Richard Morrison was many things to many people, but one phrase came up time and again Tuesday, as his wife Sheila and two of his siblings gathered in the living room of the family’s South Surrey home: “He was a fighter.”
“He fought mostly for the kids,” Sheila said, of her late husband’s determination to carry on following a hockey accident nearly five years ago that rendered him a quadriplegic.
“I think he just kept fighting for them.”
Morrison – a popular bartender, HandyDart driver and real estate agent on the Semiahmoo Peninsula – died just before noon on Dec. 30, of complications from a devastating spinal cord injury suffered during a recreational hockey game at Burnaby’s 8 Rinks in April 2012.
Going in for a goal, Morrison tripped over a goalie pad and went headfirst into the boards behind the net, compressing his spine and breaking his neck in two places.
Word of the tragedy spread like wildfire, as did efforts to help the family. Donations poured in and fundraisers were organized, generating about $250,000 in six months; even people who had never met Morrison stepped up to help.
After 6½ hours in surgery, five weeks in Vancouver General Hospital’s spinal unit and 4½ months at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, he returned home to embrace a “new normal” with Sheila and their two children, John and Jessa.
In an interview six weeks later, Morrison was frustrated at the limitations his injury forced on him, but optimistic he’d regain enough function to at least hug his wife and kids, and perhaps play hockey again.
The sport, the Oilers fan told Peace Arch News, was “my stress relief.”
Up until his accident, Morrison played three or four times a week, including with the Titans Hockey Club at Planet Ice in Delta, and Saturday mornings in Burnaby.
“If I could get my legs back or my hands back, I’d still wanna go play hockey,” he said.
Sheila said Tuesday that while her husband did return to the ice once, trying sledge hockey, it was “bittersweet.” He never regained further use of his limbs.
Regardless, he continued to face life with optimism, doing what he could with his family and always researching ways to possibly do more.
“Even through all of what he’d been through… he still was pretty positive,” she said. “He’s just an inspiration for everybody.”
Born in France, Morrison was the youngest of four children. He moved to the Peninsula from Edmonton in 1990, and got to know many people in the community – including Sheila, who he married in 2005 – through his years tending bar.
Everyone he befriended remained a friend, his siblings and Sheila agreed. They described Morrison as a good listener who, even after his injury, continued to put others ahead of himself.
“He was very well-liked,” his sister, Cathy Thomas, said. “He left a mark on everybody’s life.”
“Everybody was his best friend,” added his brother, Michael.
Sheila said her husband’s health began to take a turn in August of 2015. Between then and his death, he spent more time in hospital than out, fighting bouts of pneumonia and other respiratory ailments, she said.
He was last discharged on Dec. 22, and Sheila said she is “so grateful” the family had Christmas together, as well as time to say goodbye.
“He was such a fighter. In the end, his body just couldn’t do it anymore,” Sheila said. “I think it probably was his time. I just have to believe it was.”
Sheila reiterated the family’s appreciation for the “amazing” support over the years. It came from the school community at Sunnyside Elementary, her colleagues at Crescent Gardens Retirement Community, Morrison’s colleagues at HandyDart and hockey teammates, hospital and home-care staff and many others, she said.
There were even anonymous supporters, including secret Santas and one person who quietly left wine and cupcakes outside their front door.
Last Sunday (Jan. 15), more than 200 people from as far away as Texas and Ontario gathered to celebrate Morrison’s life, at a service held in White Rock’s Kent Street Activity Centre auditorium.
Attendees didn’t let the couple’s years-long tradition – of saying “four 42, I love you” at 4:42 p.m. every day – slip.
“It was just our time,” Sheila said.