October 3, 2023

George Reed Legacy Fund: “He lifted us in the past and continues to carry us into the future”

As tributes to George Reed pour in, it is important for his remarkable life and his heartfelt wishes to be honoured. 

Accordingly, the George Reed Legacy Fund has been established and launched in memory of the Saskatchewan Roughriders icon, who was one day shy of his 84th birthday when he passed away on Sunday in Regina. 

In recent years, the legendary fullback and his family had worked closely with the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation (SRF) to establish a fund that would have long-lasting benefits for two of his favourite organizations — Special Olympics Saskatchewan and Mother Teresa Middle School. 

The George Reed Legacy Fund will take on the work of the George Reed Foundation, which had been established in 1975. Fans can contribute to the new fund by visiting the SRF’s donation page. 

“We will carry on his legacy that will be remembered for generations, not only for his football skills, but as an integral part of our community,” SRF Executive Director Cindy Fuchs says. 

The gesture is greatly appreciated by the beneficiaries. 

“This is really special to us,” says Faye Matt, Chief Executive Officer of Special Olympics Saskatchewan. “It’s similar to the reason why, in 2017, we were able to purchase a headquarters building and name it the George Reed Centre.  

“He lifted us in the past and continues to carry us into the future.” 

Reed, who starred at fullback for the Roughriders from 1963 to 1975, was in his second-last CFL season when he played an integral role in the formation of Special Olympics Saskatchewan. 

“George was drawn to Special Olympics athletes at a time when Special Olympics was just emerging and people with intellectual disabilities were typically living in institutional settings and not part of regular community life,” Matt notes.
“He was one of the first kind of pioneers in that space to be ready to uplift them as athletes. I think he respected them on that surface level as being athletes who have an athletic pursuit and want to achieve their goals, just like he did as an athlete. He didn’t see it as anything else.  

“He knew what sport meant in his life and I think he wanted others to be able to experience that as well.” 

Accordingly, he used his profile to promote and enhance the popularity of Special Olympics — one of many good causes for which he worked tirelessly. 

“Functionally, we know that without George, Special Olympics Saskatchewan as a chapter wouldn’t really have had its growth period as much as it did,” Matt says.  

“In Saskatchewan, our chapter of Special Olympics was our first to be incorporated in Canada. He took it from the small concept to a larger scale by using his influence and network and by fundraising.  

“Anyone who knew George knew that he wasn’t shy when it came to fundraising. He was more of a demander of fundraising. In the charitable sector, he was a fabulous asset — not just in demanding fundraising, but in demanding equality and interest, whether it be from media picking up stories or from venues creating space for athletes. 

“I might say ‘demanding,’ because I got to work with him a little bit, but I would also say ‘influential.’ He requested that others respect Special Olympics athletes.  

“That meant not just cheering them on when they participated, but also that people write cheques to make sure that Special Olympics athletes have access to sports and that there was a continuation of programs for people with intellectual disabilities.” 

Nearly 40 years after Special Olympics Saskatchewan was formed, Reed was introduced to Regina’s Mother Teresa Middle School. 

Its mission, as outlined on mtmsregina.com: “Recognizing Truth and Reconciliation, MTMS ignites a love of learning and empowers students to embrace their personal and cultural identity while overcoming obstacles and growing their spiritual, intellectual, emotional, social and physical well-being.” 

That philosophy was aligned with principles espoused by Reed, whose relationship with MTMS began a decade ago. 

“We used to get a donation from the George Reed Foundation,” recalls Curtis Kleisinger, Executive Director of MTMS. “George would make sure that he walked that donation over. He never sent it, because he wanted to come here and spend time.  

“Pre-COVID, George used to drop in at the school regularly and spend time with our kids. He was such a kind and gentle and humble man. He was always so comfortable with our students and always seemed to have a great connection with them.  

“One of the main reasons why we exist is to help our students overcome obstacles and barriers in their lives. Perhaps the connection with George arose because he understood overcoming barriers and obstacles as well as anyone.” 

There weren’t any obstacles when it came to knowing and appreciating No. 34. 

“When George came in and he would spend time in the school, the kids would be Googling his rushing yards and how long he played and where he went to school and where he was from but, more importantly, they were impressed with George the man,” Kleisinger says. “He would sit and engage with them. 

“There were big numbers and George played for the Riders and our kids certainly know who he is, but it was more George the man. Just giving them his presence was as good as anything. It was always great to have him in.  

“He had a soft spot and he was a compassionate man, with Special Olympics and his association with Mother Teresa Middle School. He just got kids and he got opportunity and he got that he could do a lot of good things just by being involved.  

“He could tell some stories and brighten people’s days. He was such a good spirit and was a calming presence. It was great to have him and great to have that association with him. We’re going to miss having him around.” 

It is a void that is still difficult to comprehend. 

We’re all feeling his loss this week, as a benefactor but also as a friend,” Matt says. “All of our athletes will miss him dearly. We’re thinking of Angie and George’s family and all of Saskatchewan.  

“He was a treasure.”