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A Legacy of Helping Kids Carries on for NHL 9/11 Victim, Ace Bailey
“After Darkness…Light” – this symbolizing phrase of Lower Makefield, Pennsylvania’s Garden of Reflection describes the tragic day’s ongoing inspiration for so many affected family members and friends of 9/11 victims. In many cases, the loss of a loved one that day sparked an ongoing “good” – efforts that memorialize a victim and fulfill the duties he or she stood for – truly initializing a “snowball effect” of beneficence. One of these acts has led severely ill or injured kids and teens to suffer a bit less during their time in-hospital, thanks to those who loved Garnet “Ace” Bailey, taken when his plane struck the World Trade Center’s South Tower.
Ace Bailey was a member of the early 1970’s Boston Bruins’ “Black Aces,” an “energy line” of players that had far less ability than the team’s superstars Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, but embodied the character and grit that any successful hockey team has. Ace and his line were supposed to make things happen, to shift momentum when the game’s direction was unfavorable – a role perfectly suitable of him and his personality. The “unteachable” zest that Ace brought to the ice could not be epitomized better than when he blew past not one, but two Hall of Famers, Brad Park and Ed Giacomin, to score the wining goal in game 1 of the 1972 Finals.
Ace’s ability and drive to “help out” extended off the ice, as he spent incredible amounts of time and energy helping kids and teams, a stand-out trait noted later in his career by the Edmonton Oilers. Ace’s natural ability to relate to teens led the Oilers to select him to mentor, protect a special teen on the team, serving as a line-mate, housemate and road-roommate. That teen was Wayne Gretzky. Bailey provided superior guidance and support to the teen-aged Gretzky, who spent the first year of his legendary career living with Ace and his wife during the season.
In a sad irony, through jokes, pranks, and stories, or just sitting next to Gretzky on flights to reassure him, Ace helped Gretzky battle through his life-long fear of flying.
Ace’s work with Gretzky was only one of many cases of his pure benevolence, as he was frequently found spending time with terminally ill or emergency-stricken children and teens in hospitals, by cheering them up to help them forget their pain and predicament for a bit. But when Ace died on 9/11, flying in his duties as the Los Angeles Kings’ Director of Scouting, his wife Katherine and young son Todd knew the path to perpetuate Ace’s kindhearted spirit. After Darkness…Light.
Ace’s family created The Ace Bailey Children’s Foundation to honor his memory and keep the spirit of deep caring for the happiness of children alive through its work. Over the past ten years, the Foundation has raised more than $2 million. In the past, Burlington and Bucks County and Philadelphia-area youth players have been involved in the Foundation via the Ed Snider Foundation’s support of the NHL’s “Ace Bailey Foundation ‘Got Skills’ Competition,” a national event akin to the NHL All-Star Game Skills Competition.
While “Got Skills” tied Ace’s love of hockey and kids’ smiles, the Foundation’s Executive Direcor Barbara Pothier (Ace’s sister-in-law) noted, via on-line interview, that their first major objective was the creation of a number of “Ace’s Places” – play-centers designed to help reduce the stress and despair of hospitalization for children from toddlers to teens. Each Place offers a comforting and welcoming environment in which to play, make friends, or visit with family members outside of the clinical environment. Ace’s Places are also designed to help kids while they are undergoing arduous procedures like transfusions. To-date, the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston is the recipient of its funding.
Pothier shared that Ace’s Places are crafted especially for the children they serve. “When we visit Ace’s Place and see kids playing there, we know that it would put a smile on Ace’s face—and that can’t help but make us happy.” She added, “After building Ace’s Place, we went on to renovate the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, making it much warmer, more comfortable and welcoming for families. Currently, we are raising money to build a new front end to the pediatric Emergency Department that will include a smaller Ace’s Place and parent waiting and consultation rooms.”
The Foundation raises funds through events like this September 13th’s Memorial Dinner, held in Boston, in cooperation with the Canadian Consulate, via the Tenth Anniversary “Face Off for Ace” Dinner on February 29, 2012 in Boston, and the Annual Ace Bailey Golf Classic each spring, all of which are gatherings of hockey’s top present and past celebrity elite.
Pothier points out, “Ace made so many friends and spread such an enormous amount of goodwill in his lifetime, he made it easier for us to keep donors and all the hockey community interested in continuing his legacy of making kids happy. Nevertheless, with the economy being so difficult these days we have to work doubly hard to raise funds. But with Ace's smile beaming out from his photograph on my desk, I am inspired every day to keep working hard.” Though she urges Philadelphians to give to local 9/11 children’s charities, donations can be made by visiting www.acebailey.org.
After Darkness…Light. In the case of Ace Bailey and his work on behalf of young children and teens, as well as his beaming outlook on life, perhaps “Bright Light, and After Darkness…Light” would best capture the life, passing and living spirit of this hero taken from us on 9/11.