“This can’t be the same guy.”
It’s Vancouver in the 70’s and the city’s sports stars were in attendance at a charity event. Bob Lenarduzzi of the Whitecaps, Jack McIlhargey and Harold Snepsts of the Canucks, and Al Wilson of the Lions were representing their clubs, and Lenarduzzi meets McIlhargey for the first time after having only watched the bruiser defenceman on TV.
“He was a fighter on the ice, I had only known him from watching him play. When I first met him, I thought, this is a totally different guy! He seemed the farthest thing from his on-ice persona,” remembers Lenarduzzi fondly. “He was so soft-spoken and so nice to people.”
McIlhargey, a respected and beloved member of the Canucks organization and the Vancouver community, passed away on July 19 after losing his battle with cancer at age 68.
“When he was at an appearance, it wasn’t a chore for him,” recalls Lenarduzzi. “This one appearance, we were on a boat and we ended up doing a skit. All the players were involved and the kids were watching. All I remember was Jack because on the one end, you picture what he does on the ice, and then you see him doing anything to get a laugh or a reaction from the kids who were watching. He was sincere, genuine, and was so refreshing.”
Lenarduzzi also remembers the last time the two saw each other at a Special Olympics fundraiser where McIlhargey won the door prize – a trip to Hawaii.
“He was going up to get it and there was a conversation between him and Brian Burke,” tells Lenarduzzi. “The next thing you know, Brian Burke is saying Jack is not comfortable taking the trip and wants to put it back in so someone from the public can receive this.”
Following his 10-year playing career, McIlhargey served as coach and scout for 20 years with the Canucks organization. Since 2013, he was a member of the Canucks Alumni Board of Directors.
“When he was on the Canucks staff, he was the biggest proponent for their alumni,” says Lenarduzzi. “He did his part to connect the club itself to their alumni and that’s something we’re trying to do now at the Whitecaps. He’s largely responsible and took the initiative to make the connection.”
Lenarduzzi remembers McIlhargey as someone other professional athletes can look to as an example for one who really understood his role with his team and the city.
“He was connected to the community and he was a role model in that regard. When you play for a team and a city, your obligations don’t just stop on the field or on the ice. You’re responsible for giving back to that community and he was a fantastic example for that.”
Jack McIlhargey is survived by his wife Karyne, and his daughters Erin, Georgia, and Anna.
Whitecaps FC offer our sincerest condolences to McIlhargey’s friends and family at this time. He will be missed, especially by the countless lives he touched by his work in the community.