Vancouver Sun photograph.
Born: (Calgary, Alberta)
Died: September 9, 2015 (Delta, British Columbia)
Though his dream of being a professional hockey player ended without success, Richard Loney still managed to enjoy a 40-season National Hockey League career.
Mr. Loney’s lovely tenor was heard across the land as he sang the national anthem before the puck was dropped at Vancouver Canucks home games.
His rendition of O Canada was crisply rendered and always dignified and respectful. He sang without the histrionics now often associated with anthem singers, who seek to draw attention to themselves rather than to the patriotic lyrics.
Mr. Loney, who has died at 82, left listeners stirred, not shaken.
“He was not Mr. Excitement, but, boy, could he sing an anthem,” said Greg Douglas, who hired him for the Canucks job in 1970.
The singer was a familiar figure at the Pacific Coliseum and, later, the Rogers Arena for more than four decades. Slight in physique, dapper always in a suit jacket, his salt-and-pepper hair turning silver over the years, he stepped onto the ice to deliver an overture to what would be season after season of thwarted ambition for his beloved Canucks. The team reached the Stanley Cup finals three times in his tenure as team tenor, failing ever to win the prize.
Though not a lucky charm for the team, Mr. Loney was whimsically referred to as the best Canucks draft pick of the 1970s.
The anthem singer performed also before B.C. Lions football games, Vancouver Whitecaps soccer matches, and Vancouver Giants junior hockey games. He sang O Canada for an American audience when the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team played in Seattle. He sang before the 1994 Grey Cup and the 2007 Memorial Cup. He even learned to sing the national anthems of Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union for a hockey tournament. He also sang the Soviet anthem prior to Game 4 of the 1972 Summit Series, one of his biggest thrills.
Sometimes, a lucky handful of spectators would be treated to Mr. Loney singing the anthem before the start of his grandchildren’s baseball games in suburban Ladner.
The singer’s repertoire went far beyond O Canada and The Star-Spangled Banner.
He also sang in operas and with symphony orchestras, on cruise ships and at shopping malls, at a Teamsters’ union convention and at goaltender Glen Hanlon’s wedding.
Born in Calgary, he grew up in a household where the family sang around the piano, as well as at church. He played junior hockey in Alberta, where he relied on speed to ensure his 150-pound frame was not crushed by opponents.
In 1954, he moved to Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia. He skated on left wing for the varsity team for three seasons before spending more time with the student music society, known as Mussoc. He sang on stage and in the chorus for several productions before getting a summer job in the chorus of Theatre Under the Stars, a company which performed outdoors in Stanley Park.
After graduation, he taught at elementary and secondary schools in North Vancouver.
During a teacher’s exchange to England in 1963-64, he studied voice in London under the famous Scottish lyric tenor Joseph Hislop, who had earlier taught the great Swedish tenor Jussi Björling. Mr. Loney’s skill was such that his audition for a national touring company earned an invitation to join the chorus of “My Fair Lady” and to be an understudy for the role of Freddy.
“My wife and I stayed up all one night trying to decide what to do,” he told Clive Cocking in 1982. “But by then we were homesick and I didn’t take the gamble.”
He returned to teaching English, French and social studies, while also coaching high school tennis teams. (He had challenged for the provincial junior title while living in Alberta.)
The Canucks made their NHL debut on Oct. 9, 1970, a gala affair seen by a national audience on “Hockey Night in Canada.” The anthem was sung that night by Juliette Cavazzi, better known as “our pet Juliette,” a popular singer and television host. An ardent fan, Mr. Loney watched from the stands.
“I went to four or five games and they had different singers,” he told Len Corben four years ago. “I was going to buy season tickets but I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. I can do what they’re doing.’” He approached Mr. Douglas, who handled publicity for the team.
“He asked if he could sing the anthem,” Mr. Douglas said. “We didn’t have a permanent singer, so I said sure. I don’t think he even auditioned. I don’t even remember if we paid him. Maybe with tickets.”
With his extensive performance history, including two seasons on television with CBC’s “Chorus Gentlemen,” produced in Vancouver, Mr. Loney proved to be a steadier performer than the hockey players he cheered.
A rare mishap occurred in 1979, when he he was booed by Vancouver fans when he switched from English to French midway through the anthem before a game against the Montreal Canadiens. He immediately switched back to English. Two nights later, he mangled the lyrics for the first time ever in his career.
“I was on the third line when someone up in the rafters shouted, ‘Why not sing it in French?’ I was completely unnerved and just blew it.”
In more recent years, Mr. Loney sang the American anthem while “O Canada” was sung by Mark Donnelly, a fellow Vancouver Opera pera singer whom he had recommended to the Canuck brass. Mr. Loney suffered a stroke soon after Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, which ended in a street riot after the Canucks lost.
The singer released two albums — “A Gift of Song,” a selection of yuletide favourites, and “Listen to Me Now,” a selection of pop and gospel favourites.
Mr. Loney died on Sept. 9 following another stroke. He leaves his wife, Marion; a son, Brian; grandsons Matt and Nick; and, a brother, Tom Orr-Loney, a film and stage actor.
Mr. Douglas tells the story of one young fan whose favourite Canuck was the anthem singer, whose autograph he eagerly sought. The boy’s name — Michael Bublé.