Ab Brown - A Man of All Seasons including Christmas!
The basement workshop was an incredible sea of clutter - tools hanging on the wall, more on the workbench, strands of leather draped over nearby hooks, tubs of resin on the floor below a glue pot and an armful of skeletal lacrosse sticks stacked in the corner awaiting the master's touch.
Multi-thousands of sick, broken and bent lacrosse sticks found new life after a visit to Ab Brown's Emergency Room on Seventh Avenue in New Westminster.
Until a stroke and a pinched nerve in his right arm slowed him a mite at the age of 89, Ab never turned away an injured stick.
Think of the hours spent over a span of more than 50 years; but it was his hobby, a pleasure only another Mr. Fixit can understand.
And he never asked anyone for a penny.
Albert "Ab" Brown was born in Walton, Nova Scotia, on September 2, 1895 but at age two moved to New Westminster where he later toiled as a woodworker until joining the Royal City's fire department.
To no one's surprise, the athletic Ab embraced the game of field lacrosse - the sport of choice in New Westminster. For 22 years, he wore the famous red jersey of the Salmonbellies, enjoying three Mann Cup victories and 10 provincial championships. The highlight of his long playing career came in 1928 when he toured Holland, France, Germany, Belgium, England, Scotland and the Eastern United States as a member of the Canadian Olympic team.
He retired when the field game gave way to box lacrosse; but, at the age of 39, he was persuaded to try the indoor game - he accumulated 24 goals and 12 assists in 23 games. After two more games in 1935, he retired; that is, he retired as a player because, by now, he had inherited the job of stick doctor from a fire captain since he had fallen ill. Oh yes, he also refereed.
Later, Ab expanded his handicraft skills to building floats for New Westminster May Day parades and soap box cars for the kids.
Why? Why so much work given so freely?
"The work keeps you young", Ab once explained. "It's a good feeling when you can go to a game or a park and some young kid says, 'Hi, Mr. Brown' and maybe you don't even know who the kid is".
Ab retired as a fire chief from the fire department in 1957 but soon found another pleasant diversion - he began a 16-year Christmas career as a department store Santa Claus.
And there was another side to Ab's vitality - his understanding, supportive wife, Rita. While he devoted his spare time tinkering in his workshop, Mrs. Brown was a driving force behind the Red Cross in New Westminster. She obviously had a great deal of influence on him for he donated over 100 pints of blood during his lifetime.
Ab was always mildly embarrassed when a grateful community acknowledge his unselfish work. He merely smiled and thanked everyone when he:
- Was named Man of the Year by the New Westminster Optimists in 1954;
- Was named the Columbian's Mr. Sport for 1976;
- An outdoor lacrosse box in New Westminster's Hume Park was officially named the Ab Brown Lacrosse Box in May 1977;
- The Western Lacrosse Association annual awards the Ab Brown Trophy to (no surprise here) the Most Sportsmanlike Team;
- Was inducted into the Builders category of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1967.
Fellow Hall-of-Famer Jack Fulton probably said it best, "He is that rare individual who comes along once in a while. I put him in the same league as Cyclone Taylor, a wonderful, classy guy".
Most involved in Western Canadian lacrosse have a favourite story involving Ab Brown, including this writer.
I took my four youngsters to see Santa Claus - two were believers while the older two weren't positive but were willing to be assured because it would mean an extra present. After listening intently to their wishes and posing for the camera, Santa Claus turned to me and inquired, "And what about you, Stan? Have you been a good boy this year?" All four were definitely believers...Santa remembers Dad.
But, then, Ab Brown always remembered his friends. Ab died on December 7, 1997, at the age of 96 but he, too, will always be remembered.