Having started my newspaper career during my high school years, I began knowing sports people in Pictou County at quite a young age. Hockey players, baseball and softball players, boxers, golfers, you name it, I was quickly getting to know them by their first names.
Bob Naylor was one.
Though I attended New Glasgow High and he went to Pictou Academy, I met him early in my career and, from our first encounter, I liked the guy. He was one year younger than myself, and from those days forward, I followed his experiences with interest.
He left school early – to go north on a ship for two years – but he was smart enough to return at the age of 20 to get his high school diploma. Then it was off to the University of New Brunswick.
Bob had spent the first eight years of his life in New Glasgow, before his family moved to Pictou.
There was no organized minor hockey in those post-war years – in New Glasgow or Pictou – but he learned the game anyway. Early on, there were many hours spent on the outdoor rink on New Glasgow’s west side.
By the time he reached UNB, he not only made the varsity team, he played all four years there and helped the school win two championships.
It soon became apparent that he was a guy who would take on various challenges and many of those led to exciting adventures.
Soon after UNB, he was refereeing hockey in northern New Brunswick.
Then he saw an ad in The Hockey News that Holland – yes, the country – was looking for hockey officials. Without hesitation, he answered the ad, went to Holland and – guess what? — he wound up coaching that country’s national team for a year, even though he had never coached in the sport.
Some time later, he answered another ad in The Hockey News – and wound up managing an arena, with two ice surfaces, in a wealthy suburb of New York City called Bedford. He was there for three years.
That’s not all he did while he was there.
Loving refereeing, he began officiating in the American Hockey League. He also ran a hockey school and began a referees school. He didn’t fool around. He brought in leading NHL referees like Bruce Hood, Vern Buffey and Bill Friday to give instructions.
Then, in 1976, he came home.
He was 37 at the time and, wow, did he get busy! He took over an old Sobeys store in downtown Pictou, operated a 42-seat lunch counter, a convenience store, and sold sporting goods and fishing and hockey gear.
Later he started a taxi and courier business.
But Bob Naylor was a guy who wasn’t going to remain out of the sports environment. He had played a bit of hockey in town, with veteran senior players like Mark Babineau and Joe Brown.
Then came another change. He became manager of the Hector Arena.
He was in his glory.
He once told me he was happy being back in hockey and being around the young people.
He put it this way: “There are so many great kids out there. Once you get to know them, and you like them and they respect you, it’s fun.”
He was in the right place – and he was having fun.
Married to school teacher Lynn Wisener, daughter of noted athlete Herb Wisener, a pole vaulter and hockey player, they raised four children who, no surprise, became athletes in their own right.
Cooper and twins Luke and Ted were hockey players and, like their dad, played at the university level. Daughter Meredith was a basketball player.
Bob has loved a lot of things in his life.
Besides his family, his career and whatever businesses he became involved in, he has loved whatever was happening in the community, writing many worthwhile ideas to newspapers and – not to be given a back seat – he got into local politics.
He has been a valued councillor for more years than he really had time for.
Yes, Bob Naylor has had a wonderful life. He certainly won’t deny that. I always marvelled at him for the many chapters he wrote in his life’s story, knowing how he enjoyed everything he did.
But this isn’t meant to be just a review of his achievements, his successes.
This isn’t the only matter on my mind these days when I think of him.
You see, Bob Naylor has been handed an unfair break – something that shouldn’t have to be added to a glowing biography like his.
Bob, now 77 years of age, has Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s an ugly thing. We all know that. And it’s something he certainly didn’t deserve. We’re all aware that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, no road to return to the good times.
It affects those around him, too.
As he faces his situation – I’m sure with the same strength he has always had – he knows there are many, many people in his corner, people who have admired him all these years.
Take Bruce Hood, now 80 years of age. The old referee who officiated in over 1,000 NHL games and more than 150 Stanley Cup contests, the last official ever to wear the number one in the NHL, came to Pictou to visit Bob a short time ago after hearing of his illness.
What a wonderful gesture.
Recently, Pictou town council, the body Bob served faithfully for something like 13 years, renamed a street in his honour.
Not just any street, but the street that runs by Hector Arena.
Naylor Drive – what a nice tribute.
Meantime, let’s remind Bob that we’re thinking of him, knowing that life is sometimes very unfair.