Saying good-bye to Branks

Don Brankley

Many people in the junior hockey world will be in London Tuesday to pay their respects to a beloved trainer.

Don (Branks) Brankley spent nearly 40 years with the London Knights organization and they will honour him with a celebration of his life at 6 p.m.

Branks, who passed away last month at the age of 69,  was a colourful character. During out of town games, he would be heckled by the opponent’s fans. Loving every minute of it, Branks would do what he could to rile them up.

He slept at the arenas where he worked – Treasure Island  Gardens, which became the Ice House, and then at the downtown arena, now called Budweiser Gardens.

I remember going to talk to Don one day in the bowels of the arena. He was busy washing the team’s uniforms and players were hanging around him then, as always. He told me the players were his life.

He had a special relationship with them, for sure. He said that they told him things they would never tell a coach.

Former Knights would always have to stop in and see Branks if they were in town. I once missed an interview with Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan, because he wanted to go see Don. Shanahan will get one last time to honour his mentor when he speaks at his celebration of life.

The last time I saw Branks was at the 2014 Memorial Cup in London. After retiring in 2008 and moving north to Capreol, he came back to see his boys.

I wrote a blog for CTV London about the man who held the respect of generations of players. You can read it here:

One thing that stood out that day in May was how happy he was to be “home.

He enjoyed talking to everyone he came across, whether he knew the person or not. And at the Memorial Cup there were many who wanted to bend his ear. Branks loved every minute of it. I think this quote he gave me sums up Branks so well: “I’m a great believer that if someone wants to acknowledge you as a person, you have a duty to stop and chat with them and make them feel as special as they’ve made you feel.”

We will miss you Branks, until we meet again.

Trying to fulfill a promise to a grieving father

A lot of calls come into the newsroom in a day.
Some of the calls are from people who just want to talk.
Others are from people who need a lawyer, doctor, MP or MPP or an advocate.
From time to time, grieving people will call looking for a way to honour a loved one or who are hoping to find a way to ensure that person didn’t die in vain.
Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when a man from St. Thomas called with a message.
His daughter had died of an overdose and there was an investigation underway.
It was his only child and you could hear the pain in his voice. She had four children.
He wanted to warn other parents about what could happen to their kids. He also wanted to help his ex-wife, now looking after her four grandchildren.
This man said his daughter was in a drug rehabilitation centre and her boyfriend had taken her out. She was trying to get clean, he said.
I confirmed with police that yes, this woman had died and there was an investigation.
The man had recorded a video message in the hopes of warning other people about what could happen to their children too.
It’s always busy in the newsroom and I didn’t think we would do anything with this video. After all, police, health officials, politicians have all been speaking about this issue lately as the addiction scourge in society continues to claim lives. We have talked to addicts, to their families.
So I told him I would get back to him. He asked me if I would promise. He sounded so desperate to get his message out, so much in need of someone who would listen and care and help.
So I promised.
I phoned him back in a couple of days and I was shocked at what his roommate told me.
The roommate had found him on the floor when he returned home.
He said the man had some health problems and that he was unconscious but alive. He phoned 911 but when paramedics arrived, he was lifeless. He was pronounced dead.
I felt so sad that his family now has two deaths to deal with. He wasn’t able to deliver the message he wanted. He’ll never know that I kept my promise and called back.
All I can do now is try and speak for him. Try to tell people of the pain and suffering caused by drug addiction and the dangers associated with taking drugs.
Let them know that four kids are without a mother and grandfather now.
Ask for more resources to help those struggling with addiction. Write about the importance of supervised injection sites.
Say good-bye to the voice on the other end of the phone.

My Writing Portfolio

RCA Museum

Londoner arranges to get In Flanders Fields poet on battlefield

Man smashes car window with rock to save overheated dog

Senior feels safer at home than in hospital

Trainer’s brightest moment came in the dark of night

Hockey player makes extraordinary rise through figure skating ranks

Multi-media series to mark the start of the First World War

Torino Olympics portfolio

Cyclist collides with train and survives

Miami at top of its game

Death of Charley Fox: War veteran fought Rommel