Christian Len holds up a ‘Mr.Big Deal’ award for Paul Bennett, the father and minor hockey coach who died June 23 in a shooting police now say was a case of mistaken identity. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Cloverdale’s Paul Bennett remembered for ‘the biggest heart’

Hundreds pay tribute to Peace Arch Hospital nurse who was killed in a case of mistaken-identity

It was standing-room only at Newlands Golf & Country Club Friday afternoon, as family, friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate the life of a man described as everything from inspiring and thoughtful to “abrasive – in a loving way.”

Laughter rang out often through the nearly two-hour tribute to Cloverdale’s Paul Bennett, the father and Peace Arch Hospital operating room nurse department manager who was shot to death last month in what police, just this week, confirmed was a case of mistaken identity.

READ MORE: Murdered Surrey hockey coach and nurse was ‘innocent victim’ of mistaken identity, police say

READ MORE: Man shot dead in Cloverdale ID’d as hockey coach and father of two

“I’m angry,” Bennett’s sister, Jackie Arthur told the 300-plus who turned out for the service. “I’m sad. I loved my brother. We all loved Paul.

“He was taken from us, taken without the ability to prepare.”

Bennett, a married father of two, died June 23.

In presiding over Friday’s event in Langley, his cousin Brad Duncan also touched briefly on the tragic circumstances, saying everyone is “trying to make sense of something that simply does not make sense at all.”

But, the gathering was about celebrating Bennett, Duncan reminded the guests.

Duncan sported a hockey jersey for the occasion; one of many that could be seen throughout the sea of guests, who ranged in age from young to old.

Anyone attending – and particularly those who knew Bennett through hockey – were invited to wear the attire in his memory. Teams represented Friday included Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association’s Colts, the Vancouver Canucks, the Delta-based Bottom Feeders, the Ottawa Senators and more.

Duncan’s was a Boston Bruins jersey – a decision he knew Bennett, a Senator’s fan, would not have simply let slide.

“I can only imagine how he would be saluting me,” Duncan said, to laughter.

Bennett’s wife, Darlene, wearing Bennett’s No. 22 jersey, described her husband as a man “with the biggest heart,” who had bleached-blond hair and orange toenail polish on the July 2000 day that they met; an occasion arranged through a mutual friend at Vancouver General Hospital.

He “brought me out of my shell,” she said, noting that while the couple had been through “a few” breakups along the way, “we always found our way back to each other.”

She joked about how Bennett had named their first son without her, and how he “was not a domestic” – a reference to their difference of opinion over what constituted a tidy home.

Darlene said her husband loved watching their two sons play sports – hockey and soccer – and giving back to the community, including as a coach “meant so much to him.”

He never missed one of his own sons’ games, unless he had to work, she noted.

She said her “heart may never recover” from his death.

PAH colleagues who spoke of Bennett described him as a great leader who had a knack for connecting with people, “a way of reaching everyone.”

He always put patients’ best interests first, said Dr. Arno Smit, an orthopedic surgeon.

“His was indeed a very powerful voice on behalf of patients,” Smit said. “Paul’s ability to inspire and unite will carry on.”

Those who knew Bennett through hockey – either as a teammate, parent, fellow coach or all three – said his attitude was his greatest asset, and that his positive encouragement of the young players under his wing “made all the difference to the kids.”

This past season was Bennett’s first as a head coach with Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association.

“Paul was a favourite with the kids and parents alike,” said Christian Len, an assistant coach.

Len presented a ‘Mr. Big Deal’ award to Bennett – a medal complete with a gaudy, gold-covered chain. The award was one of the ways Bennett would recognize his own players’ efforts, he said.

CMHA parent and coach Mike McKay said Bennett was “definitely all about fun and skills” when it came to coaching kids.

McKay quipped that Bennett made a sound impression on just about everyone; and he had an aggressive style of playing that earned him “a lot of two- and four-minute breaks – often on the other side of the ice, talking to the timekeeper.”

But despite how games went, or how often he disagreed with a ref’s call, Bennett always made a point of ensuring things were smoothed over with the officials after the games, McKay said.

His Bottom Feeder teammates all sported a ‘Nurse 22’ badge on the left shoulder of their jerseys, in tribute to Bennett.

Prior to the service, friend and teammate Brent Greenfield explained the gesture simply:

“He wore his heart on his shoulder,” Greenfield, a South Surrey resident, told Peace Arch News.

He described Bennett as the team’s leader, “very competitive, very compassionate,” with a “great playoff beard – bright red.”

“It’s going to be very tough for us to go back and play our first game (at Great Pacific Forum, in the upcoming season),” Greenfield added. “We all had our own stall.”

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