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Tom Masich, Prince George sports icon, dies at 86

Tom Masich, 86, Prince George Track & Field Club founder and Sports Hall of Famer, passed away in hospice on Sunday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

"He was Tom. He was the man. That was my Dad."

Bill Masich sat down with The Citizen Wednesday to talk about his dad, Tom Masich, Prince George sports icon and Hall of Famer, who passed away peacefully Sunday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 86.

“If you came to the track, you knew who my dad was,” Bill said. “And even I called him Tom at the track because that’s who he was – just Tom.”

It was like that at the track and it was like that for Bill on the job, too, like when they were on the same job, swinging a hammer along with his carpenter dad building the University of Northern BC.

“He was always Tom,” Bill said. “And when we stepped away from all that stuff then he was Dad or Pops. He was just that guy. He filled so many roles in so many ways and did them all so well and he could be all of those things at once.”

Tom was one of the funniest men Bill ever knew.

“At home when I was a kid we’d get on these trails of witticisms with a theme,” Bill said. “Oh, you should leave that alone. Why don’t you branch out? Stop it, you’re needling me. You’re barking up the wrong tree – we would go for 10 minutes with continuous puns and one liners – back and forth – and we’re all quite good at it and it’s directly because of dad. We had to be on our toes all the time.”

Bill said if you spent 10 minutes with Tom you knew what he was all about.

“He was honest and open and true,” Bill said. “He was deeply committed to our community, his family, his friends and his extended family – they really meant a lot to him.”

As a coach, Tom was all about the little details that made a big impact. He saw what could be minutely adjusted to offer big gains for athletes striving for excellence. Tweaking an athlete’s technique was Tom’s specialty.

“My sister, Laura, was a very talented track athlete when she was a kid,” Bill said. “She was genetically gifted. She picked her parents really well. She was very fast and she was very strong. She’s often told this story about Dad and it’s very poignant. They were at the BC Junior Development Championships in 1979. She was 12 and for some kids that’s really a make or break year – if you’re going to continue you need to have some success. Laura had some great success in track. It was the provincial championships in triple jump, she was in the lead by far. Her friend Britt from Kamloops was also jumping but things weren’t quite clicking for Britt. Dad walked over to Britt’s coach and asked if he could speak to his athlete for a minute. Britt’s coach agreed. Dad went over and gave Britt two little tips of advice and my sister ended up with a silver medal and Britt ended up with the gold. Dad did that because he recognized that she could do better. So you help out where you can and you pass that information on. Was my sister upset in the moment? A little bit but she was really happy for her friend Britt who became provincial champion. That was dad. That was Tom. And he was like that all the time.”

Tom founded the Track & Field Club in 1973 and he grew the sport from there.

Massey Place Stadium, built in 1990, was renamed Masich Place Stadium in honour of Tom in 2005 to reflect the impact he had on the sport.

But Tom wasn’t just about track and field. He was one of the founders of the Prince George Minor Basketball Association. He was the driving force behind it and there were other people who shared his vision and they all worked together to make it happen. The association is now almost 50 years old, Bill explained.

“And it’s been run with the same founding principles that were established when it was organized,” Bill said. “Don’t keep score. Stop and explain things. Give quality coaching and let kids develop. That’s huge. We don’t see those basic, fundamental principles come out all the time.”

Tom was one of the key organizers of the PG to Boston Marathon, which not only made a huge impact in the Prince George community but also was the catalyst for Terry Fox and Rick Hansen’s fundraising efforts that captured the hearts of Canadians across the nation.

“Both Terry Fox and Rick Hansen came to run the marathon in 1979 and it left the enduring legacy here but it didn’t stop there," Bill said. "It kept going. Dad used to be a regular, helping out at the Terry Fox Runs and then he slowly started to transition out of that stuff. It’s kind of fitting that myself and my wife and my oldest daughter, my niece and nephew, were doing the Terry Fox Run on Sunday when I got the phone call that Dad had passed. It couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a beautiful September day. You know the day. The sun comes out and burns off the fog and it’s just picture perfect. They are the best days of the year. We were on part of the route where both Terry and Rick had competed in 1979 and my phone rang and I was at peace. It couldn’t have been better. Dad left quietly holding Mom’s hand.”

And that’s pretty perfect, too.

“The Prince George Track & Field family is heartbroken to have lost its founder,” Elena Thomas, president of the Prince George Track & Field Club, said. “But we are so grateful for his energy and commitment to the community and to the club. Without him we wouldn’t have a Prince George Track & Field Club – we just finished our 50th season and he was an integral part of almost every season. I’m very thankful for his leadership and encouraging words. He was always so supportive of everybody. He will be deeply missed."

The Prince George Track & Field Club, in partnership with the Prince George Kodiaks football team, will celebrate the life of one of P.G.'s biggest community contributors, Tom Masich, during a pre-game ceremony Saturday night at 6:30 at Masich Place Stadium.