Obituary of Ernie Phillips
ERNIE JOHN PHILLIPS
Ernie John Phillips of RR2, Blyth, a man known locally for his philanthropy and volunteerism and internationally for his work in engraving several National Hockey League (NHL) trophies, including the Stanley Cup, passed away peacefully at his home in the morning hours of Oct. 20. Born on Aug. 6, 1933, Ernie was 86. Ernie was born in Sussex, England, growing up during the Second World War. He experienced tremendous hardship and loss during his family’s time in England. As a young boy, his father and several aunts and uncles were killed at a birthday party when the house was bombed during the war. Ernie was the only person to make it out of the room alive, though his mother and sister had survived in another part of the house. For years, Ernie served as a choir boy and the Protestant Church served as a major influence in his life in England. After coming to Canada and landing in Montreal, Ernie was just 15 when he decided to leave school, but in doing so, he already knew he had a knack for the arts. With dreams of being an artist or an architect, Ernie could already see he was gifted when it came to drawing. However, his dreams were thrown a bit of a curveball just before he left school when he was working with water colours in class, painting a vase of blue roses on the teacher’s desk. Set to a chorus of laughter from his fellow students, Ernie was informed that the roses were actually pink and that was when he learned he was colour-blind – a major stumbling block if he hoped to become an artist. He would leave school before his 16th birthday and started working as a messenger boy in Montreal, delivering trophies for local engraver Bert Light. One day, Light asked Ernie if he could draw, asking him to reproduce the flag of the day’s Montreal Gazette. He passed the test and was soon put on an apprenticeship track that would see him begin engraving smaller items in the late 1940s. Ernie would work for Light for nearly 20 years, eventually striking out on his own for another decade before moving to the Blyth area. During those 30 years, Ernie would work on some of the country’s most well-known trophies, including engraving the Stanley Cup and many of the NHL’s annual awards, such as the Hart Memorial Trophy for the season’s most valuable player, the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for the season’s most sportsmanlike player, the Calder Memorial Trophy for the rookie of the year and the Conn Smythe Trophy for the most valuable player in the playoffs, his personal favourite. In addition to his work on the NHL trophies, which included 15-inch miniature Stanley Cups for every player on the season’s winning team, Ernie would also go on to engrave the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, the Brier Trophy (for the winner of the annual Canadian men’s curling championship) and countless other accolades for ski clubs, curling clubs and hockey teams. He also worked on beer steins for a number of clients, including a local Irish rugby team and the Royal Canadian Air Force. One of Ernie’s most memorable creations, and definitely his most challenging, was a pair of Canadian maple carvings he completed for Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as a gift for the Chinese government. Chinese words, he said, needed to be engraved with such accuracy and sophistication that it tested his nerves. The smallest deviation could change the word entirely. One of Ernie’s most enduring legacies, however, was essentially recreating the Stanley Cup in 1969 after it had suffered nearly 80 years of abuse and celebration at the hands of the world’s best hockey players. In 1969, the NHL decided to retire the original cup to the Hockey Hall of Fame and commissioned Carl Peterson to build an exact replica. Ernie and Light were hired to engrave the new bowl atop the cup and were ordered to replicate the original exactly. This was tricky, Phillips said, because in the early days, the original cup often didn’t make it beyond the nearest tavern after a team won it. Frustrated that their names weren’t yet engraved on the cup, players would sometimes, by way of a pen knife or any other sharp object they could find, take matters into their own hands. Ernie and Light engraved the new cup, complete with players’ names scratched in. This cup is now the Stanley Cup today’s hockey fans know and love. A year before Ernie was charged with recreating one of the world’s most famous sports trophies, he married Emily Charlotte Smith, the love of his life. Ernie and Emily were living in Montreal at the time and were married at Newcastle United Church on June 22, 1968. They first met at a party in Montreal and overcame humble beginnings and breakfast-for-dinner Christmas meals in their small Montreal apartment to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary last year in Blyth, surrounded by family members and friends. They had two children, Karen Glousher (Bill) of Brussels and Les Phillips (Heather) of Goderich, and four grandchildren, Bryce and Brett Glousher and Tyler and Elizabeth Phillips. When Ernie and Emily moved to the Blyth area, they immediately got involved in the community. Ernie joined the Blyth Lions Club and remained an active member for over 30 years until the time of his death, serving as the club’s treasurer for a number of years and the chair of the sight committee. Ernie would often put his skills to work in the community at no cost to local organizations, engraving trophies for the Lions Club, the now-closed Blyth Public School, the Blyth Legion and local churches and hockey teams, never asking for payment in return. He even penned the Lions Club’s membership certificates during his time as a Lion. In 2016, Ernie was named Citizen of the Year for Blyth by North Huron Publishing Inc., the same year he was honoured by the Ministry of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade with an Ontario Volunteer Service Award. He was also awarded with the Melvin Jones Fellowship, the highest Lions Club honour possible. In addition to his wife Emily, his children and grandchildren, Ernie is survived by his sister Kathleen Swales of Penticton, British Columbia. He was predeceased by his father Charles, his mother Daisy Hollister and his stepfather Harlow Hollister. Visitation will be held at Falconer Funeral Homes Blyth Chapel on Wednesday, Oct. 23 from 2-4 p.m. and from 7-9 p.m. A Lions Club funeral service will precede the evening visitation. Ernie’s funeral will be held at Blyth United Church on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 1 p.m. Interment at Blyth Union Cemetery will follow. While he loved flowers, Ernie’s eyesight was paramount, given his chosen career and artistic passion. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to the Lions Club International’s Guide Dog Program. For more information or to visit Ernie’s online memorial, visit falconerfuneralhomes.com.
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