Longtime hoops coach remembered as 'a wonderful man'

Crescent Beach resident – and longtime high school basketball coach – Bob Gair died Monday while golfing with friends. - Contributed photo
Crescent Beach resident – and longtime high school basketball coach – Bob Gair died Monday while golfing with friends.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Bob Gair, who coached Earl Marriott Secondary’s senior girls basketball team to its only provincial title, died Monday while golfing with friends.

The 77-year-old Crescent Beach resident and longtime high-school teacher and basketball coach collapsed on the 15th hole at Northview Golf and Country Club.

In retirement, golf had become his new love, said Gair’s former spouse Carole Gair, a longtime White Rock swim coach.

“He was out golfing with his best friends, so if you have to go, I guess that’s the way you would want it,” she said, adding that he had a history of heart trouble.

Gair is survived by his second wife, coincidentally also named Carole, as well as two children, Tracy and Troy, and two grandchildren, Nick and Kailey-Rae.

Bob Gair was a well-known figure in Lower Mainland athletic circles dating back to the 1950s, when he swam for Canada at the 1954 Commonwealth Games. He later swam, on full scholarship, at Ohio State University.

Despite his exploits in the pool, he was perhaps best known for his work teaching and coaching both basketball and swimming, the latter with the Crescent Beach Swim Club and the North Delta Sunfish.

He taught at New Westminster Secondary school from 1960 until his retirement in the 1995, and served as the school’s first athletic director.

He is credited with founding the school’s athletic program as well as the school’s first senior girls basketball team, which he also coached.

He is, without much doubt, the most successful girls hoops coach in school history, leading NWSS teams to provincial tournament berths 25 times, winning gold in 1974, 1992 and 1994.

He continued to coach at New West for a few years after his retirement, before leaving the sidelines. An annual basketball tournament – the Bob Gair Classic – has been held at the school for years. He is a recipient of the BC High School Sports Coaching Award of Excellence and is an honorary member of the BC Girls Basketball Association.

His love of sports continued long past his retirement. In addition to his love of golf, his daughter, Tracy, said he was “the number one fan” of his grandson Nick, an Earl Marriott Secondary rugby player, and would have been on the sidelines during Marriott’s season-opening game Tuesday in which Nick scored three tries.

“Grandpa was watching,” she said.

Gair is fondly remembered by those who worked alongside him in New West.

Last month, Gair ran into old colleagues while attending a funeral service for Bill Popowich, another fixture on the provincial high school basketball scene.

“I hadn’t seen him much… (since) he retired,” said Ken Bowman, who still teaches at NWSS. “He looked exactly the same, and was still the fun-loving guy, still a great guy, and then this happens.

“We’re just devastated. Totally devastated.”

Bowman remembers Gair as a welcoming figure who was always eager to help.

“Any kind of question you needed answered, he had answers for,” Bowman said. “He was an unbelievable coach… a wonderful man. He did so many great things. He always put the kids first.”

In 2002, at the urging of his niece, Earl Marriott basketball player Deanna McRae, Gair came out of retirement to coach the Mariners, leading them to their first and only senior hoops title. He was, by all accounts of that season, a demanding coach who pushed his players to be better with a “tough love” approach.

In a Peace Arch News’ story from Dec. 14, 2002 – after a string of early season losses – Gair said his team “finds too many excuses. They don’t come to tough games prepared to play.”

He refused to give up on them, however, saying in the same story that “if they get their heads together… they can be in the top-four in the province.”

Three months later, Gair’s prediction proved accurate, as his Mariners – ranked fifth in the province – edged the No. 2 Brookswood Bobcats in the provincial title game.

“He said to do it for ourselves, but we also did it for for him. He’s meant everything to us,” McRae, who was named MVP of the tournament, told Peace Arch News in a March 12, 2003 story.

For his part, Gair refused to take much of the credit for his team’s championship, instead deferring to his players and assistant coaches.

In a post-game interview with PAN, however, he did allow himself one moment to revel in the victory.

“It feels good to go out on a winning note,” he said.

– with files from Grant Granger

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