The power sports has in society is reflected in the power sports had in the life of Gary Samis. It was more than athletics, more than competition, in fact those were almost side-effects in his mind. To him, sports was about how community came together in a shared experience. Now, the Prince George community is coming together to mourn the passing of a popular figure who stood at that intersection.
Gary Samis has always been a fan of sports. He watched them all. He organized pools for some of them. He cheered on his kids and grandkids as they played. He was one of the stalwart volunteers for the 2015 Canada Winter Games, and won a Legacy Sport Difference Maker Award for those efforts. He was affectionately known as "The Commish" for his total fandom.
And after his retirement, he got himself his dream job with the Prince George Cougars as corporate sales manager. He fatally suffered a massive heart attack on May 13.
"I got lucky, that I had a dad like him," said his son Ryan, on behalf of Samis's wife of 44 years, Theresa, daughter Allison, six grandchildren, plus many other relatives and loved ones.
"He was such a nice individual. People obviously give their condolences, but what I've noticed is that people are genuinely upset, there are tears, big hugs, and I have experienced death before so I know a little about how people are in those moments, but this is crazy - the amount of people who knew him and felt affected. I can't go anywhere without being met by that, and that's awesome, he would be proud of that. That right there is an accomplishment in his eyes, just to be remembered as a good person. That's why we're here. That's what he was good at - so many people loved him."
After he retired from his 32-year career with PetroCanada-Suncor, he was getting antsy to do something productive, said Ryan, so he and his friend Ken Goss turned the annual Prince George Cougars golf tournament into a fundraiser event for the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation.
"He was one of the most unusual people - in a very positive sense of the word - that I've ever worked with. He was so unique. My first thought when he passed away was feeling an immense hole, both personally and knowing what he meant within the whole community. That thought has changed now into a new feeling, and this is part of his essence, and it is feeling the weight of a mountain. He left a mountain as a legacy. He affected so much and so many, and he left us a way forward. We can keep building on that."
Samis was so impressive to Beesley that in 2016 he offered the golf tournament organizer a job with the team. He said he hired Samis on a basis never seen before, that being Samis could fairly name his own wage and his own hours, and that would be ok with the team.
Beesley may have felt he was obtaining a major asset in the negotiations, landing a whopper free agent, but Ryan said the feeling was just as ebullient at the other end.
"I remember he was so excited about getting that job, because it was a dream, he always wanted to be part of a hockey team at that level, and he loved it every day," Ryan said. "It had all these synergies, the tournament and the work with the Cougars, and it was pretty cool that he was able to put that icing on the cake, it was a huge part of his life, and a great way to end it."
The end of Samis's legacy is nowhere in sight. The dollars that he helped raise and the relationships he helped forge will bind this community for untold amounts of time in incalculable ways.
The community can formally say goodbye at Samis's celebration of life service this week. Samis was an active parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish, serving on both the parish and finance councils. A prayer vigil will be held at Immaculate Conception today at 7 p.m.
The funeral will take place at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Friday at 10 a.m. Burial and reception to follow.
The family would like to extend a thank you "to the excellent care and dedication of the staff at the University Hospital of Northern BC and St. Paul's, allowing family to properly say goodbye." In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests donations to the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation.
That was seven years ago. The lives and trajectories of families and communities have been forever changed as a result of the effective work Samis poured into that task.
"It is one of the biggest charity golf tournaments in our city's history," said Andy Beesley, vice-president of business for the Prince George Cougars Hockey Club. "It has tallied north of half a million dollars, unbelievably successful, and even though there is much that Gary could crow about, he never once took centre stage over any of it. He preferred to create, to motivate, to build, to manage, but not bask in any of it."
Beesley said his pleasant, affable attitude was no front, no affectation. He spent inordinate amounts of time with Samis and found the decency to be to the man's core.
"The day-to-day way he approached people, acted as a role model, mentored, advised, helped - all these words that pile up like grains of sand into this mountain," said Beesley.