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A loyal supporter of the football team, John Matheson will be missed at Queen’s

January 6, 2014
Photo by Jeff Chan Soldier, legislator, jurist and Father of the Canadian Flag, John Matheson was also an ardent supporter of the Queen's football team

                       — Photo by Jeff Chan
Soldier, legislator, jurist and Father of the Canadian Flag, John Matheson was also an ardent supporter of the Queen’s football team

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

For years he was a fixture at Queen’s Golden Gaels football games, most recently in a familiar spot on the track at the southwest corner of Richardson Stadium. When the 2014 season begins in September, John Matheson will be missed.

Widely known as a veteran of the Italian campaign in the Second World War, judge, MP, Father of the Canadian Flag and a driving force behind the creation of the Order of Canada, Matheson was also a devoted fan of his alma mater’s football team, seldom missing a game at Richardson Stadium.

His death Dec. 27 at the age of 96 was sad news to the Gaels, and in particular coach Pat Sheahan, who, as a high school senior at Brockville Collegiate, won the John Matheson Award for leadership.

“He was a resident of Brockville and when I was a kid he was a very well respected guy,” Sheahan said Monday. “I considered it a real honour and a tribute to win anything that was named after him. He was lauded as a great Canadian for his contribution to government and the story of the flag and all the rest of it.

“I’m not so sure that the recipient was aptly selected,” Sheahan modestly continued, “but it was certainly aptly titled, because he was a great leader in our community at that time.”

When he arrived to coach at Queen’s in 2000, Sheahan recalled it was a thrill to be re-introduced to the judge.

“I was well acquainted with John Matheson before I got here and then to get here and find out that he was a very passionate football fan was terrific,” he said. “He was present at many of the games over the 14 years I’ve been here. He really enjoyed the ’09 season and led the charge to have a tree dedicated to us at the park.

“He was just a terrific guy. He always had something inspirational to tell you. It was a joy to see him. He was debilitated physically to a certain extent in his latter years but, boy, that didn’t slow him down.”

Sheahan told a story of the day Hal McCarney, an iconic figure in Queen’s football lore and a prominent citizen in Gananoque — part of Matheson’s old federal riding — came to see him.

“Hal’s quite troubled,” Sheahan recalled. “I think this is 2006 and (the judge) might have been 88 years old, and he’d pulled Hal aside and said, ‘Look, you’re the only one who can get this done. I want to go skydiving before I cash in my chips.’

“Hal says, ‘Skydiving? Are you crazy?’ And the judge says, ‘No, I want to go skydiving. You can make it happen.’ Hal came over to see me right after his visit with the judge and he tells me, ‘Can you believe that Judge Matheson has asked me if I will arrange it so he can go skydiving?’

“Can you imagine that?” Sheahan said. “Talk about a guy living large.”

Ultimately, Matheson, by then using a wheelchair, didn’t make the jump.

“Cooler heads prevailed,” Sheahan said.

Matheson was still travelling to road games as late as the 2002 Yates Cup in Hamilton. When the team held weekly luncheons during the season he was always there, and the players seemed to revel in his presence.

“He was one of the personalities around town of whom we made sure the players were aware,” Sheahan said. “He used to sit down there in that corner and as they used to score down there of course they’d all run over and high-five the guys in the wheelchairs. I think they liked that and I know the judge really liked that, too.”

Not surprisingly, Sheahan said Matheson seemed particularly delighted during the 2009 national championship season. Even at the age of 92, the coach said, the judge “really felt the excitement.”

“He never spoke to me in any kind of critical way,” Sheahan said. “It was always very positive, very motivating. It was hard not to feel the presence of the Queen’s alumni when you interfaced with a person like him.”

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