With a huge smile and booming laugh, this image of Eric was used for the funeral program. In grief and fondness, Eric will be missed.

In Praise of Sports: My Speech for Rick’s Funeral

In Uncategorized by Nathan To1 Comment

Image of my friend, Rick (pseudonym for privacy) that I used on the funeral program.

Just outside of White spot at Oakridge mall, I checked my watch. Rick texted me to say he was running a bit late for lunch. But that was okay. I didn’t mind.

Not more than 5 minutes later, behind me, perhaps wearing his Raptors jersey, Leafs cap, or Canucks T-shirt–I can’t quite remember which–I heard a “Heeeey mannnnn! How about those Canucks?”, with his huge smile, roaring voice, and unforgettably welcoming presence. Obviously, I just offered a poor imitation–I can never exhilarate and energize the room like Rick could.

Later, as we often did together, we talked about those Canucks, Leafs, and other NHL teams. And while chowing down on our Monty Mushroom burgers, dipping our yam fries into some Triple O sauce, or simply ordering some more water, I suddenly asked Rick a question I should have asked him back in high school together as teenagers. But for whatever strange, silly reason, or absent-minded personality quirk on my part, I only decided to ask him like 20 years later. So I asked, “Hey man, I’ve known you forever, but for some bizarre reason, I never asked why you love sports soooooo much? Like you’re more hardcore than hardcore. I mean that’s awesome, and I love you for that. But I’m just curious”.

Rick’s response surprised me.

Rick went on to describe how sports was a crucial part of his “identity”, of “who he is”. While I’ve had many deep heart-to-heart conversations with Rick about other things, I never fully realized just how sports was, in-fact, deeply ingrained in his soul…in the absolute best way possible. Sports was, in fact, as you heard in my reading of his Life Tribute earlier, on behalf of the family, a core part of his wonderful life story.

Over the years, and not just me, many of us, his close friends began understanding more and more just how important sports has been to Rick beyond being a hobby and beyond being a regular fan. Some of Rick’s other good friends, who offer their regrets for being unable to be here today, shared this understanding. Chris says: “Rick really took the time to enjoy sports and see the human side of people through it…Rick also saw that the athletes each had their own stories and struggles on how they got to the point of being in the top leagues around the world…Sports is an escape for some, but for Rick, it was an important part of being able to socialize with friends”. Randy echoes Chris and adds, “Rick loved talking about sports, but sports was just a stepping stone to talking about other things. Rick exemplified how sports can unite rather than divide. Rick exemplified living a life of brotherly love to the max”.

For the days and years that followed that particular day at White Spot, that insight where I learned about the deep meaning of sports for Rick–much later echoed by what our friends shared about him too–changed how I saw Rick. Now, everytime Rick’s smile and huge laughter greeted me, I saw a bright face infused and intertwined with what the spirit of sports really meant to Rick, who he is and for all the whose lives he has so positively touched.

When asking more friends of ours who knew Rick, like Rayner or Dani, about their impressions of his friendship, I loved how both of them echoed each other from opposite sides of the country, with words and phrases like “huge smile, hearty laughter, and personality”. Rayner adds by describing Rick with heartfelt phrases like “positive attitude, his gift of speech, hospitable, a loyal friend”.

The fact that such phrases, images and memories of Rayner warmly stay in the memory of his friends and acquaintances is precisely because of the feeling, values, and profound meaning is intertwined in Rick’s very character and personality–in how his heart captured his own profound understanding of the true spirit of sports.

So a huge smile from Rick carries his sense of loyalty through how deeply he values his genuine connections with his friends and family. Rick’s hearty laughter carries his gift of hospitality, of what Randy describes as “Rick’s open heart and his open spirit to others. Where everyone was a friend or potential friend to him”. And where Eric’s personally and character, and gift of openness to others meant a lot, for example, to our friend Andy who is here today. Where, for Andy, how having just joined a new elementary school some 30+ years ago as kids, Rick was the very first person to welcome Andy. Because of Rick’s welcoming heart and what Andrew describes as Rick’s “kind nature that he carried with him all his life”, Rick became, technically, Andy’s very first friend at Royal Elementary.

Honour, integrity, loyalty, open heart and open spirit, a welcoming nature–these are just some of the words that Rick has carried through that huge smile, the booming laugh and positive personality. These are just some of the many words that we remember of Rick, words that again carry the very spirit of athletes and sports that Rick has so admired and loved–those very individuals who aspire to be the best possible person they could be for themselves, their teammates and friends and for others. And, today, in our celebration of Rick’s life I believe that we can continue to carry some of these words describing Eric in our own memories and stories of him. What is your word?

…At this time, I invite all of us to share a moment of silence, and to think of your own word that captures your own memory of Rick in this moment. If that’s hard to do, perhaps you have a “word” like I did, a word like “honourable” or a phrase like “big Hearty laugh”, or “Welcoming and hospitable”, or ‘first friend’. Whatever your word or phrase is, I invite you now to pause in a moment of silence as you fondly remember Rick and your description of him in your heart and memory.

(Moment of Silence & Reflection)

*As of July 20, 2022, the speech printed above is the mostly unedited version of it, just as I spoke it on the day of Rick’s funeral. I’ve changed everyone’s names here for reasons of privacy from random internet gremlins. There’s still something I wish to add, or say differently, that someday, I may want to revise and improve. For example, I didn’t actually think of a title until this blog post, so I might still change it, or perhaps weave in the title (or change the title again lol)a bit more for cohesiveness in the future. I also may want to just clean up the structure, grammar and presentation a bit more too later on. I haven’t quite thought whether that’s sooner or later, but I’ll see how it goes.

Lastly, if you wish, I also posted a “behind the scenes” reflection about my inner process of preparing this sharing or speech for Rick. If you have time to burn, you’re very welcome to read or listen to it here.


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