Tributes flowed from many directions following the passing of Hay River’s Pat Bobinski.
The biathlon coach, volunteer and former justice of the peace – just to name a few of the longtime resident’s many involvements in the community – died on July 30 at the age of 77 following a brief illness.
His impact was even felt beyond Hay River, including serving for many years as president of the NWT Biathlon Association and promoting the sport in smaller communities.
One of the tributes came from Hay River Olympic biathlete Brendan Green, who was first coached in the sport by Bobinski.
Green said Bobinski was a legend in many different circles – fishing, hunting, guiding, trapping and canoeing – with biathlon being just one of them.
“When I was nine years old and starting to make a name for myself on skis, Pat thought it was time for my first lesson in biathlon,” Green recalled in e-mail comments to The Hub. “I remember it being tedious and painstaking to learn the difficult and confusing concepts of marksmanship at that age, but Pat was patient and we got through it.”
Green noted that, even when he relocated to Canmore, Alta., to train with the national team, Bobinski would still regularly check on him with a phone call.
“When I talk to reporters while racing in Europe, they love the idea that I’m from a small, relatively isolated town in Northern Canada,” said Green. “I get asked often about my Olympic aspirations and how I was able to accomplish what I have done while growing up in Hay River. To me the answer is simple – Pat Bobinski. Without Pat, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Without Pat, biathlon wouldn’t exist in the North.”
In 2010, Bobinski was in the crowd to see Green’s Olympic debut in Vancouver.
“I knew he would be there, it was a promise he made to me years before,” said the biathlete. “Pat never broke a promise. For me it was a privilege to have him there and a memory I will never forget.”
Green said the North will never be the same without Bobinski, but his legacy will live on.
Doug Rentmeister, executive director of Sport North, said Bobinski was a huge supporter of the organization and its programs.
“We worked together for two decades,” Rentmeister said. “He was the name and the face of biathlon for such a long time and he will be missed by everyone.”
Mayor Brad Mapes praised Bobinski’s contributions to Hay River.
“The loss of Pat Bobinski for our community is huge,” said the mayor, pointing to his many contributions beginning with his role with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and continuing on as a coach, justice of the peace and volunteer firefighter.
“Pat was someone who really cared about the community and he loved to work with youth,” said Mapes.
“He’s not just known to our community,” the mayor added. “He’s known all over the Northwest Territories and to the polar communities.”
Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson also praised Bobinski’s contributions, especially to cross-country skiing.
“He loomed large in the community, for sure,” said Simpson.
The MLA noted Bobinski was in contact with him a few months ago about changes in sport funding.
“So he was still promoting sport and working to ensure that athletes had the proper support from the government,” the MLA recalled.
Chief Judge Christine Gagnon of the NWT Territorial Court issued a statement in recognition of Bobinski’s 40 years of service as a justice of the peace until his mandatory retirement at age of 75 in 2015.
“Up to the last week before his mandatory retirement, he was very active and presided in court for trial matters and judicial interim release hearings on a regular basis in addition to performing other duties,” wrote Gagnon. “He was a man of great humanity and considerable wisdom.”
Bobinski, who was originally from Manitoba, first came to Hay River in 1966.
In a 2010 interview with News/North, he recalled he returned to stay two years later as a fisheries officer in a mobile bacteriological lab with DFO.
At the time, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. was considering placing an embargo on commercial fish from Great Slave Lake after pathogens were discovered.
“I was sent up to clean up the mess,” Bobinski said in the interview, noting he worked as part of a team to improve sanitation in fish processing. “I think we were successful. The fishery survived.”
After that assignment, Bobinski continued to work with DFO’s inspection branch throughout the NWT until retiring in the mid-1990s.
As for his involvement in sports – biathlon, fast-pitch softball, shooting, hiking and more – Bobinski explained a person must keep busy to stay healthy.
“The minute you start to slow down physically, psychologically you’re going to start to slow down also,” he said. “I really believe in a healthy body, healthy mind.”
Bobinski coached fastball and was a player, even competing at the national level.
Plus, he was a shooter for many years, including at national competitions, and helped found the Hay River Shooting Club in the late 1960s.
Bobinski was also a longtime volunteer as one of the head timers at the NWT Track and Field Championships.
In 2007, he was recognized by the GNWT as the outstanding elder volunteer of the year.