All about the safety

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

Tom Pashby went from a humble ophthalmologist to become the best friend the world's athletes ever had -- even though many don't realize it and others sometimes resented his intrusion into their macho world.

Dr. Pashby, who changed the face of hockey, and in the process kept thousands of players from having theirs rearranged, died at his Leaside home this week at the grand age of 90.

Pashby didn't invent the hockey helmet but because of him they are now as much a part of the game as skates and sticks. The Pashby Sports Safety Fund sponsors research into catastrophic sports injuries and has raised more than $600,000.

"I was in his kitchen about a month ago telling him, 'You've got to have another dinner for your fund because it's your legacy,' " long-time pal and owner of the Intercounty baseball Maple Leafs, Jack Dominico, said yesterday. "He was always scared he wouldn't sell any tickets but the darn place was overflowing all the time. It was a testimony to this guy."

Pashby was a passionate advocate of the face shield in minor hockey and always believed if NHL players used them, eye injuries, such as that of former Maple Leaf Bryan Berard, could be prevented. "I think it will come, much like the (mandatory) wearing of helmets," Pashby said recently. "Some players think full protection would make them appear to be chicken. But it's like fighting. If you put that to a secret ballot, they would vote it out."

Pashby was the protagonist behind saving hundreds of injuries yearly to kids with the Stop Hitting From Behind program. "(Dr. Pashby) is one of the great physicians of our time ... almost singlehandedly responsible for the use of helmets and faceshields in hockey," Dr. Michael Clarfield, the Maple Leafs' former team doctor noted when Pashby was named to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

Pashby will publicly be remembered for his innovations in preventative medicine.

"(But) he wasn't like other doctors, you know, reserved. He was always an up guy, always laughing, always upbeat. He loved baseball and lived for hockey and he always had a few good stories to tell," Dominico said.

He was portrayed as the fun police by some within the hockey establishment, yet Dominico says there was nobody who could enjoy himself better than Dr. Pashby.

"He'd been sick for some time but the Doc never believed in feeling sorry for yourself," Dominico said. "The man had dignity right until he died. I mean, he was having a cigar about a week ago and a drink. He was sitting in his chair ... he was listening to Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey. This guy was amazing; one of the finest people I've ever met."

Pashby's crusade to protect hockey players grew out of a desire familiar to almost any parent; to protect his own children. In 1959, in a house league game, his son Bill hit his bare head on the ice and was rushed to hospital. "I remember carrying the puck out at my own end at the Leaside Arena and waking up later in an ambulance. I was a 14-year-old concussion victim," Bill once said in a Sun article. "The neurosurgeon told my father:'You are stupid to let your boys play hockey without helmets.' So my father ... obtained from Scandinavia, some of the first hockey helmets ever used in Canada."

And, so began a 46-year crusade that alternately irritated and educated sports administrators and management.

In 1965, the Canadian Hockey Association legislated helmets be worn in minor hockey. In 1969, he established the Canadian Standards Association to assess and certify sports equipment. At his urging, the CAHA made helmets mandatory for all amateurs in 1976. Three years later the NHL legislated that all in-coming players had to wear them.

Traditionalists could accuse him of sissifying the sport but, when the doc pulled out his stats, nobody could argue the virtues of his advice.

Before facemasks were mandatory, in 1974, there were 43 players blinded in Canada. Five years later not a single player wearing a CSA-approved, full-face protector, lost his sight.

"He was really taken aback (in March) when we had a breakfast for him," Dominico said, "and Dick Duff, (Frank) Mahovlich, (Frank) Selke and all these grand names came. It was just friends.

"We all used to walk around the hotel, we called it 'going around the horn.' So, this day, there were all these famous guys just going for a sentimental walk."

The butchers' kid had gone from watching hockey heroes on a flickering TV screen to walking in their world.

"Injury prevention was my passion," Pashby said in a recent interview, "and you have to have a passion in your life, otherwise it would be a dull life."


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