Muhammad Ali, the greatest of them all, once said, “If you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
Right on, Champ.
Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Is there anything in this life that makes us richer than friendships?
I doubt it.
I discovered long ago that one of the most cherished benefits of spending most of your life around sports is the countless number of friends you make as you circle the bases.
I thank God for that.
As I pondered the subject this past week, I realized how fortunate I was to have known and befriended Hughie Sim.
What a fine, caring man he was.
Everything I’ve heard about him since his passing is added evidence that he was loved by so many — from his family he was so proud of, to the people he associated himself with in the sports, financial and community circles, to the numerous athletes who benefitted from his coaching and teaching.
A beloved human being.
I first had the privilege of meeting him when he was scouting for the Montreal Canadiens and I was covering their farm team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs.
Soon after that, I became aware of his coaching philosophies in the mid-’80s when he was handling the East Hants novices when two of his players were sons Mike and Jon. My younger son Graham was Cole Harbour’s goaltender in that novice league.
When he was transferred back to his native Pictou County in 1985, I followed his contributions to sports in that area. Among his first successes was an atom championship with Mike and Jon aboard.
Hughie’s pursuits in the county were too many to mention them all. But one thing I got to realize quickly was his major involvement with the Pictou County Weeks Construction AAA midget franchise owned by his buddy Scott Weeks.
During a long conversation we had in the late 1990s, I got the feeling his happiest times were with those midgets, a team he was with for six and a half years. Again, Mike and Jon were on the club on their way to bigger things.
There was another thing about Hughie that arose in several interviews — his pride in his three hockey-playing sons, Andrew being the youngest.
A later conversation — this time in 2004 for the Advocate — gave me a greater understanding of the guy’s inner thoughts.
One was his happiness when Jon made the National Hockey League while Mike and Andrew also went on to commendable accomplishments in the sport.
Then came 1998-99, the season Jon won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars, becoming the first Pictonian to do so. It was also the year Hughie was battling cancer for the first time.
The Stars won the big prize on Fathers Day. Hughie told me, “It was probably the best Fathers Day present I ever had in my life.”
And when Jon brought the silverware to New Glasgow?
“I was pretty proud that day. All the hard work that he had done was being rewarded. That was pretty special.”
Later on, he told me, “I’m pretty proud. I think the boys all did well in the situations they’ve been in. They’ve all worked hard. I think they got where they did because there was just no quit in any of them. They didn’t know what the word quit meant.”
Hockey and other sports dominated Hughie’s life ever since he started playing during his growing-up days in Westville.
It was in the old coal mining town that he found the love of his life. He and the former Joanne MacEwan had 47 years together. He never left her out of our conversations.
He once told me, “My wife had a lot to do with the hockey, too. She did a lot of lugging, a lot of driving, a lot of sitting in the stands. She was so supportive of all the boys. She lived and loved the game, too.”
Recently, when Hughie’s cancer returned for a second time, there wasn’t another comeback for the 69-year-old family patriarch.
My immediate reaction to the news focused on my visits to the Pictou County Wellness Centre. I don’t think I was ever there without running into Hughie, getting his friendly welcome.
Space is limited, but there’s something I can’t ignore. The day following his dad’s passing, Andrew went on Facebook and wrote some beautiful thoughts.
He began with a quote Hughie had framed on the wall and used for his inspiration the two times he was fighting cancer: “A champion is someone who gets up — even when they can’t.”
Wrote Andrew: “Anyone that knew him will know he wore his heart on his sleeve, was a fierce competitor at anything he did, extremely stubborn, outgoing, tough as nails, and he loved to talk about old hockey stories, especially with any of his old teammates, players he coached, or old teammates with Mike, Jon and I.”
There was more.
“What you may not know, he was loyal to the end for his friends and family, loved and bragged about his seven grandkids, made every game or practice he could — hockey, baseball, soccer, swimming and loved every second of it.
“He was married to Mom for 47 years — and they did everything together. He loved and bragged about his sisters and their families. Dad loved to to go to Sobeys in case he ran into someone he could have a conversation with.”
Andrew ended with this tear-producing comment: “Thank you, for instilling values, work ethic and loving your family. Miss you already, Dad. Love you, Champion.”
Yes, Hughie was a champion.
As he left the arena for the last time, so many of us lost a special friend.