Jamie Farr and myself at the 1987 Wayne Grezky Golf Classic
The Wayne Gretzky Golf Classic was held at the Edmonton Country Club. With the great help from Country Club manager Leo Blindenbach I arranged to play the first hole from my wheelchair to raise funds for the charity the tournament was supporting. I got pledges per stroke on the first hole — a par five — so, really, the more strokes I took the more money I made. The exact opposite of the main objective of golf. But what the hell. Wayne hosted a reception the night before at the Country Club and made an announcement about me playing the first hole.
“Hey, Cammie I have an idea,” he told the crowd, before looking at me just after 7:30 p.m. “Why don’t you start now? You might be finished by the time the rest of us tee-off tomorrow.”
“Will do,” I hollered back. “By the way, I got my handicap all figured out.”
The crowd howled with laughter, and it was so good to know others were laughing with me — and not at me. It would have been a little uncomfortable if Wayne would have got up and told everyone I was playing a hole, and I had cerebral palsy, and wasn’t it a novel thing? But putting humour into it made it more personal … more fun. I still couldn’t golf, though: I shot a 27 on the par five, and — cover your eyes, golfers — five putted. At the banquet that night, Leo Blindenbach collected money and had a wod of $100 bills. We raised $3,100 that day.I attended Wayne’s golf tournament in Edmonton for three more years, including the last one in 1987. Wayne always made sure I felt part of the tournament. Many well-known personalities from across North America attended the event. And thanks to Wayne, I had the pleasure of having cocktails with actors Jamie Farr and Alan Thicke, hockey broadcaster Danny Gallivan, music producer David Foster and Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, who has flown into the parking lot one year by helicopter. Wayne’s personality brought so many people to Edmonton and he went out of his way to make sure his friends shared in their time.
IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE 1987 at Kevin Lowe’s annual gathering when I know Wayne had met the love of his life and future wife, Janet Jones. The ladies were upstairs and the men were downstairs.
“Well, guys I think I am in love. I was with Janet last night and we went to the ballet,” Wayne said. “I really don’t like the ballet but when you are with the right girl, who cares, right?” he asked.
Wayne and I kept seeing each other after Oiler games. But I perhaps fumbled a rather big story in Edmonton.
Wayne was out with an injury in early 1988. It was announced he was going to be doing some charity work, so I arranged to interview Wayne between periods at an Oiler game. Wayne seemed a little more nervous than other times we had been together, but I didn’t think it was much of a big deal. I thought I had a fairly decent story but when I got to The Edmonton Journal newsroom the next morning, my desk mate Al Turner met me with a frown on his face.
“I read that story you wrote on Gretzky this morning,” Al said with a tinge of distain in his voice. “Were you with him or did you do it on over the phone?”
I told Al I was with Wayne.
“And he didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?” I asked.
“CHED Radio ran with a story all morning Gretzky and Janet Jones got engaged last night at Earl’s. You were with the guy and there was nothing in your story about him getting engaged.”
I began feeling beads of sweat on my forehead. It was a huge story in Edmonton: Wayne was like a prodigal son, and maybe I blew it.
“You didn’t ask him?” Al said.
No, I replied, because I didn’t hear anything to ask the question. Maybe Wayne wasn’t sure what Janet’s answer would be so he kept quiet.
Coming shortly: Back to L.A.