Remembered as a hero, gentle and sincere, one of the few remaining players from the 1955 Penticton Vees World Championship team died this week.
Jim Fairburn, 87, who helped the Vees win the 1954 Allan Cup and the 1955 World Championship, had Alzheimer’s and died March 28 from a leg infection at the Summerland Seniors Village.
Yasmin John-Thorpe, co-founder of the Penticton Writers and Publishers group, saw Fairburn’s gentle side during an interview for a story on the Vees for the book Penticton and Area Secrets and Surprises.
“My first impression was … he was so small to be a hockey player,” said John-Thorpe. “He was so gentle, so sincere and sweet to talk to.”
Fairburn had his wife, Mavis, of 66 years, son Ron and daughter-in-law Vickie at his side when he died.
Fairburn was a 5-foot-7, 145 pound forward who spent four years in the Pacific Coast Hockey League with the San Francisco Shamrocks, Portland Eagles and Seattle Ironmen and two seasons with the Victoria Cougars and New Westminster Royals.
“A lot of small players don’t go where the puck goes,” Ivan McLelland, Fairburn’s friend and Vees teammate said. “They will go so far and then they will stay on the fringe. Jimmy never agreed with taking the man. He said, ‘I don’t want the body, I want the puck. I will go after the puck.’ I watched that Newell and he will take that puck right off guys’ sticks. He will go in there with those big dudes and he comes out with the puck, just like Jim. He would set someone up and it’s in the net.”
Four seasons Fairburn scored 20-plus goals and twice he racked up 30-plus goals. Fairburn spent the rest of his career with the Vees after being reinstated as an amateur player. McLelland recalls him being very good in their national championship-winning season and that Fairburn was proud of the fact he was the only plus-five player in Penticton’s 5-0 win over Russia. Fairburn set up the first two goals on beautiful plays.
He never saw time on the power play time with the Vees because the Warwick brothers, Grant, Billy and Dick always did. McLelland said Fairburn complained to him about it years later. McLelland, who visited Fairburn often and last saw him three weeks ago said Fairburn didn’t recognize him. As McLelland was leaving, he tapped his friend on the knee and said one last thing.
“Jim, wherever you’re going, you’re going to be a lot happier,” said McLelland, adding that he was the kind of guy that makes one be proud of being part of the hockey fraternity as he was a class act. “I hope the beer is free and the golf is free. He loved his beer and he loved his golf.”