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Flames alumni pay tribute to longtime friend and equipment manager, Bobby Stewart, who passed away at the age of 69

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Lurking underneath that unassuming, content-in-the-shadows persona lay a dry, understated, yet rapier-sharp wit.

"I was just taking my dog for a walk and thinking about Bobby," former Flames equipment manager Gus Thorsen is reminiscing the morning after news of Bobby Stewart's passing. "If you didn't know Bobby, he'd be so quiet you'd never realize how quick and clever he actually was.

"Years ago, I remember Al MacInnis signing a big deal. At the time, a huge deal. I think for $475,000 a year - that's the number that sticks in my head - and somebody asked Bobby what he thought about it.

"And Bobby says: 'I think it's great. Between the two of us we now make darn near half-a-million dollars.'



"Picked his spots but when he had something to say, it was always witty and insightful and wonderful. His laugh was almost liquid … just going and going and going.

"It was always the same but somehow always different.

"And it was always genuine.

"To think he's gone … it's just hard to believe."

For 19 years, Bobby Stewart tended to the equipment of, and a myriad of small details relating to, the Flames.

Their readiness. Their comfort. Their well-being.

One of those unsung, jack-of-all-trades stalwarts who works tirelessly behind the scenes to facilitate and optimize on-ice performance.

Tuesday, Bobby Stewart left us too early, while at home in Orlando, Fla., aged 69.



"These days, NHL teams have an an entourage of people helping out," reminds tough guy Tim Hunter. "Back then, there was Bobby and Norm Mackie when I was at first camp, in Atlanta, then Bobby and Bearcat - and sometimes AlCat (Bearcat's son) - when the team moved to Calgary. And that was it.

"Cliff (Fletcher) would always say on opening day of every training camp how much respect he hoped we had for the trainers and equipment staff.

"You look at Bobby, the amount of work he did and just shake your head. You'd ask him for something and if you said 'please' and 'thank you,' you'd get whatever you needed and then some, for sure."

How good was Bobby Stewart at his job? In 2014, he was recognized by the the Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers and Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society.

"Just an amazing, valuable human being," is how Theoren Fleury describes Stewart. "People like Bobby are truly the unsung heroes of hockey. They don't sleep. They're on call 24/7. They're organized. When you walk into the room before the game everything's clean, pristine.

"And it's all him.

"Obviously those guys - and Bobby was definitely one of them - make your experience as an NHL hockey player pretty easy. A career equipment guy who hated the limelight.

"Just showed up, did his job and did it very well."


In their time together here, back from the start of it all, Bobby and the Bearcat, Stewart and trainer Jim Murray, became the longest-running double-bill act down at the Saddledome:

The under-the-radar, behind-the-scenes footsoldier who'd re-located north out of the ashes of the Atlanta franchise (and would return to Georgia when the Thrashers joined the NHL in 1999) and the moustachioed, bald-pated, roller-skating, larger-than-life, self-proclaimed lil' potlicker from Okotoks.

"They were quite the duo," agrees left winger Colin Patterson, "Bearcat was the character. The energetic one. The face of it.

"Bobby, always smiling, just stayed in the background for the most part. And was just one of the best humans you'd find."

The two of them - Murray and Stewart - spent more time in each other's company than with their wives, Shirley and Sherri, over the winter months.

"Just a wonderful guy," says the Bearcat. "And so witty. So damned funny. He had one-liners that'd literally put you on the floor.

"Bobby started with the junior Canadiens and when Cliff Fletcher went to Atlanta, he took Bobby - just a kid then - with him. Then, of course, they both came to Calgary.

"Time, hours, they didn't mean anything to Bobby. Once the job was done, only then would he go about his own business. Which is why Cliff loved him. Which is why everyone loved him."

Thorsen, working then in hockey equipment repair, first met Stewart back in the '80s.

"Nowadays, everything is replaced. In those days, everything was fixed. And we helped with the fixing for the Flames. With Bobby it was all about team and getting it done. He was … selfless. That's probably the one word I'd use to describe him - selfless.

"It was all about getting the team ready to go; taking care of everybody under his watch."



If James Brown is the self-proclaimed Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Bobby, Bearcat and their ilk were, and are, the Hardest Working Men in the Hockey Business.

"People have no idea how tough that is, being a trainer or an equipment guy," marvels Lanny McDonald. "First ones to the rink. Last ones to leave - if they ever leave.

"When you fly back to town, they're the ones going heading back to the rink to unpack all the gear to get it all set up for the next day.

"It's a thankless job because it never ends.

"To do it you really have to love the game, love the guys and be proud to be a part of it.

"Bobby loved it all.

"Never complained.

"To know as a player you're being looked after that way by someone that dedicated is … unbelievable."



Dedication. Sacrifice. Loyalty. An innate ability to get along with virtually everyone.

Characteristics we all wish we had, he did, in spades.

And underpinning it all, that wry sense of humour everyone who knew him speaks so fondly of.

"One time," laughs Hunter, "during a practice they were bugging Kent (Nilsson) because a Brinks guy was walking through the stands from the top concourse holding two big bags of money - for whatever reason.

"We're sitting on the bench and someone chirps: 'Hey, Kent's paycheque's just been delivered!' Then somebody else says: 'I cash my cheques at TD.' Someone else: 'I cash my cheques at Bank of Montreal'.

"Then from the back, you hear Bobby's voice: 'Yeah, well, I cash my cheques at 7-11.'

"Of course, we're just killing ourselves laughing."

Over the years, through the ins and outs, wins and losses, highs and lows of 3,122 NHL games, regular- and post-season, Bobby Stewart left his mark.

"Just a selfless guy. A tireless worker. A Whatever-You-Need-I'm-Your-Man type of guy. Dedicated to doing whatever it took to get the job done," Tim Hunter says in apt summation.

"Just one of those completely professional, totally unassuming great people.

"There aren't enough like Bobby."

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