The Late Mr. Jay Roberts

Honourable senators, I stand today to pay tribute to my old friend Jay Roberts who died this past October. He is best known to Canadians as the legendary Ottawa Rough Riders tight end who, in the late 1960s, helped carry the team to two Grey Cup wins.

My friendship with Jay dates back to the 1970s after he retired from professional sports, and worked with the federal government and, of course, with many Aboriginal groups. On Saturdays, we would get together with a bunch of friends for touch football and followed by perhaps a pint or two.

Jay was a soft-spoken and humble man. He liked to laugh and have a good time, and he looked out for his family and friends. His son Jed was born with a severe hearing impairment and had to wear hearing aids in both ears. Those hearing aids were big and obtrusive, and growing up, Jed took a lot of teasing from his peers.

It was Jay who helped Jed get beyond the hurt and realize his dreams. When Jed decided to give football a try, Jay backed him all the way throughout an amazing Grey Cup winning career with the Edmonton Eskimos. The names of father and son were etched on the Grey Cup one over the other, Jay in 1968 and Jed in 1993.

My own son Jamie had to wear hearing aids, and when he was younger, I hated seeing him growing resentful and insecure about them. I turned to Jay for advice.

He arranged for Jamie and me to meet Jed. It was in Montreal about 12 or 13 years ago at Molson Stadium after an Alouette-Eskimo game. I remember walking across the field with my son and approaching this huge imposing player. Jed removed his helmet, greeted us with a smile, then casually slipped on his hearing aids.

For Jamie, seeing this was life changing. In that moment, he understood he was not alone and that a hearing aid was only a device to help him participate in the world. It could be that simple.

Wisdom, humility and determination were all qualities that characterized my friend Jay, all qualities he passed down to his son Jed. Jed now works at an Edmonton group home, helping children with behavioural issues.

After years of battling dementia, blood clots, circulation issues and, finally, lung cancer, Jay — or, as we knew him, “Hawk” — is gone, but his will to help others persists. He is the first CFL player to donate his brain and spinal cord to medical research so that doctors can study the effects of head trauma. His gift to science is also raising awareness of football-related concussions, which, I am sure, will help many people in the future.

I will miss my big, lovable friend.