For one night last week, the CN Tower shone purple, black and white.
The commemorative lighting was to mark the start of ALS Awareness Month – purple, black and white are the official colours of the ALS Society of Canada – and coincide with a cross-country candlelit vigil that evening, June 4.
Here in the East End, and in many homes across the GTA, this nod to the fight against ALS felt especially personal.
That’s because the community learned of the death of coach and community member Bob Acton just a day before. Acton was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) two years ago.
Survived by his wife, Heather, and children Avery and Reid, Acton, 60, was beloved at home and in the Beach community where he was a lifelong resident.
Heartfelt, impassioned tributes to Acton have been pouring in online and in person at his celebration of life last Friday at Ted Reeve Arena, where the flag hung at half mast for the week. The amount of lives he touched appears countless, with arm loads of family, friends, and people he inspired to give it their best noting that he was “a great guy”, “a legend”, “a mentor”, “a fun neighbour”, “a good man, good teammate”, and “a wonderful coach” who left the world too soon.
He started his own hockey career at Ted Reeve Arena when he was a boy, and would return as an adult to launch his popular and successful sports program that has trained thousands of athletes in hockey, lacrosse, baseball, and all-around conditioning.
His son, Reid, has followed in his father’s footsteps, and said in a note on the Bob Acton Sports website that his dad’s wish “was for the continuation of development and success of young athletes in the community. He had previously made preparations for the seamless transition of the business.”
Many of his former students credit their mentor for the success they see today and many of those students’ parents came to know him as a close friend.
Police officer and lifelong Beacher Andy Johnstone is one of those parents. Both of his boys went through Acton’s development programs, with his son Marcus as one of his original clients and his son Darian in the program now.
“He was a mentor on and off the ice, [teaching] that hard work will get you there. You see that with the kids he taught, you see it in the way they study, the way they work at school, the way they work on the lacrosse field or on the hockey rink,” said Johnstone.
Johnstone said that Acton had a personal touch to his coaching – he would stop by the house, and had a real connection with his clients.
He said Acton touched so many lives because he was “honest, forthright, accepted the fact that life has hurdles – and to get over those hurdles it’s a fight, it’s a competition,” he said. “He was about challenging yourself – he was about pushing yourself to the next level. And he had a big soft spot, a massive soft spot, and he would go out of his way to cheer the underdog on, so sometimes his rough exterior would be equally matched by his little grin and pat on the back to keep up the hard work. He encouraged people to get better.”
Acton was a family man who loved his “beautiful wife” (who he often cheekily referred to as his girlfriend) and children, whom he was very proud of. Reid and Avery are driven and akin to their father, with Reid a phenomenal athlete and coach who is kind and enthusiastic about sports, and Avery, positive and heartfelt.
“They’re fighters,” said Johnstone. “He used to refer to his daughter – when they found out he had ALS she started a running campaign – and he used say ‘she’s turned into the running man. She’s like Forrest Gump, just running and running and running.’ That was her way of dealing with this unfortunate disease, and in typical Bob Acton fashion, ‘I’m not going to sit in my basement and dwell on it, I’m going to get up and move and do something about it.’”
Acton and now his son, Reid have been mentors and motivators to scores of athletes, and the results of their, and their staff’s, coaching continue to trickle out success stories each year.
“He was an excellent motivator,” said Johnstone, noting that when his 16-year-old son learned of his passing he said “this is called motivation. I’m not going to let him down.”
He had such an impact because “he was honest and straightforward – he cared… He was able to reach to the kid and say there’s no easy way to do this, it’s hard work, and if you want it, put in the hard work and the hours and I’m here for you.”
Acton helped kids prepare for life, he said, and those lessons and his legacy aren’t going away. For now, there is talk about hosting an annual hockey tournament or naming a street or alleyway in his honour.
His legacy will live on in all of the lives that he’s affected, and the lessons he’s imparted.
“Bob’s big thing was make an impact. If you’re going to go out and try for something, if you’re going to do something, then make an impact.”
And Bob Acton certainly made an impact. Here’s some of what you said on our website:
Deeply saddened by the loss of Bob, great friend to the Muzyka family and mentor to our son. Definitely one of kind person on so many different levels. We will miss him dearly. Our sincerest condolences to the Acton family.
– Betty Bingler
Bob taught sports skills and, more importantly, character, through his knowledge, courage, caring and commitment. He inspired a lot of young people and left a real legacy. He will be sorely missed.
Such sad news. He was a great man, a fun neighbour and an inspiration to many. A truly, honest, down-to-earth good person. Our deepest condolences.
– Catherine and Aden
RIP Bob my dear friend…, My deepest sympathies to his family and friends. My son’s first hockey coach and his life long inspiration…Rock solid facade with warmest heart you can imagine…
– Nenad Stojkov
Played with Bobby at Monarch Park in the ’70s. Never loved a team I played on more. We called him Yukker back then, for his distinctive laugh. Talked to him for a story I did in the Star a year or so ago. He never complained once about the hand he’d been dealt. We just reminisced about the game and the camaraderie and the laughs. Good man, good teammate. Gone too soon.
– Jim Coyle
Bob Acton had an incredible spirit and love of life. He continually reinvented himself, and was dedicated to his lovely wife Heather, and his terrific children Avery & Reid.
I’ve never met a man who could intuitively break down the skill sets and strategies of hockey, baseball/softball & football like Bobby could. He loved the entire process of winning a game, and passed on that passion to his players and proteges.
He inspired his athletes to excel in school as well as on the playing field. He was incredibly proud of his athletes accomplishments both on and off the field. And, Bobby had legions of friends. He could tell a story, and make me laugh, and laugh and laugh.
Our deepest sympathies to Heather, Reid & Avery. A great man has left us. Rest in peace Bobby.
– Byron Yankou, Nancy Barkley & Lee Yankou
I met Bob when he was manager of Lido’s. He was so kind to us and treated us like gold. Then we reconnected when my son attended hockey with him. He brought the best out in Blake and Blake enjoyed working hard for him. He truly will be missed and our condolences to all of his family. Rest in peace Bob.
– Roslyn Ball