Ace Bailey still leaving gifts 10 years later

Kathy Bailey, Barbara Pothier and the Kings mascot, Bailey. The mascot is named in honor of Ace. Courtesy of the Bailey family

Garnet “Ace” Bailey always seemed to find just the right gift for a child. During family get-togethers at his home in Lynnfield, Mass., he would disappear upstairs for several minutes then return with a doll for a niece, a stuffed animal for a nephew or a crib for a newborn.

He knew how to make children smile, and he knew how to make them feel comfortable.

Not even Sept. 11, 2001, could take that away.

Bailey, the former director of pro scouting for the Los Angeles Kings, was among those killed in the terrorist attacks 10 years ago today. The 53-year-old native of Saskatchewan, Canada, was on the second plane that struck the World Trade Center shortly after departing Boston.

Traveling with Bailey was Mark Bavis, a 31-year-old amateur scout who was entering his second season with the Kings. They were on their way to the opening of training camp.

Like many who died that day, both left behind large, tight-knit families and numerous friends from coast to coast. They also left a hole in a sport that’s been struck with more tragedy in recent days.

It’s no surprise that those closest to the men have steadfastly maintained their memories.

A tribute to Bailey is especially noticeable during Kings’ games at Staples Center. The team mascot, a 6-foot tall rambunctious lion who celebrates home victories by sliding across the ice on a four-wheel ATV, was given the name Bailey in honor of the popular scout.

In the Boston area, where Ace Bailey first arrived as a left wing for the Bruins in 1968 and later helped the franchise win Stanley Cup championships in 1970 and 72, his presence is felt in a much broader way.

Shortly after Bailey was killed, his family established the Ace Bailey Children’s Foundation. The first check that was given to the account was sent by the Boston Bruins Alumni Assoc. The foundation held its first fundraiser five months after 9/11.

Bailey’s widow, Kathy, their only child, Todd, and his sister-in-law, Barbara Pothier, knew just the right place to funnel the donations.

"As a young hockey player, the [Bruins] would visit pediatric hospitals and that had a lot of meaning for Ace,” said Pothier, who has been speaking on behalf of the family. “He just adored children and the kids adored him too.”

The foundation’s initial goal was to renovate a playroom on the eighth floor of the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston. They transformed a grey, nondescript room that looked more like storage space into a colorful center complete with toys, games and books for children of all ages. Among the other additions were rows of computers, so parents could privately communicate with the outside world.

One of the last additions to the playroom was a sign above the entrance that reads, "Ace’s Place."

"It’s so healing to be able to go into that space and see that in Ace’s name," Pothier said. "He has been able to make people happy, because they come up and tell us, 'Oh, this has just saved us. We've been here for months and if she didn't have this playroom to come up to, I don’t know what we would have done.' "

The foundation didn't stop there. They noticed parents of ill children didn't have anywhere to escape for short periods. They found a room with an old couch and a few gaudy vending machines and turned it into a quiet area where parents could step away from their child's bedside, watch a video or cook a hot meal in a fully equipped kitchen.

They added conference rooms and renovated the entire neonatal intensive care unit.

Bailey never stopped planning for just the right gift, and the foundation hasn't either.

They've set their sights on turning a large atrium that leads into the pediatric center into a smaller version of Ace’s Place. When children walk into the hospital for the first time, they'll be greeted by a soothing, childlike atmosphere that should ease some of their tensions.

The contributions have also helped Bailey's family emerge from a dark place, Pothier said. Kathy, who was married to Bailey for 30 years, has kept busy with her grandson, Evan, who was born to Todd and his wife, Kelly, two years ago. Evan, whose middle name is Garnet in honor of his grandfather, displays the same high energy and meticulous organization, Pothier said.

Evan recently accompanied Kathy to a memorial in Lynnfield, where a flag was planted in the ground for every victim of the 9/11 attacks. Evan made sure each flag was perfectly placed, just as his grandfather would have done.

"You can be sad about Ace for so long and then somebody tells a story and everybody is in hysterics laughing," Pothier said. "He left us with that tremendous gift. When you speak about him, you can't help but to laugh. It sort of makes emotions go up and down, but it's a gift."

One more that can't be taken away.