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Lost in the myriad of news bulletins and public health directives surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic was the news that Prince Edward Island lost, suddenly, one of its greatest athletes, with the passing of Bill McKinnon.
Bill was the first Islander to win a medal at the Canada Games, winning gold in 1969 in Halifax in the marquee event – the 100 M dash. For his stellar athletic efforts, having also run internationally for Canada, Bill was deservedly inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame.
Just last month, Sport P.E.I. recognized the 50th anniversary of Bill's incredible feat at its annual awards ceremony at Holland College in Charlottetown. I was part of that audience, and was so proud that Bill was given this recognition. As well, all of us in attendance took so much joy and appreciation in the fact that Bill was totally unaware of the plans to recognize his achievements, but not surprisingly, he stole the night with his off-the-cuff remarks to the audience that were delivered with thanks, kindness, purpose and humility.
Bill McKinnon and I were good friends. We would always enjoy a good chat, a good chuckle, and a friendly bicker over politics (he loved talking politics) and would always part on the best of terms. That is the way it always was. We go back a long way. He was a teacher of mine at Montague Regional High School and was one of the people who managed to see the potential in me – even though I worked so hard at that time to ignore or conceal it.
As time passed, when we would meet, Bill would always make the point of telling me how proud he was of me and would always encourage me to work hard to be more. I don’t know if I took enough time to fully appreciate the kindness and importance of those gestures at the time, but it warms my heart now as I reflect on his life and the positive impact he had on so many.
My fondest memories of Bill (and his late wife Heather) are from sporting events. They were the best sports parents to Kris and Shawn, always volunteering, organizing, coaching and cheering. Bill was a great fan of all Islanders and their sporting endeavours. He always believed Island athletes were as good as any other, that we could compete on a national and international stage, and he never tired of telling us just how much pride goes along with wearing the P.E.I. flag on your back.
By chance, or by opportunity or perhaps both, as we were leaving Holland College at the completion of the Sports P.E.I. event, Adele Gillis “ordered” us to have a photo. We laughed, we smiled, we bickered over politics, like we always did. I just never thought it would be for the final time. Thankfully, I have the photo, along with a lifetime of memories and appreciation for a great athlete, a great teacher, a great community builder and friend.
Bill will be missed, but he left an incredible mark on the province of PEI. To Kris, Shawn and their families, and all of those connected to this fine individual, I offer my deepest condolences.
Hon. Dennis King,
Premier of Prince Edward Island