Al Gillies was a people person, first and foremost.
The kind-hearted Langford resident made an impact in the region’s hockey community through his work rebuilding composite hockey sticks, doing graphic sports designs and working as a trainer and equipment manager alongside friend, co-worker and business partner John Smith.
“Even though Al would reach out when other communities asked for help, he would always be the first person there to help them,” said Smith, also a Langford resident.
Gillies lost his six-year battle with cancer on Feb. 12 at age 48. A public celebration of life is planned for next Tuesday (Feb. 23) from 2 to 4 p.m. at Olympic View Golf Club.
Smith tells a story to illustrate the kind of guy Gillies was.
It seems a young minor hockey player from Saanich was apparently being picked on because he was still using a wooden stick, when everyone else was using the high-tech composite models. The player paid Gillies a visit at his shop and saw logos of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, Spokane Chiefs and others scattered around the workspace. Asked by Gillies if he was there to get a stick, the young man sheepishly told him he only had $15.
“(Al told him) your money’s no good here, pick any two,” said Smith, who watched the scene unfold and saw the player’s face light up. “It didn’t matter to him, he was just a people person.”
In honour of their dad, who helped out the Westshore junior B team as well as the Victoria Grizzlies and Salsa, Gillies’ twin sons Matty and Tyler, 20, shared the ceremonial puck-drop duties last week at The Q Centre before the Wolves played the Saanich Braves. The Grizzlies honoured Gillies before a game last weekend.
His sons spent plenty of hours in the rink helping out their dad and Smith with trainer duties during Victoria Grizzlies games between 2004-09.
“I liked being here on the weekends … when dad was here as well,” Matty said of their time together.
He and Tyler, who are both working on business administration degrees at Camosun College, specializing in accounting, also play three-on-three hockey together at the Island Centre of Excellence (ICE).
One of Tyler’s favourite memories of being at Bear Mountain Arena (now The Q Centre) with Al was when they helped out Team U.S.A. during an international under-18 mini-tournament.
Smith, nearing 30 years of work as a civilian with the Department of National Defence in Esquimalt, worked in the same department with Gillies for about eight years. Their side businesses included Pro Stick Repair, which they franchised and later sold, and Capital City Signs, which which Smith has continued.
He joked that he was Gillies’ boss during the day and the roles were reversed at night and on the weekends.
“He’s a guy that I worked with during the day, had two businesses with, volunteered thousands of hours with the Grizzlies, and I never had an argument with him,” Smith said. “That was the kind of guy he is, right? (It was) never about him. That what’s his celebration is about, it’s about him; for the first time everything’s about him – a tribute to him.”
Smith took a leap and set up a GoFundMe page on Tuesday to defray the cost of putting Gillies’ affairs in order for his wife, Lisa, who knew nothing about the gesture. As of Thursday evening, the fund had received 47 donations, pushing the total over $6,100, well past the listed goal of $4,200.
A number of donors shared their thoughts and memories about Gillies. To donate or pass along a message, visit gofundme.com/7cp79ff8.