Ron Wicks: 1940 — 2016

TORONTO (Apr. 2) — Ron Wicks, the longest–serving on–ice official in National Hockey League history, died peacefully Friday night at 8:43 in Brampton Civic Hospital. He was 75 and surrounded by his family — Barb, his wife of 52 years; children Lisa and Brian. The cause of death was liver cancer.

His condition having deteriorated since Monday, Ron requested, early on Friday, that he be disconnected from intravenous fluids and oxygen. Blessedly, he was in no pain toward the end of his life.

As he noted on his personal website last week — and emailed to close friends — Ron was hoping to “hang around” long enough to watch The Masters golf tournament, which begins next Thursday. Now, he’ll have a bird’s–eye view of the entire course at Augusta National.

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Ron spent his final week saying so long to the biggest names in the hockey world. He spoke with Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Scotty Bowman, Darryl Sittler and others. A special phone–call came from Toronto Blue Jays radio voice Jerry Howarth, who spent 20 minutes on Tuesday night chatting with Ron and Lisa from Dunedin, Fla. Jerry then kicked off Friday night’s broadcast of the Toronto–Boston exhibition game from Olympic Stadium in Montreal by saying hello to Ron and his family. The former ref chose to not watch TV while in palliative care. “As long as he has his radio head–set and Blue Jays baseball, he’s happy,” Barb told me on Monday, when I visited Ron with former NHL officiating colleagues Bruce Hood and Ron Asselstine.

Wicks was diagnosed with cancer in late–2013 and underwent a 7½–hour operation to remove half his liver. It was followed by more than 20 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. The aggressive treatment provided him nearly two years of relative health; his condition began to worsen in mid–December. Weakened by weight–loss and an inability to tolerate food, he entered palliative care three weeks ago.

Early in the 1960–61 season, Wicks became the youngest official to work a game in the NHL — he had just celebrated his 20th birthday and found himself on the ice as a linesman at Madison Square Garden in New York. He spent the overwhelming majority of time between 1960 and 1967 honing his craft in the American, Central and Western hockey leagues. His first big break occurred during the 1964 Stanley Cup playoffs, when NHL officiating supervisor Carl Voss elevated him as a linesman. Ron worked two of the most memorable post–season games involving the Toronto Maple Leafs: Game 7 of the Cup semifinals at the Montreal Forum, remembered for Dave Keon’s hattrick that powered the Leafs past the Canadiens… and Game 6 of the final round at the Detroit Olympia — still legendary for an overtime goal scored by Toronto defenseman Bob Baun while playing on a fractured foot (the Leafs won the Cup at home in Game 7).

Wicks spent the following three years as a referee in the minor leagues. When the NHL doubled in size to 12 teams for the 1967–68 season, he made the jump, full–time, along with such other refs as Bruce Hood, Wally Harris, Lloyd Gilmour, Bob Sloan, Dave Newell and Bryan Lewis. Ron worked until the end of 1985–86, refereeing the All–Star game on Feb. 4 of that season in Hartford. He conducted the opening face–off between Gretzky and Mario Lemieux — a photo of which graced the cover of his 2009 memoir.

BETTER TIMES: MY PHOTO OF RON (RIGHT) WITH BEST PAL AND FORMER NHL REFEREEING COLLEAGUE BRUCE HOOD. THIS WAS TAKEN IN NOVEMBER 2014 AT AN NHL ALUMNI GATHERING IN MARKHAM, NORTHEAST OF TORONTO. RON HAD FULLY RECOVERED FROM HIS CANCER SURGERY.

After recovering from his cancer operation, Ron began to attend the gathering of NHL alumni at a Shopsy’s restaurant in Markham (on the first Monday of each month). He and Bruce Hood alternated driving to the event and were inseparable friends. It was during these lunch meetings that I had the privilege of getting to know Ron. He was an immeasurably warm person and I took to him immediately. The alumni gatherings lasted roughly two hours — barely enough time for Ron to share his multitude of stories from more than two decades in the NHL. He followed my blog and nearly always emailed a kind response afterward.

I will miss receiving those messages.

Ron emailed just after Christmas with a box of NHL programs he wanted me to have; they were from games he’d officiated in the 1970’s. “The memorabilia will be great for your blog,” he said. At the time, I considered it a grandiose gesture; typical of this wonderful man who probably wished to clean out some “stuff” from his basement. Only when I learned of his relapse did I understand the unspoken — it was Ron’s parting gift to me. I’ll cherish those items and share them with you in a future blog.

I conclude now with words I made certain to tell Ron in a private chat during my hospital visit with him on Monday. I am stridently a proponent of the mournful ballad written in 1988 by Mike Rutherford and B.A. Robertson; then recorded by Rutherford’s English rock band Mike + The Mechanics. Entitled In The Living Years, it addresses a son’s regret over unresolved conflict with his deceased father. The chorus: “Say it loud, say it clear… you can listen as well as you hear… it’s too late when we die… to admit we don’t see eye to eye.” Morally, the ballad can apply to any person as it pertains to another. The unmistakable message: That conflict be resolved; forgiveness granted; words of love and affection spoken… in the living years.

What I said to Ron was this: In life, many things can be acquired through purchase. But, one item cannot be bought, sold, negotiated or bartered in any way. It must be earned, without equivocation, and never, ever compromised. In my faith — Judaism — and in the Hebrew language, it is called “shem tov.”

English translation: A good name.

Ron Wicks will carry that through eternity.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

17 comments on “Ron Wicks: 1940 — 2016

  1. RON WICKS WAS ONE OF THE REAL AND TRUE GREATS OF THE GAME … RESPECTED AND ADMIRED BY ALL … ALWAYS REMEMBER, THERE IS NO GAME WITHOUT THE OFFICIALS … 76 SEEMS WAY TOO SOON FOR SUCH A FINE FELLOW TO DEPART THE SCENE.

  2. RIP Ron.
    Your friends at the Brampton Flowertown Probus men’s club will miss you, your ever present smile, your humourous stories and most of all your fellowship. Our thoughts go out to your family, friends, fans and colleagues – when you measure wealth in terms of those who love you, you were a very wealthy man.
    Bye for now – until we meet again.

    Brampton Flowertown Probus

  3. Thank you Howard for such nice words for such a nice man. I had the pleasure of knowing Ron Wicks during his life after hockey. Ron was a class act and always greeted you with a smile and a friendly hello, I am deeply saddened by his passing. I have a signed copy of Rons book that sits proudly on my coffee table.

  4. I had the pleasure of meeting and refereeing with “Wicksie” during a tournament here in Tampa years ago. It was and still is one of my “high points” of my officiating career. Sad to hear of his passing…..

  5. I wrote a letter to Mr. Wicks several years ago asking for his autograph. I asked him why he retired at such a young age. His response was because of illness. “They were sick of me and I am sick of them.” What a great line.

  6. So sorry to hear of Ron’s passing. Our thoughts are with Barb, Lisa and Brian. I will remember many road trips with Ron and the good times we shared in the referee’s world. Ron worked very hard to enhance the pensions of our retired officials and it is greatly appreciated.
    RIP Ron

  7. Thank-you Howard for sharing your Heartfelt words of admiration which captured the essence of who Ron really was. Having had the privilege to work with Wicksy, I was truly blessed by his willingness to share his experience, strength and hope with all of us young officials as we attempted to better ourselves in the hopes of enjoying a great career such as Ron’s. Wicksy and I had many a conversation of not only our on-ice work but life off the ice as well and for that I’ll be forever grateful. Gratitude and Humility come to mind in remembrance of Ron. Thoughts and prayers to Barb, Lisa and Brian.
    Thanks again Howard.

  8. I had the pleasure of meeting Ron and Barb through my brother , Tim Twaddle a few years ago at the Fergie Jenkins Golf Tournament. At the time, both Ron and Barb were the most charming, and gracious people I had met in a long time. Having met them both, when I had moved back to Canada after living in the U.S., Ron was so surprised to hear of another “Twaddle” and that we had never met. He made sure, that evening, that he and Barb spent time, getting to know me and he gave me a signed copy of his book. I could not get over his, and Barb’s welcoming arms and words to me. R.I.P. Ron, you will be missed, you are at peace, and you will, for sure, have that “bird’s eye” view of the Masters, next week.

  9. Howard, you captured the character of Ron in your blog. I was fortunate to have Ron as a mentor early in my career and without his guidance and leadership I would never have survived my early years. When I wrote to Ron a couple of weeks ago I thanked him for being such an important person in shaping my career and allowing Laurie and I to have the life we have today.
    Thank you Howard and thank you Ron .

  10. We know (stats prove) what Ron did on the ice, but you will never know what Ron did for Officials (especially veteran officials) off the ice and behind the scenes. We all owe Ron a special tip of the Hockey Helmet for his efforts on behalf of Veteran Officials. He has earned the title of Supervisor From Above.
    Sympathy to the entire Wicks Family.
    Bryan & Elaine Lewis

  11. Shocked!! My Son and I met Ron at a funeral in the fall for a mutual friend, He was an inspiration in conversation to my son who is a young ball player. I was so impressed with his magnetic personality. He also had given a card to my son.

  12. Thank you, Howard, for your eloquent and fitting tribute to our friend, “Wicksie”. I had the pleasure of working with Ron for six years in the NHL before he retired. Not once, in all the times I spent with him, did I ever feel disrespected, unappreciated, or have my foolish questions, or opinions, dismissed out of hand. He took time to listen, and if he disagreed, Ron would always explain why. He was the consummate gentleman to all he came in contact with. Our world has lost a good husband, family man, colleague, and a friend with “shem tov” indeed. Thanks, Ron.

  13. A very nice article Howard. He was my next door neighbour growing up and has been a lifetime family friend. To me he was always happy, classy, respectful and generous. He always had time for you and as a young boy playing hockey his gifts to me of NHL pucks from games he refereed were priceless – and I still have them. I am so thankful to have spent over an hour with Ron last week catching up. In classic Ron style the first thing he did was give me his signed referee card to give to my 4 yr old son Cole and a copy of his book. My sincerest condolences to Barb, Lisa and Brian. Ron put up a valiant battle against liver cancer but in the end he knew when it was time to hang ’em up for good. You will be missed and cherished forever sir. A Facebook page has been setup to post memories of Ron and condolences to the family.

    http://www.facebook.com/RememberingRonWicks

  14. Thank you Howard, for all the smiles you helped put on my dad’s face over the last two weeks. Today on his final day he listened to a second call from Bobby Orr, a call from Tiger Williams and a shout out from Jerry Howarth over radio air waves before the Blue Jays-Red Sox game. Although he was unable to speak legibly by this time, you could see in his eyes he heard them all.
    The Wicks Family

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