it to a big or small screen one day. There was just no sports story like it. Ever. When the recent movie "Goalie" was made, I warned her that the movie was not really true to "our story", that it was more about a Sawchuk poem book, that the producers had not really taken any of my script recommendations and had a small budget. After viewing it, she called me and only said, "I know it wasn't your fault dear!" Totally forgiving and understanding.
By the time we had met in 1996, she had remarried, was a very happy, and devoted wife, mother and grandmother. We stayed in touch over the years by phone and she was forever commenting on my daily Facebook sunrise pictures and our continued friendship. Every note or conversation ended with "love you dear." I returned the sentiment because to know Pat (Sawchuk) Milford was to love her. She was just that special.
She was the Matriarch of her family and much, much loved. Though I'm sure they're all feeling her loss deeply, her memory and influence will live on. A legendary figure in her own right, I'm sure Pat will one day reappear on the big screen with Terry in a newer production, saying something like, "Oh for God sakes Terry, smarten the hell up!" Telling him like it was! Oh yeah. I look forward to that.
In the meantime, sleep well Pat! You're earned it.
I'm writing this to you Mom on what would have been your 100th birthday. So much to say, so little space to say it.
There's a picture of you, Bernice Roi, a little baby, sitting so cute in a baptismal gown, staring directly at the camera, a little ring on your finger. A little ring. Who'd a thought of that? What a nice touch! Your parents, Leah and Albert Roi must have truly been proud that day. You were their first born after so many miscarriages. They made sure to get a proper photograph of your baptism a few weeks after your birth, to mark the occasion one hundred years ago. Thank goodness. A treasure for us on this day.
You would grow to be quite the lady. Smart in school, you finished highschool only to marry your cousin, Celestin Dupuis, and be a stay at home mom. An eventual mother of five, you were amazing from the beginning. You sure could cook, sew and knit. And as if you didn't have enough to do raising your own, for many years you took in many children for The Children's Aid.
And knit! One year in the late 1960s, you knitted sweaters for everyone for Christmas--your sisters, spouses, and their children, your children, their spouses and the four grandchildren you had at that time. Maybe twenty in all? But it was a lot. And the men got dark mohair sweater to boot!
You were the true definition of a mother, always giving, never asking anything in return. You always put us and those around you first. I remember the morning your grandchild Brian died. You cried in the kitchen all morning after hearing the news. I'll never forget that. And it was funny when you had trouble watching your son Jimmy (Jake) playing hockey on television. You grew so tense whenever the other team came near his net and you made very save with him. You were so relieved when the game was done. That was you.
So here we are one hundred years after the fact. Here is the Dupuis clan descended directly from you and dad in a picture taken a few years ago now. Even this picture has changed a bit since it was taken.
I want you to know I still miss your meatpies. Big time! Even though you've been gone from us for forty-five years, I know you're still with us, watching over us, loving us. I know you're proud of us. You always were. We are paying tribute to you on this milestone in our family.
May the angels sing your glory on this your your 100th birthday. You've never been forgotten, and are forever in our hearts and memories.
Love, from all of us.
As a town of many statues and monuments, Penetanguishene, should take a bow! The world could learn from us. We got it right.
Watching the debate raging in the US about the dismantling of old confederate statues and monuments, and even in nearby Orillia, debate over the century-old Champlain monument, I'm left awestruck at just how 'right' we got the recent planning and construction of various statues here in Penetanguishene and in our waterfront park. While it didn't turn out perfect, I'm proud to have been part of getting it right.
I was co-chair of the Rendezvous Champlain Committee back in 2000s as we planned to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Champlain and the missionaries landing in Penetanguishene and Huronia in August of 1615. As we commenced our planning, we were always mindful of three things.
One, Champlain, the missionaries and scouts like Etienne Brule, would never have made it here to begin with without the consent, aid and transportation assistance of the Huron-Wendat with whom they traded in Montreal. The foreigners were totally dependant on them.
Two, the arrival of the Europeans with their diseases, would wipe out a great number of the Huron population. The arrival of the white man would spell the beginning of the end of the Huron Nation in this region.
And Three, any commemoration (not celebration!) had to recognize and do justice to the Huron-Wendat nation and involve them.
From the outset, our committee reached out and involved the Huron-Wendat nation from Wendake, Quebec and forged a great working relationship of mutual trust and respect. (Unfortunately, we didn't have the same luck with the Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, but that's another story for another day!) The Huron-Wendat knew we wanted to honour the coming of Champlain to this area but to also honour their ancestors, here in their ancestral homeland. We hosted a delegation of them, and involved them in our plans every step of the way, always getting their approval. They knew we were the real deal and wouldn't betray them. They in turn gave us their complete trust and approval. That means everything.
With the help and support of our Huron-Wendat friends, our committee was able to secure major multi-million dollar funding from the province and the feds and the end result is today's Rotary-Champlain-Huron-Wendat Park at the Penetanguishene waterfront. Though we were not involved in the parks final planning and development (another story for another day!) and while only two of the six great phases came to fruition, the park is still something to be proud of today.
While there are nine Champlain monuments strewn throughout North America, our Champlain Monument is the first to have Huron Bear Chief Aenon, in full garb, standing with him as equals, of equal height and prominence. It didn't turn out exactly like we envisioned but it does justice to the Huron chief. There is also a statue of another Wendat and a four-statue circular monument recognizing the four tribes or clans of the Huron-Wendat nation: Bear, Deer, Cord and Rock. A large steel 20'canoe sits at the water's edge. Much signage tells the Huron-Wendat story. Construction of a large rock turtle in the reservoir pond, a large Huron longhouse and a large Huron-Wendat arboretum of native plants had to be deferred. I would love to see them built one day!
I did a presentation to the Orillia Champlain monument committee a few years ago about how to go about things, planning, how we got it right here in Penetanguishene. I also met my Huron friends there. It was great to see them and the mutual trust and friendship was still there. They are my brothers and sisters. Orillia is in the midst of a great and controversial conundrum with the fate of their monument in the balance. And they have a lot of hands in the pot which we didn't have here. We had a clear vision. The Orillia monument does have its issues, put up in a time when colonialism was still recognized as the way. I invited the committee to come and see our park.
So while monument debates rage all around us, here in Penetanguishene, we can be proud of the fact we were . . .
"The town that got it right!"