Meeting Bobby Orr: An Extraordinary Leader Who Values the Everyday Person

Story by Adelina Pecchia, Photos by Dennis Pringle

On the evening of July 13, my brother Tony told me that Bobby Orr was going to be at the Staal Foundation Open the following day. He said he wished more than anything that our youngest sibling, Dean, could have a chance to meet him.

Dean was six years old when he got hit by a car which injured the right side of his head and left him a quadriplegic. He can’t walk or talk anymore. He is now in his 40s and expresses his feelings in ways that those who know, work with, and love him understand.

As a child Dean loved the Boston Bruins as did my sister Julie and I while our brothers Tony and Mike rooted for the Montreal Canadiens. Needless to say there was a lot of commotion around the house when those two teams faced off against one another!

The irony is that a couple of weeks before his accident Dean was just learning to skate and I had bought him a new helmet for Christmas so that he wouldn’t injure his head. In my mind I had often thought that perhaps if he had worn his helmet the day of the car accident, he wouldn’t have been so hurt. Those of us who have lived through trauma know that we often go through the event over and over again thinking what could have been done differently and whether anything we did could have prevented the terror from happening.

What remained and remains to this day is our loyalty to the same hockey teams we loved as children. Though our brother Mike now watches from heaven, Dean, Julie and I continue to root for Boston and Tony for Montreal.

On Tuesday, my husband Dennis and I arranged to get Dean to Whitewater Golf Club by late afternoon. Dean was brought to Whitewater by Lift+ who graciously accommodated our last-minute plans to take a chance to see if Mr. Orr was still meeting admirers.

From the volunteers to the gate keepers, the people we met at Whitewater were amazing.  The young man who met us as we were walking towards the clubhouse asked us if we needed help and then took the time to personally ask Mr. Orr if he had time to meet one more admirer. Mr. Orr took one look at Dean and came over without hesitation.

Bobby Orr spent several minutes with my brother, signed his hat and jersey “To my friend Dean” and didn’t show one ounce of awkwardness around this man who has struggled and often cannot participate in community events because of his disabilities. To the credit of Thunder Bay, we are a community that does much for those who are disabled and often disenfranchised.

Judging by the way Dean was staring at Mr. Orr, I could tell that he didn’t think that the Bobby Orr standing before him was real, that the man in the picture and poster that have adorned his bedroom wall for years was now right in front of his eyes! When Dean realized that he was meeting one of his heroes, his face lit up.

Imagine being someone who cannot walk or talk or even express the deepest desires of your heart. It must be a lonely place to live. The simplest outings we take for granted, like going for ice cream or a place of worship can mean the world to someone who is shut in or cannot participate in the wider circle of community. I’ve worked with many people and traveled around the world a great deal, and I must admit that I have never met a more gentle and more humble person as Bobby Orr. It is obvious that he does not let not the “star factor” affect his outlook regarding ordinary people.

A few minutes in the presence of a gentle hero will remain with Dean and my family for a lifetime.  Thank you to all of the people in Thunder Bay and at the Whitewater Golf Club who made this meeting possible. From Dean’s heart and all of us who love him we say, “God Bless You” and thanks!  And to Bobby Orr we say, “May you have a long life and prosper in all that you do. You leave a legacy worth remembering.”

Bobby Orr, Dean Pecchia and Adelina Pecchia