Remembering Tony Proudfoot.
Devoted husband and father, athlete, student, artist, adventurer, teacher, coach, builder, educator, scholar, broadcaster, author and philanthropist.
“Life is good with the right attitude” Tony Proudfoot.
It was August 1992 when I first met Tony Proudfoot.
I had applied for a Physical Education teaching position and he was one of the interviewers. I got the position and was blessed to work 2 years with him at Dawson College. I knew about Tony’s athletic career in the CFL, the championships with the Alouettes, the famous staple in the shoes strategy to help win the Grey Cup in 1977.
What I discovered over the next few years was his determination, humility and leadership skills.
As a teacher and senior member of our department, his leadership skills were strong, supportive and empowering. When we spoke of creating an outdoor education course for students with disabilities, including a 3-day camping expedition, he was its biggest supporter.
In living in Pointe Claire, a suburb of Montreal, I realized how much of an impact he had in the community, honored with a park in his name in 2020.
I had many good memories of teaching at Dawson, including Tony and I wandering over the Canadiens Stanley Cup parade in the spring of 1993. What a great afternoon that was!
Years later, Tony’s courage played itself out during the 2006 shootings at Dawson. A gunman walked into the school and opened fire which left 1 dead and several injured.
"I looked down and saw one of the victims lying in a pool of blood," he recalled in an interview shortly after.
"I thought I could help, so I ran outside and applied first aid for about 20 minutes. I didn’t feel I was in danger, but by that time there were a lot of policemen around."
The student survived and Tony was hailed as a hero.
Over his 30-year teaching career Tony impacted many as an advocate for physical and outdoor activity. He also kept his ties in the football community coaching for many years, including coaching duties with the Montreal Alouettes after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in 2007. “He’s a brilliant man with playing experience. It will be unbelievable to have him here, in a coaching capacity and bounce ideas off of him”, said Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman at the time.
While Tony’s influence was felt by many, perhaps his strongest legacy was his strength and dignity in dealing with ALS. Tony showed courage and leadership during a most difficult time, with his “suck it up” attitude in the face of a devastating illness. With his family’s support, Tony tirelessly raised awareness and funds for ALS research, functioned as best he could for as long as he could as broadcaster and coach.
“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and world remains and is immortal”. Albert Pine.
Tony wrote very well, authoring a book in 2006. The documenting of his journey with ALS touched many.
Tony’s strength of character is revealed by how he dealt with the decline, the hardship to him and his family. He is survived by his wife Vicki and 3 children. We should all strive to be so strong in the face of such adversity.
In his articles for the Montreal Gazette, he referred and related to the Black Knight in John Cleese’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail as a metaphor of what he was going through. He found humor in the struggle.
‘Tis but a scratch!
Tony’s perseverance and attitude stayed positive through very trying circumstances.
The metaphor: In the movie, Arthur, “King of the Britains” commands the Black Knight to step aside to let him pass, and when he refuses, cuts off his right arm. When the Knight says the blow was but a scratch and that he’s had worse, King Arthur cuts off his left arm. The Knight ignores it, not giving up, and asks the king if he’s had enough. Eventually with his legs also gone, The Black Knight says “all right, we’ll call it a draw”. The dark humor (see below clip) offsets the struggle with a smile.
Claudine Cook, the executive director of ALS society of Quebec has said of Tony:
“Getting to know him and working with him, life lessons came out of everything we did together, just the way he dealt with things …he was doer and he was a mentor.”
The Tony Proudfoot Fund raised over $500 000 towards ALS research as of 2010, and his legacy continues 12 years after his passing.
ALS is devastating:
ALS is a progressive disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. ALS is often called Lou Gehrig's disease, after the baseball player who was diagnosed with it in 1939.
Very few of us have not been impacted by ALS. We either have had a loved one or friend or acquaintance diagnosed and suffer.
Tony would be encouraged in 2022 by the progress in the research around the disease.
Calgary Flames executive Chris Snow has lived with the disease since 2019. His battle has been a beacon of hope after years without it.
Let’s hope that research can assist with remediating such a difficult prognosis.