TAIT: Clark Gillies’ ties to Edmonton were forged with characteristic warmth and humor

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In 1991, a group of friends from Edmonton stood outside Moose Jaw’s Hillcrest Golf Club on a warm Saskatchewan evening, 10 hours before an 18-hole round of golf, banquet and refreshments.

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Two taxis arrived and we piled in before someone cunningly asked, “Where are we going?”

Clark Gillies had one foot in the front door. “The Royal,” he growled. “I must take your townspeople to the Royal.”

We left, the five minute drive south on Main Street.

“Welcome boys,” Gillies said as we entered the bar. “It’s Moosejaw.”

News of Gillies’ passing on Friday generated warm words and gracious comments about the man known as Jethro.

Edmonton Oilers fans didn’t like Gillies when the forward wore a New York Islanders jersey in the early 1980s and pulled down his wing – sturdy if necessary – and crushed the Oilers’ hopes of winning their first Stanley Cup.

That ended in 1984. Gillies was part of the Isles when Edmonton won its first Stanley Cup.

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When the hockey season ended and the golf clubs were dusted off, Gillies had a special bond with Edmontonians.

He returned to Moose Jaw to host a charity golf tournament hosted by his brother Doug.

In Moose Jaw, Doug was childhood friends with former Edmonton Country Club head professional Bill Penny.

Doug asked Penny to come play golf at the fundraiser. In typical Penny fashion, he did more: Several Oilers were members of the ECC.

Over the years Penny has taken Dave Semenko, Mark Messier, Craig MacTavish, Grant Fuhr and others golfing.

When The Brick owner Bill Comrie – who played with Penny for the Moose Jaw Canucks in the mid-’60s – heard about the trip, he flew the band to Moose Jaw on his jet.

Gillies still had a surprise waiting for the Edmonton entourage.

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One year he told them limos would be waiting for them.

Instead, horse-drawn carriages waited on the tarmac. Messier took the reins, and halfway down Main Street the horses broke.

And all the hell too, with Messier laughing all the way.

Fun, laughter and pranks.

Yet they were vastly surpassed by Gillies’ kindness and immense generosity.

In 1992, he found a Moose Jaw teenager with an extremely rare throat condition that required uninsured treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

Funds from that year’s tournament were used to pay for travel for the young man, his parents and all medical care.

He did more.

Gillies established the Clark Gillies Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that helps children with physical, developmental, and/or financial challenges.

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A Long Island pediatric emergency unit is named after Gillies and his foundation.

And there are many other examples of his generosity. But that raw sense of humor was what he hour after hour encouraged others to participate in… something that clearly defined the man.

After retiring from the NHL, Gillies owned and operated a limousine business in New York City.

It wasn’t the day I called, so I left my name and said that the five limos I had ordered for the Royal Hotel in Moose Jaw were late.

The next day he called me back and we laughed heartily until we hung up.

And that remembrance, that lesson, and that careful reminder is how I will forever remember and honor Clarke Gilies.

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