Mourning the loss of a sports great

It is with a heavy heart that I sit down to write this column.
Upon returning from Toronto late last Tuesday, I learned of the passing of Lloyd Lindberg—better known to most simply as “Gus.”
To say the news was shocking would be an understatement.
I had seen Gus just a week-and-a-half earlier, and he seemed in good health and great spirits. We were at the Ice for Kids Arena to watch the Muskie boys’ hockey team compete in a weekend exhibition tournament and Gus was eager to hear my thoughts on the boys’ chances for the upcoming season.
I, meanwhile, was curious to know how he thought this team looked compared to those of years past.
Our hockey chat quickly evolved into a discussion about the Calgary Flames.
Gus had had the opportunity to attend a couple of NHL games while out west visiting family earlier in the month. He beamed as he spoke of visiting his son’s family and the time they’d spent together during his trip.
As the intermission wound down, we made plans to go for lunch upon my return from Toronto for knee surgery. He wished me the best of luck, shook my hand, confirmed the lunch date for the fifth time, and then sped off to his next conversation.
I returned to the press box with a smile on my face—the same smile I always had after speaking with Gus. Little did I know that that conversation would be our last.
For whatever reason, that particular exchange played over again in my mind as I walked up to Knox United Church last Wednesday for Gus’ funeral service. And once again, the familiar smile crept across my face despite the sadness I was feeling inside.
I smiled again minutes later as I entered the church to find a huge number of district residents had come out to pay their respects.
The room was packed and they quickly ran out of seating in the chapel, so church staff set up chairs in the lobby. When they ran out of chairs there, people stood.
I couldn’t help but think that Gus would have loved to see so many of his friends all gathered in one spot.
On a personal level, I was struck by the wide cross-section of people who had turned out to say good-bye.
I knew Gus as a fastball umpire and there certainly were a number of players, both past and present, in attendance. However, what I was less familiar with were Gus’ years of work in municipal politics.
He was involved in almost every aspect of this community and as such, there were town councillors, representatives of the OPP, members of the media, and other prominent citizens of the district on hand.
As the service began, everyone listened intently as those closest to Gus shared their fondest memories. As I stood in the back of the lobby, I couldn’t help but remember some of my favourite recollections of the man.
Gus was one of the first people I met upon arriving in Fort Frances six months ago. I was sitting in the bleachers at VanJura covering a fastball league game—which Gus was umping—when a lovely dog wandered up to me and said hello.
The friendly pet was Abby, Gus’ best friend and faithful companion.
Gus must have seen me scratching Abby’s ears because he came right over and introduced himself between innings. We spoke for a few minutes during which time I learned Gus had been umpiring for 37 years and that he was retiring following the season.
I told him I’d like to do a story concerning his retirement, and we made plans to go for lunch and discuss his career.
I’m not sure who interviewed who during our lunch later that month. For every question I asked, Gus asked two about who I was and what my background was.
We spent an hour-and-a-half chatting back and forth and as we wrapped it up, I felt like I’d made a friend more than I’d conducted an interview.
As we strolled to our cars, Gus told me a secret—strictly off the record. He said he hoped one day that people would think enough of his contribution to the Rainy River District Fastball League that they’d induct him into their Hall of Fame.
About a month later, to no one’s surprise but Gus’, the RRDFL did just that. I covered the event and did my best to appear the unbiased reporter—all the while cheering on the inside.
Gus’ acceptance speech stuck with me, not for the exact words spoken, but for the emotion behind it and the way it was received by the crowd.
I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room when Gus was forced to pause several times to compose himself as he spoke—he was simply overwhelmed by the honour—and I know none of the other inductees got a bigger cheer at the end of their speech.
After the fastball season, I bumped into Gus a few times around town. We’d always stop and chat for a few minutes about sports. I was looking forward to seeing him more regularly this winter at Muskie hockey games as I knew Gus had a season pass.
I didn’t know Gus a very long time, but he definitely had an impact on me. I’ll miss hearing his stories, talking sports, and going for lunch together. Based on what I heard at the funeral service last week, I’m certainly not the only one feeling this way.
It is with this thought in mind that I’d like to add my voice to former Times’ sports reporter Al Beeber’s in calling for a baseball diamond or hockey rink to be re-named in Gus’ honour.
I can think of no better way to pay tribute to a man who contributed so much our community on so many levels.
acruickshank@fortfrances.com

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