TORONTO -- It's a rare special moment to hear a eulogy at a funeral greeted with applause.
On Saturday, Jim Gregory's was.
"And rightly so," New York Rangers president John Davidson said. "Because Jim was a special special man."
On a gloomy damp fall day, hundreds of mourners congregated at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in the north end of Toronto to underscore Davidson's point by paying their respects and saying their goodbyes to the long-time hockey executive.
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Gregory, who died Wednesday at age 83, was the general manager of Toronto Maple Leafs for 10 seasons from 1969-79 before working for the NHL for the next four decades. His positions included NHL senior vice president, hockey operations and supervision; and director of NHL Central Scouting. He also served as chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee.
The number of lives he touched was reflected by the who's who of the hockey world who put their own lives on hold in order to attend.
The NHL was represented by the likes of Commissioner Gary Bettman, executive vice president Colin Campbell and vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy, among others. NHL general managers on hand included David Poile (Nashville Predators), Lou Lamoriello (New York Islanders), Steve Yzerman (Detroit Red Wings), Ken Holland (Edmonton Oilers) and Jarmo Kekalainen (Columbus Blue Jackets). Maple Leaf Sport & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum, president Brendan Shanahan and assistant general manager Brandon Pridham represented the Maple Leafs while vice president of hockey operations John Sedgwick did the same on behalf of the rival Montreal Canadiens.
The cast of former players on hand was led by Hall of Famers Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, Darryl Sitter and Lanny McDonald. Former Maple Leafs Tie Domi, Mike Palmateer and Nick Kypreos braved the damp elements outside to pay their respects. Glenn Healy, the president of the NHL Alumni association, and Hall of Fame referee Bill McCreary were there too.
It was an impressive turnout for an impressive man, a point consistently emphasized in the speech delivered by David Gregory, Jim's son.
"A lot of times, a eulogy might not completely encompass the true nature of the person," Tanenbaum said. "This one did to perfection."
David Gregory barely touched the subject of his dad' s hockey accomplishments. He instead focused on Jim Gregory as a loving husband and father whose mandate of wanting to always help people spanned over a half a century.
David talked about how Jim would scoop up note pads and pens from the various desks on the draft floor after every NHL Draft. The reason: to give them to needy schools where children could put them to good use.
He also touched on how Jim would accrue uneaten food at arenas after games. He'd then take it outside to homeless people and others who had little to eat.
By the time the speech ended, a round of loud cheers and applause filled the church. With good reason.
"Here's why that reaction was appropriate," Lamoriello said. "It's because Jim was very much like the late (Hall of Fame goalie) Johnny Bower in that no one ever had anything negative to say about him. No one. Never.
"That says a lot about a man."
Holland couldn't agree more.
"Jimmy was an incredible man," he said. "He was humble. He was passionate. He was giving. Loving.
"He was around the game for 60 years so you think about all the people he's touched even away from the game. Like I said, just an incredible human being."
Holland's Oilers were in Pittsburgh defeating the Penguins 2-1 in overtime while the funeral was taking place Saturday afternoon. He could have been there to watch his team. That wasn't an option. For him, being on hand for Gregory's service was the only choice.
The same held true for Davidson and Kekalainen, who raced out of the church when the event was completed.
"Back to the grind of the NHL," said Davidson, who served as president of the Blue Jackets from 2012 until resigning and joining the Rangers earlier this year. "Jarmo and I worked in Columbus for a long time. Now we're on different teams. But there was no way we were going to miss this."
They weren't alone in that sentiment when it came to bidding Jim Gregory farewell.