Tribute to Scott Campbell - June 24, 2023
I’m Bill Hale, Scott’s first cousin and I’d like to say a few words about the Scott I knew. This is not intended to be the story of Scott’s life but rather a reflection on who he was and what he meant to me.
Scott would have been 66 a couple of days ago making us essentially the same age. My first memories of Scott were from Premier Road in West Ferris, or North Bay, Ontario. I remember the front yard, the garage and Uncle Gary’s big, long convertible. I also remember the house, roughly, and the lake side with its stone wall and the sandy beach and water beyond. We had a lot of fun there as small kids, although it was perhaps only one summer visit I remember.
However, pictures in my baby book that Mom made for each of us remind me that we spent a lot more time together. Mostly those were at our place, sometimes tobogganing, some at Christmas. But when Aunt Di and the boys moved to Guelph when I was 10, we saw a lot of Scott and Brian. We visited them on Mont Street and played road hockey whenever we were there. After they moved to 60 Freeman Avenue, we would go to Trinity United Church Sunday School at 9:00 and then get dropped of at their place at 10:30 to spend a few hours together while Mom and Aunt Di went to church. At age 13 we were given the option of continuing with church or not and so we all bailed.
Scott and I then reunited when we went to the same high school, GCVI. Of course, he ran with the jock crowd and I ran with the country folk which mean we didn’t hang out in the cafeteria together. But we were in the same English class in Grade 11 with Mrs. Yerex. Scott was not disruptive but definitely attracted attention and was funny. Perhaps neither one of us had much interest in that class but we both made it through. Then it was off to the London Knights for him and his career was on its way.
At that time Scott had a blue late 1960s Plymouth Belvedere with a 383 engine in it so he could get around London and come home for family visits. When he would leave Aunt Di’s after a family dinner he would pretend he was crying as he was waved goodbye out the car window to make fun of Aunt Di who was doing it for real. Scott may well have felt like crying and this could have masked his own sensitivity to leaving. But I don’t know this.
In 1977 Scott was drafted first overall by the Houston Aeros in the WHA amateur draft and ninth overall by the St. Louis Blues of the NHL. Aunt Di hosted a party to celebrate Scott’s draft and after the dinner Scott got up and thanked his family for helping to make his success possible. This was the humble Scott I knew that was so often overlooked because of his large social presence.
In February of 1980 I went to Winnipeg to spend a few days with Scott while the Winnipeg Jets were playing at home. Scott and a teammate owned a house there and a 15- or 16-year-old Brett Hull was staying with them as his parents had split and moved to other cities, and Brett needed a place to live while he finish school. It wasn’t exactly parenting but it showed Scott’s generosity to people. By the way, the spare bedroom I got had satin sheets. I’d never seen anything like it.
We went to a Jets game on Saturday night and since Scott was recovering from a separated shoulder, he wasn’t playing. We sat in a press box and frequently there as pounding on the wall beside us from the other side. I looked at Scott and he said, “Fergie.” Every time there was a play he didn’t like or a call he disagreed with, John Ferguson would hit the wall with his fist.
After the game we went to a restaurant and bar for supper and then drinks. I had never been around such funny people in all my life. My face was sore from laughing. I was so out of place with all these extroverts, splashing money around, talking to women we didn’t know. But Scott stuck with me and made me feel welcome. When that bar closed we went down an alley, knocked on a back door and got let into a booze can. It was a night like I had never seen. And yet the next day when it was just the two of us, it was the same old Scott that I had always known.
This is how our lives were stitched together. When we were around other people, I drifted around the periphery of the gathering and Scott was at its centre. But when one was alone with Scott, you had all his attention. In 2019 I visited Scott in Collingwood and stayed overnight at his place. We had supper and then repaired back to his place for a couple more drinks and to continue our conversation. Scott was always full of stories that he would tell you if you asked him a question that provoked one. I’d read a biography of Bobby Hull whom Scott had played with in Winnipeg and I commented that the book said Hull was in great shape at 40 but his head and heart were no longer in the game because of his personal problems. Scott corrected me and said Hull was not in great shape by then and that his teammate had to help him on with this sweater because his shoulders were so bad.
And Scott never bragged about himself, in spite of all the accomplishments he had. In Winnipeg, Tom McVie was the coach of the Jets and a hardass. He had a rule that players had to be at the rink one hour before practice and 1-1/2 hours before a game. If you were late, you didn’t dress. One January day a storm blew in Scott’s driveway and the snow plower was late. Scott phoned McVie and told him he would be 15 minutes late and McVie said it was fine. He arrived at the rink late, as expected, and walked past the window of McVie’s office toward the dressing room. All of a sudden a skate crashed against the wall in front of him, thrown by McVie through his open office door! McVie said, “You’re late! Where do you think you’re going?” Scott said, “I’m getting dressed. I told you I’d be late and we had an agreement.” McVie said, “I changed my mind.” Scott said, “You can’t do that” and proceeded to the dressing room to change. McVie stormed into the dressing room and said, “Then I quit!!” and walked out.
Scott changed and went out on the ice and was warming up when John Ferguson came to the boards and waved him over. “Hey Kid, as he called Scott, I hear McVie quit.” Scott told him the story and Fergie said, “Go tell him he can’t quit.” So Scott had all the time it took him to walk to McVie’s office to think about what to say. When he got there he said, “You’ve always told us we can never give up, never quit. So how can you quit?” McVie could not respond to that and didn’t quit. The next season the team voted Scott captain.
Scott was a sensitive person who felt things deeply and did not often show that vulnerability. When my father died, Scott asked if he could say a few words at Dad’s memorial service. He stood in front of 250 people and delivered the eulogy he had written. He choked and he paused but he did what he had to do to tell those present what my father had meant to him, difficult as it was.
You may not imaging Scott as a poet but he wrote a poem to Mom in the last few years of her life to tell her how important she was to him. Mom told me about the poem, but did not show it to me or tell me any of its content because it was personal. And I have not seen it. Even Aunt Di did not know he had done this.
Although Scott’s and my lives took much different directions, we were always connected. And we always had each other’s backs. When I left the hospital after Jen decided to spend her last days at home, I phoned Scott. I had to leave a message but when he called back I had to pull over because my eyes were filled with tears. I didn’t tell him that but I told him that the last days of Jen’s life were in sight. He asked if he should come right away and I said no, he should take a few days to organize leaving work. But he was there very soon anyway and kept vigil with us until the end, even making Jen laugh when we thought she was sleeping.
When Brian died, Scott called me because he couldn’t get in touch with Aunt Di and he didn’t want her to find out Brian had passed from someone other than family. So I called Rich and Dave and they went over to Aunt Di and Wayne’s house and delivered the bad news.
I had the good fortune to visit Scott last June and I went because I knew the opportunity window was closing. Before going I asked Aunt Di what I shouldn’t talk about and what good things would be to talk about. She said don’t talk about the past and don’t tell him he’s going to be alright. He knows that’s not the case and won’t appreciate nonsense like that. But he’s very interested in your EV car dealership and what’s going on in your life. So we talked about me winding up the dealership and talking to Hatch about rejoining them in a renewable energy role. And we talked about Wren and Candice and our good life in Saskatoon. We talked about his next treatment and how he would feel like crap for the next two weeks and then he would have to take medication in order to be able to eat. Then when he had recovered enough, he had to do this all over again.
Scott faced this with the same determination that he did the other trials in his life. And his life was not easy. But he did not quit until there was no other choice. He achieved fame and fortune and then had to restart his career more than once until finding his footing in IT. Through it all Scott did not lose his affability or his sense of humour.
As I reflect on Scott’s life as I have done now for more than a year, I realize he was the same person at the end of his life as he was when we were kids in Guelph. Except that he did become willing to hug. He made no bones about hugging Dave and Rich and I when we got together. And so, Scott, if you’re listening, this is one final hug for you.