Barry’s Bay – M.P.P. John Yakabuski presented Helen Conway with a Diamond Jubilee Medal, on behalf of her husband, the late Phil Conway, on February 14.
Prior to the medal being awarded, Chris Briggs, owner and operator of Lorraine’s Pharmasave in Barry’s Bay, was asked to say a few words about Phil.
“It’s certainly, for me, a privilege to be asked to say a few words about Phil. I never really met anybody quite like Phil. You don’t meet people like that very often and he was unique. I think everybody in this community would know that he was a character, a community citizen, he was a caring person, he was really a special person,” Briggs began.
“It is only fitting, I think, that we are honouring him as we open Timberfest. As many people in this room I’m sure will recall, Timberfest died a number of years ago and didn’t exist and this went on for a few years, and Phil decided that we needed Timberfest back and so he resurrected it.”
Briggs went on to indicate Phil’s involvement with the Miss Timberfest Pageant. He recalled the 25th anniversary of the pageant and how Phil suggested that it would be great to get back the 25 winners and have them honoured that weekend.
Some of the former Miss Timberfest winners were Linda Bleskie, who won the first year, as well as Jeannette Cybulskie, Ann Ward, Lorraine and Thelma Cybulskie, sisters, Debbie Davies, Marianne Golka, Nancy Boyd, Stephanie Hildebrandt and Vivian Conway.
“He was just the driving force behind so many different things here.”
“I recall when Phil first took sick…and that he was in the hospital in Renfrew. Erin and I thought…we’d really like to go down and see him, because the prognosis really wasn’t very good at that time. And I was just hoping that I would come up with the right words to say because I knew Phil was dying, and I just hoped that I would have something magical to say,” Briggs said.
“We get to the hospital and Helen’s there to greet us…and Phil’s lying in bed. Phil sees me and says ʽCome over here, come over here quick.’ And so I go over to the edge of the bed…and he says, ʽChris, I just wanted you to know that I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and I’ve decided that once I die I’ll know right away if there’s a heaven or a hell or not. So, I’m going to come back and tell you. So once you know, you can know how to live the rest of your life. Like if there isn’t a heaven…you can just break all the rules, go ahead it’ll be great. And I’ll be coming back to tell you.’”
This brought on more chuckles from those in the audience as many remembered Phil’s humour and jokes.
“And I’m thinking holy gee I can’t believe this, he’s just telling me joke after joke. I said so like how are you really feeling Phil? He said ʽI’ll tell you how I’m feeling Chris; I’m feeling so terrible I’ve got Shaun O’Reilly on speed dial.’”
This part of Briggs’ story brought more laughs from those in attendance.
“He was one of those unique people that after you had a conversation with him you always felt better. And I can’t say that for a lot of people, but Phil was certainly unique in that regard.”
Briggs then went on to talk about Phil’s involvement with the Lions Club, when Phil and Helen returned to Barry’s Bay in the early 80’s. He also spoke of Phil’s involvement with council over the years as well.
When the Combermere tornado disaster hit, “Phil called somebody and got the Flying Fathers here, and between the Flying Fathers’ event and a number of events that were coordinated by him through the Lions Club, they raised something like $60,000 which went to the Combermere relief fund… I’m not sure those things kind of happen if you don’t have someone like Phil Conway,” Briggs recollected.
Briggs then spoke of how Phil came into the store on a number of occasions, and he’d say ʽso-and-so just had a fire, and gee they’re really in a bad way, I’m just going around doing a little collection here, you know like $25, $50.’ So Phil would go up and down the street raising money in order to help someone out,” Briggs said. “And to most people this was just unknown, nobody really knew this was taking place. But Phil would just do all kinds of this stuff behind the scenes, so he was unique.”
Briggs also spoke of a number of events that he went to with Phil, adding that you “just didn’t know what Phil was going to do, but you just knew that you were going to have a lot of fun.”
Briggs further mentioned that Phil contributed a lot to the Timberfest weekend.
“He’d call up Dicky Duff, and he had Dicky Duff, an NHL hockey player, come here for Timberfest,” Briggs said. “So we miss him greatly but we remember him.”
“He had great love for our community, he had great love for people that needed help and, mostly, he had great love for his family, and he would often say, for his first wife Helen,” Briggs said. “It was very clear to me how much Helen meant to him and it’s so wonderful to see Helen here. And I know a lot of what Phil accomplished in his life he wouldn’t have accomplished without Helen. So, I think, certainly Helen a lot of this tribute is to you too because you were certainly the wind beneath Phil’s wings.”
“I think we all that we were fortunate enough to have met Phil and to have known Phil, we’re all certainly the better for it,” Briggs concluded.
The applause that followed Briggs reminiscing was loud and complimentary both for Briggs’ words and for the things Phil did for the Valley.
The floor was then turned over to MPP John Yakabuskie to make the presentation of the award to Helen.
“First of all I want to thank Chris for doing this tonight; but also Chris did something to help me with what I’m about to do shortly,” Yakabuski said.
Story continues in the February 20, 2013 issue of The Valley Gazette.