WINNIPEG - Richard Harris has been described as a father figure and big teddy bear who was friendly to everyone, a loving caring coach, and a man with tremendous warmth.
To four-year-old Finlay Conway, a Neuroblastoma cancer patient who has been in and out of treatment for the past several months, he was just his friend Richard.
Away from football, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive line and assistant head coach was a person who gave his time to others without any fanfare. In fact, Finlay’s mother, Karly, said Harris was going to call Finlay on Tuesday, the day he suffered a fatal heart attack.
“He wanted to tell Finlay why they (Bombers) thought he was a hero,” said Conway.
“(Finlay) handled it well when he was told about Harris’s death. He asked questions like ‘Why did he have a heart attack?’ We explained it and told him coach Harris was now an angel looking out for you and cheering you on up there instead of looking out for you down here.’”
Beginning in May and over the course of the 2011 season, Harris had visited Finlay three times at Children’s Hospital, and kept in contact with his parents by phone and e-mail a few times.
“We e-mailed him and thanked him for making a difference and he replied Finlay was the one who makes the difference,” Conway said. “Just the few times talking with him and meeting him and being in touch with him made a big impact.”
Harris was part of the birthday party the Bombers held for Finlay at Canad Inns stadium on June 18, which included breaking the huddle on the field, a giant Bomber birthday cake, autographed footballs, hats, banners, and T-shirts for Finlay and his invited guests.
“He always took time for Finlay and others,” Conway said. “That’s the biggest thing. What everybody is saying about him is true. He took the time to give us hugs and well wishes. He was just a good man.”
Last week, Harris sent Finlay a cookie bouquet at the Children’s Hospital just to let him know he was thinking of him and to cheer him up.
“The cookie was from coach Richard and the Bombers saying they were cheering him on,” said Conway. “He was such a giving man. Finlay thinks he is a hero now because Richard and the team made him feel that way.
“How does that not make a difference? Every time they’re around he feels like he’s the special person, not the Bombers.”
A short while back Harris came up to visit Finlay because he was having a bad day and he thought Finlay could cheer him up.
“He was actually the one who was honoured to come up there,” said Conway. “It was heart-warming.”
According to Finlay’s mom, it is hard to find the words to explain how Harris affected the Conway family.
“He was just so giving. Basically he made us part of his family. He accepted us, hugged us, and told us he loved us too. I don’t know — there’s really no way to describe what he did for us. We loved him in the short time he became part of our family. We can’t believe we’re not going to talk to him again.”