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Montague: McAuley led by example and his death leaves us all mourning

Former Hounds owner meant so much to so many

Just like that, they are gone. First Angelo Bumbacco and now Jim McAuley. In a span of 25 days, Sault Ste. Marie has had to say goodbye to two of the most influential men this city has ever known, leaving us all with aching hearts and a plethora of happy memories.

When the 84-year-old McAuley unexpectedly died Saturday following a short illness, the reaction across this city was virtually unanimous. First, there was stunned silence followed by a deep sadness. Then came the accolades. He was a man who was universally respected, a man who treated others the way he would want to be treated.

“What a great guy,” many said.

“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” echoed others.

“He was the most humble and unassuming man you’d ever meet,” quipped someone else.

“Him and Angelo gone so close together. They must have a draft deadline in heaven,” said one former Greyhounds season-ticket holder.

If you’ve been around this city for more than a decade, surely you knew who Jim McAuley was. His passing is yet another example of how fleeting time is. It passes us by faster than a speeding locomotive. Angelo is gone. Now Jimbo. Where does the time go?

In the case of McAuley, his death hit us all like a ton of bricks. Nobody expected it. Sure he was 84 and had lost weight over the years. But he still had some spunk in him. He still had that crooked smile and quiet swagger, if there is such a thing as it. 

He had hip replacement surgery just over a year ago and had made a solid recovery.

He could walk again without pain and was ready to tango. He was back to his regular routine, which often meant coffee or lunch with friends, checks on his investments and visits with family members.

His grandson, Brandon Schmidt, who always referred to McAuley as ‘Papa,’ said he will never forget the look on McAuley’s face last Christmas during a family get-together

“He had hip replacement surgery around a year ago and he was feeling great,” Brandon said “We had a get-together and he burst through the door like the Kool-Aid-Man going through a wall and was dancing and showing off his new hip to everyone and said ‘I told you I’d be back.’”

But just last week, things suddenly changed. McAuley started feeling pain in his stomach and after several tests by doctors, it was determined he had an obstruction in his bowel. He had a procedure performed to break down the obstruction and while doctors deemed it a fairly routine procedure, things turned for the worse and his condition suddenly deteriorated.

And just like that, he was gone. The man who meant so much to so many is no longer with us, but the legacy he left behind will live forever.

While positive vibes appear to always be in store during the aftermath of one’s death, make no mistake about it: Everything they say about Jim McAuley is true.

He was as unassuming and kind as they come. He was the consummate gentleman, always inquiring about you or your family and never talking about himself.  He always wanted to know how you were doing, how the family was and how things at work were. Despite his wealth and success, he was an everyday man, a guy who did not grade relationships based on social status or wealth, but rather on the character he saw in each and every one of us.

When I last saw him about two weeks ago at Tim Horton’s, he was his usual self. He had one hand in his pocket as he sat in a slouched position and asked me what he always did.

“How’s the family,” he said.

‘They’re good Jim, how are you,” I replied.

“How’s work,” he asked, as he sat with good friend Don Mitchell during what was probably another one of their hot-stove sessions.

“It’s great Jim, but if you’d let me sell just one of your places, I could retire and live happily ever after.”

He laughed. We all did. We said goodbye and hoped to see each other again soon.

He was that kind of guy. He was always so much fun to be around. He had a dry sense of humour. He never said a bad word about anyone, unless, of course, you just happened to be the opposition on the night of a Greyhound game, but once the game was over, handshakes and smiles were in store, no matter what colour jersey you wore.

“The way the public perceived him is really the same way that our family perceived him,” Brandon said “He was a family man and he went to work every day to provide for his family, but when he came home, I could call him any day and say ‘hey papa, do you want to go to the YMCA to play basketball or racquetball or for a steam and a shower’ and no matter how busy he was, he’d drop everything and go because he wanted to spend time with the people he loved.”

McAuley, along with Bumbacco was instrumental in getting the Soo Greyhounds accepted into the then Ontario Hockey Association in 1972 and for the next 48 years, he was determined to make sure the Greyhounds stayed here. He was actively involved in the Save the Greyhounds Campaign in 1989, not because of any potential wealth it could have brought him, but because he knew how important it was to keep major junior hockey in Sault Ste. Marie. He was no longer an owner of the team, yet he was willing to do whatever it took to keep the franchise here.

As a part-owner of the Hounds for years, McAuley always said the team wasn’t his team and that it belonged to the city. He was steadfast in that belief and he always put the interest of the hockey team and fans ahead of his own self-interest.

“The team belongs to the city, to the fans,” he would tell me.

And he meant it!

He didn’t buy the Greyhounds to make money. He bought them to make sure the community could reap the benefits of having an OHL team here. He knew how important it was to the kids and he wanted to make sure the citizens in Sault Ste. Marie had something to do during these long, cold winters.

But besides his hockey interests, this is a guy who also made substantial financial contributions to Sault Area Hospital, Algoma University and Sault College. And aside from being part owner for a substantial period of time, he also served as team president for close to 20 years in the 1970s and 1980s. He was also on the league’s board of governors and was a member of the league’s executive council. He was one of the most respected owners in the OHL and anyone who knew him, knew he was a man of integrity and high character.

Now, just like that, he and Angelo are gone.

And for his grandson, who is known locally for his prowess on the golf course, McAuley and Bumbacco were like two peas in a pod.

“Both those men lived and breathed the city of Sault Ste. Marie,” Brandon said. “They loved this town. They grew up here and they wanted it to be the best place to live. They were family men and they wanted their family here with them. The Greyhounds were a huge part of this town and whether people could afford to go to the games or not, the town always rallied behind the Greyhounds.”

But for as much as the Greyhounds consumed a huge portion of McAuley’s life, so too did his family. His wife, Arlene, died seven years ago. They had three children together, Greg, Jana Schmidt and Victoria Hancock.

And all three of them can take solace in the fact that their dad was loved by many and so well respected by the masses. He led by example and loved unconditionally. He is an example of how we should all live our lives and treat those around us. Be kind and gentle. Help those in need and never, ever get too high on yourself.

“The legacy that’s already been established for him in the community is what I’d want people to remember,” Brandon said. “He never talked about himself. He never bragged about himself. He doesn’t have materialistic possessions and he never bought things for himself.

“Everybody knows he was well off, but he’d be driving the family man vehicle and he thought of himself as an everyman type of guy. He didn’t have a Porsche or a Cadillac, but he drove economic vehicles that got him from A to B.

“He was a provider, a protector a Papa.”

He was also a man that bled Greyhound red and for that, we can all be thankful because without people like Jim McAuley and Angelo Bumbacco, there would be no Soo Greyhounds, no OHL hockey and no vivid memories like the 1992-93 Memorial Cup win on home ice.

Thanks for everything Jim. Your time here was well spent and we’re all going to miss you.