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Gregory's wife pillar of strength at husband's funeral

Longtime partner of hockey executive greeted by hundreds at Mass in Toronto

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

TORONTO -- There is a fortitude evident in a professional hockey wife, the woman who marries a game as much as a husband. Since the loss on Wednesday of her husband, Jim, Rosalie Gregory has been a pillar of strength when she has had every reason not to be.

Men who earn their living in hockey as players, managers or coaches will tell you how it is that their partner is the one truly responsible for the family -- its chauffeur, tutor, social convener and sometimes its disciplinarian, the one who runs the kids to sports and after-school activities, to the doctor and dentist, while he pursues his career, often a long way from home. Almost inevitably, these women are rock solid in times of terrible grief, as Rosalie Gregory has been the past four days. As Andra Kelly and Nancy Bower and Elise Beliveau, among so many more, have been before her with the deaths of their legendary husbands: Red Kelly, Johnny Bower and Jean Beliveau.

 

[RELATED: Gregory remembered as 'incredible human being' at funeral]

 

A steady, cold drizzle fell outside Blessed Trinity Church on Saturday afternoon when hundreds arrived for the funeral of Jim Gregory. At 2:13 p.m., on the arm of her son, David, Rosalie entered the church behind the coffin of her late husband, walking slowly to her pew. Precisely 60 minutes later -- a regulation hockey game, to the minute -- mother and son left the same way, a large family behind them. Looking at the coffin, whispering the hymn "How Great Thou Art," Rosalie stepped into an afternoon when clouds had become pierced with a few rays of sunshine.

"One thing for sure: my father was a smart man," David Gregory said in his eulogy. "He married my mother, Rosalie. He convinced a beautiful young lady with movie-star looks to stay with him for 60 years. A woman who is so loving and compassionate with anyone she meets and anyone she touches. A woman with the wisdom and grace and strength to stand behind him and guide him through a beautiful career as well as a beautiful life."

Video: Dave Stubbs pays tribute to Jim Gregory

Many of hockey's most influential men were in attendance, as were many alumni of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team for which Gregory served as general manager from 1969-79. On one side of the church sat Maple Leafs icons Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald; between them was Al MacNeil, a 1950s roommate of Gregory at Toronto's St. Michael's College who went on to coach the Montreal Canadiens to the 1971 Stanley Cup championship.

Nearby was Brendan Shanahan, president of the Maple Leafs; maybe a half-dozen rows behind him sat Frank and Marie Mahovlich. Among others, Dave Keon, Ron Ellis, Mike Palmateer and Tie Domi had come from far and near to pay their respects.

Pastor Edward Murphy told the congregation that Gregory "is still alive, only his address has changed." And then he came down from the altar to have a short face-to-face talk with Rosalie.

"Don't worry," he told her, "your husband is safe at home."

Old friends would exchange greetings and phone numbers on the church steps following the service. Keon and Shanahan, the executive who in 2016 mended a long-broken bridge between the player and his team, had a friendly chat.

"We're not playing as well as we can …" Shanahan told Keon of the current Maple Leafs, the start of a conversation that took the two into the parking lot.

Rosalie soon would be greeting scores at a reception. For nearly three hours on Friday afternoon at Holy Cross Catholic Funeral Home, and two more hours that evening, dear friends, casual acquaintances and total strangers had come to her side to shake her hand, give her a hug and offer their sympathies. More than once, she was the one offering the support when a visitor was overwhelmed by emotion.

If Rosalie took a deep breath on Friday, she would have inhaled the perfume of a thousand or more flowers that surrounded her, glorious floral arrangements with cards bearing many words, or the one behind her that read simply "Bobby Orr." In the receiving line, Rosalie shook her head at the flowers and at the queue that stretched out the door and through the funeral home, saying she was amazed by how many had come to pay their respects. And she happily mentioned that "Jim would probably have been embarrassed by all the attention."

On Saturday, Rosalie Gregory was once more a strong, professional hockey wife, the unwavering woman she has been for 60 years at her husband's side. She will be so again on Monday, when a funeral Mass precedes his interment.

As calm returns, Rosalie will begin to process how her life changed forever this past week. She will mourn, yes, but she will also be buoyed by the overwhelming love that she and her children and grandchildren have been shown. She will sense the embrace that they have felt, as she will be warmed by the memories of six decades with Jim Gregory and the game that in many ways defined their lives as a couple and a family.

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