Raised by a single mother in the Hill Park neighbourhood on Hamilton’s east Mountain, Dave Lane grew up in household that sometimes struggled to make ends meet.
The hardship of those lean years left Lane with an immense compassion for the less fortunate and he spent the remainder of his life looking for ways to lend a hand.
“Dave grew up without a lot and that’s what drove him to help others,” said Rudy Florio, a close friend. “It’s a huge loss for so many people on so many levels.”
A former player and president of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats alumni association and the long-time executive director of the John Howard Society of Hamilton Burlington and Area, Lane died suddenly Wednesday night. He was 65.
Growing up in Hamilton, Lane was an outstanding football player for Hill Park Secondary before playing three seasons at running back for the University of Guelph, earning all-Canadian honours and a nomination for the Hec Crighton Trophy as the country’s most outstanding player in 1974.
He was inducted into the University of Guelph Hall of Fame in 1986.
The Ticats selected Lane in the seventh round of the 1974 CFL Draft and he played for part of the following season. But though an injury he suffered in his final year at Guelph ended his playing days, he hardly retired from the sport.
Lane was active as a coach and administrator for several minor and high school football programs and became active in both the Tiger-Cats and CFL alumni associations. He was instrumental in the establishment of a support fund for retired players who fell on hard times, said Canadian Football League Alumni Association president Leo Ezerins.
“He was Hamilton success story,” Ezerin said. “He grew up here, left to do other things, then returned to give back to his community.”
His professional life was also dedicated to helping others.
While earning degrees from Guelph, McMaster and the University of Toronto, Lane spent time with the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, served as a guard at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, was a residential counsellor at a group home for the developmentally handicapped and worked at Community Living Hamilton.
He was active as a union organizer — and then often negotiated with those unions as a member of management a few years later.
Most recently, Lane spent 11 years expanding the reach of the John Howard Society, an organization dedicated to providing services for members of the community who have come into conflict with the law or are at risk of doing so.
He was an instrumental in establishing anti-gang programs in the city as well as championing restorative justice, which aims to provide youth an alternative to court-imposed punishments.
Lane was also active in volunteer community organizations and initiatives and was knighted last year by the Order of St. George, which honours those who show a commitment to helping others. That led to some ribbing, says long-time friend Jim Cimba.
“They used call Dave ‘Night Train’ when he was a player so we started calling him ‘Knight Train’ with a ‘K’,” Cimba said with a laugh. “He got a kick out of that.”
Lane was the father of three children — Rebecca, 27, Nathan, 25, and Roberta, 22 — and wife Caren says he always prioritized their needs even in the face of his countless philanthropic efforts.
“He was a father, a mentor, a teacher, a coach,” Caren said.
“Beyond his work commitments, board commitments, volunteering commitments and his involvement in sports, he was still a loving, caring father who was very involved in his children’s lives.”
Despite his death, Lane’s friends and family say his legacy of helping others will continue.
Florio will rename in Lane’s honour in June a college scholarship fund they started together.
Ticats vice-chairman Glenn Gibson, who knew Lane from the time they played for rival high schools, says he plans to extend a program they started that employs at-risk youth at Tim Hortons Field during the team’s games.
“I’m sorry that someone like Dave who adds so much to our community has been lost,” Gibson said “But the question becomes ‘How do we honour him?’
“I think we do that by continuing the work he started.”