Among several interesting reflections, Bobby Naylor’s obituary said he was “a master of connecting with people.”
He sure was.
He and I connected a very long time ago, when I was attending high school in New Glasgow and he was studying at Pictou Academy. It was the 1950s, a rather innocent post-war era in which young people and their friends found lots of neighbourhood activities without television sets, iPads and the Internet.
There was another observation in the obit that I felt truly illustrated the kind of person Bobby was. It referred to his “caring for other people, ceaselessly worrying about the details big and small, and always ready to jump in and help.”
Yes, that was the Bobby Naylor I got to know six decades ago, the Bobby Naylor I always enjoyed chatting with, usually focusing on local sports that meant a great deal to both of us.
Whether it was being involved in hockey, a sport that followed him to the University of New Brunswick and as far away as Holland, or enjoying other sports, his positions in Pictou’s business community, or his responsibilities managing the Hector Arena, he did it with dedication and pleasure.
Bobby was a year younger than me and, although he spent his first years of life in New Glasgow, we didn’t meet until I started writing high school sports for The Evening News and our paths crossed in the local rinks. He instantly stood out as a good athlete and a good person.
A few months ago, I wrote a column on Bobby. It was the latest of many articles I wrote about him, but certainly the saddest. It addressed his personal life – more specifically, his newly-diagnosed battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
It was a devastating blow, not just to a 77-year-old man who was always so active in life, but to his loving wife Lynn, a school teacher who he married the year after he graduated from UNB; his three sons, Cooper and twins Ted and Luke, all hockey players like their dad, and daughter Meredith, who played basketball.
I was saddened the day I heard the news, saddened because I always held a lot of respect for the guy, even when we were teenagers.
I was saddened even more a few days ago when I learned that Bobby had passed away. His run with Alzheimer’s hadn’t lasted long.
I recall him telling me years ago, when I interviewed him for another paper, how he got his start in hockey.
“I remember in New Glasgow,” he said, “skating in the old West Side Rink and being down at the old arena by the parking grounds. There was no minor hockey at all. Even when I got to Pictou, there was no minor hockey until I was 15. We didn’t get artificial ice here until then. So it was strictly pond hockey and that kind of thing. I can remember stickhandling around puddles on the ice. We took it in stride though.”
Despite disadvantages, he loved sports, especially hockey. It wasn’t surprising he developed quickly, good enough to play for UNB for four years, helping to win two intercollegiate championships.
I enjoyed chatting with him about his experiences, some very fascinating.
Like the time he answered an advertisement in The Hockey News that Holland was looking for referees. He got a job – but as a coach.
“I refereed one year over there. One day they asked, ‘Did you ever coach?’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah, sure.’ They said they needed a coach for the national team. It’s almost embarrassing to talk about. They were, I think, C class. There were only four or five artificial rinks in the whole country. So I took the coaching job and we played some international games and things like that. It all went okay. I don’t think the players realized I had never coached. Everything was so primitive it’s mind-boggling.”
When he came home, he answered another ad in The Hockey News and wound up as manager of an arena in a suburb of New York City. While there he ran a hockey school and a referees school. That worked, too. He brought in experienced NHL referees to instruct and it led to his own officiating in the American Hockey League.
The old country song “I’ve been everywhere, man” could apply to Naylor.
In 1976, he came home.
I was sports editor of The Chronicle Herald then, and one of the first people I met up with in the Shiretown was Bobby. It wasn’t the end of his career by any means – more like a beginning.
He got an old Sobeys store and transformed it into a lunch counter and convenience store. He later sold sporting goods and fishing gear. Then he operated a courier service and taxi business.
Then he became manager of the Hector Arena, returning him to the sports world that meant so much to him. He was so happy when he talked about it, and he admitted he was at his happiest when his three sons were playing hockey.
I won’t get into the thoughts we have when a friend or acquaintance passes. I don’t think Bobby would have wanted me to.
Instead, I’ll end with one of his quotations I used to conclude a column after one of our get-togethers. He was talking about how he liked youngsters to be involved. It’s another example of how wise he always was.
In Bobby’s words, “I don’t care if they’re playing the piano, playing sports, whatever, as long as they’re busy with things, it sure pays off. You don’t want to sound phony, but they learn to take the lumps with the good parts. They learn a lot of things about life. And they meet so many people.”
Many folks, especially around Pictou, will miss Bobby’s presence a lot.