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Being called poppy or grandfather is something that resonates nicely with Corner Brook’s Gary Callahan.
The 67-year-old Corner Brook native, husband to Linda for 47 years and father to three daughters, beams with pride when he talks about having six grandchildren and one great grandchild.
He knows they are precious and watching them each become their own little person has been an amazing extension to his family.
His grey hair a sign of his journey, perhaps. Callahan is also known as the grandfather when it comes to hockey officiating as he holds the distinction of being the oldest referee in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Whether it’s Poppy at home or on the ice, he tries to remain consistent in the way he treats them and he always tries to carry himself in a calm and respectful manner.
Callahan got his start in officiating in 1977 and he has since become a student of the game. He didn’t go anywhere without the rulebook in his pocket and his career included assignments for minor hockey, senior hockey and Allan Cup play.
He started playing with a team from Corner Brook Garage in a recreational setting 13 years later after a short minor hockey stint and enjoyed himself.
Then, he decided to join the Humber Hawks in the local intermediate league but that didn’t last long.
His playing career came to a quick halt after he suffered a broken wrist after crashing into the boards after being hit from behind. He didn’t want to lose his connect to the game and friends involved in it so he decided to give officiating a shot.
Callahan actually put away the whistle after the 2016-2017 season because he figured it was time to give it up. He had been heavily involved in officiating since 1997 so he figured that was long enough.
He’s having fun being back on the ice, choosing to spend his time officiating minor hockey games and trying to be a role model for the young officials who seek his direction and expertise from time to time.
“It’s pretty bad when you’re skating by the bench and one of the coach yells out ‘I didn’t know it was Take Your Grandfather to Work Day,'" said Callahan.
When people asked him why he came back this year he would tell them it was because his wife retired and that was always met with humour.
Linda just laughed the comment off, but she was a big supporter of her husband’s love for calling games and often told him in the early days that he should move his bed over to Humber Gardens, a sign of how committed he was to doing it.
There were also uncomfortable moments for Linda. She used to go watch games back in the day and she wasn’t happy with some of the abuse he took from the fans with some harsh things said about the way he was calling a particular game.
It reached a boiling point for her though. There was a game where she couldn’t take the nasty stuff coming out of a fan’s mouth and let the fan know the referee was her husband and to give it a break.
She never went back to watch after that.
It wasn’t until earlier this season that Linda decided to go to the rink to enjoy a game of minor hockey with her husband on the ice.
“It’s almost like you’re back home. He’s so comfortable here that this is just him,” she said.
The big question now is when will he give it up for good?
Gary paused for a second before saying ‘I have no idea’.
Linda quickly responded “When I tell him.”
Both smiled. No more words had to be spoken.
Every year, there are a number of officials who give up the game. They often point to bad experiences and pressures from coaches and fans as prime reasons for giving it up.
Callahan had some bad experiences, but he just decided to have thick skin and do what he could to become a better official.
“I had people say to me ‘you should hear what I’m on saying to you out on the ice, and I would say ‘you should hear what I’m saying back to you,” he said.