Time passes so quickly and I find that my recollection of scores and statistics from all my years covering the Edmonton Oilers and the NHL beat fade. I need to look them up. Not so my memories of the people – whether I knew them well or just in passing — who I met along the way. For me, they remain vivid.
So it is today with Garnet Ace Bailey. It’s been 19 years since he and everybody aboard United Flight 175 perished when it slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. It’s a day that is forever etched in the minds of everybody who witnessed it as part of a terrorist attack on the U.S.
I remember how the day unfolded from the moment American Airlines Flight 11 hit the WTC while I was at home getting ready to go Millennium Place in Sherwood Park to watch the Oilers skate. Then, when the flight carrying Bailey and Mark Bavis, both members of the L.A. Kings scouting staff at the time, hit the south tower. The realization this was no accident. The horrific sight of people jumping from the towers before both eventually collapsed. First responders rushing to the plaza. The sirens. The terror.
More than all that, though, I remember Bailey. I met Ace in 1989 when he was scouting for the Oilers. Later, he became a friendly face I saw around NHL rinks for years after he left in 1994 with five Stanley Cups to join the Kings’ scouting staff. Bailey had a big smile and a bigger personality. You can see both in photos of him hoisting the Cup. That smile lit up the room – something I noticed the moment we were introduced. When he shook your hand, it stayed shook.
While I didn’t know Bailey well, he left an indelible impression each and every time we crossed paths. “See you down the road,” we’d say after a chat. I can’t comprehend the pain and loss his family, friends, former teammates and colleagues feel today, but when I think of the events of 19 years ago, when so many people lost loved ones, I think of him. I remember him.
All these years later, Bailey’s legacy isn’t limited to entries in the record books as a player, coach and scout, the memories his friends, family and teammates keep or a name on a plaque at the south pool of the September 11 Memorial in New York – a plaque former teammate Craig Simpson visits whenever he’s in the Big Apple. There’s the Ace Bailey Children’s Foundation in Boston, started by his wife Kathy, son Todd and other family members.
Eight years ago, I wrote: “Bless you, Ace. I miss that big toothy grin of yours. So many people do. Bless you, Mark. Bless everyone who didn’t make it home that day. Bless the mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters whose lives forever changed on September 11, 2001.”
Here and now, as then, I feel blessed to have known you. See you down the road.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- At Random: O Canada
- This, That and the Other Thing
- Off the Top of my Head
- They Didn’t Bring It