For sports radio personality Bill Powers, walking into a Calgary bar was always like a scene from the TV show Cheers. He’d stride into the room and people would shout, “Billy.”
Everyone knew his name. He was that recognizable, which has made his death all the more difficult for the city he covered like no one else for nearly 50 years.
On Thursday, Calgarians learned that Mr. Powers and his wife, Donna Lee, had been found dead in their Braeside neighbourhood home and that a man had been taken into custody after leading police to the bodies. On Friday, Derek Puffer, 35, Mr. Powers’s stepson, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder.
Police have yet to release the full details of what happened in the Powers home. But autopsies conducted Friday showed that Mr. Powers, 71, and Ms. Lee, 64, were both stabbed to death.
News of Mr. Powers’s death was hard for many to accept given his widespread popularity, his ready smile and his ability to tell a joke, no matter the subject. His radio station, CHQR 77, where he worked on Calgary Stampeder football broadcasts, held a 2-hour long tribute show Thursday evening. Ken King, president and CEO of the Calgary Flames, appeared on the show and said both the Stampeders and Flames would honour Mr. Powers some time in the coming weeks. Other plans are being discussed to pay tribute to a man who gave his time to charities of multiple causes.
“He was truly the people’s sportscaster,” said radio co-worker Jock Wilson. “He was easy to talk to and generous. When Billy came into a room, he talked to you and you were the most important person in that room.”
Mr. Powers’s passion for helping others was born of his daughter Debbie’s brush with death. In 1986, the 17-year-old high schooler underwent dental surgery. Two days later, she suffered an adverse reaction to the anesthesia. Her throat began to swell and cut off her breathing. Mr. Powers’s first wife, a nurse, was able to keep their daughter alive until paramedics arrived.
Debbie suffered brain damage and was left partially paralyzed. Mr. Powers was shaken by the incident, and took on as much charity work as he could to make some good of it. One example of Mr. Powers’s largesse involved him getting free beer from Molsons (it was given to him and his radio station CKXL for promotional purposes) – Mr. Powers would sell the beer and soft drinks to co-workers for $1, then donate all the money to charity.
“I remember when I first met him in 1981,” Mr. Wilson said of Mr. Powers. “I went to a news conference … and Billy had a couple of pops. After it was over, Bill said, ‘Let’s go get a few more.’ We spent the afternoon together, then he goes on air and he’s as smooth as gold. I go on air and I kick it all over the place. I should have been fired. I learned my lesson: You may think you can run with the big boys, but you can’t compete with the big boys.”
Mr. Powers, a beer in his hand, was a staple of virtually every Calgary sporting event and news conference throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He delivered his sports updates in rapid-fire fashion, always ending with a trademark, “We’ll be back with the weather … in a minute.” The “in a minute” was said as one word.
Globe and Mail sportswriter David Shoalts remembered those sportscasts during his days with the Calgary Herald. Mr. Shoalts also recalled how well he was treated as a rookie writer by Mr. Powers, then the reigning king of Calgary’s sports media.
“Billy was the one who taught us youngsters eager to dig up all the dirt we were sure was there that covering sports was supposed to be fun, too, with a lot of laughs and a few beers along the way,” Mr. Shoalts said. “The first time I played a round of golf with him, it was a thrill a couple of hours later while driving home to tune in Billy and hear him talk about it on the radio as if we were peers. He was the first to treat us newbies that way and I never forgot it.”
Mr. Powers originally worked as a news reporter for the Edmonton Journal in 1961. He then moved to Calgary and wrote for the Albertan newspaper and became a full-fledged sportswriter in 1965. With his impish personality and relentless sense of humour, Mr. Powers made a switch to radio and quickly became the must-listen-to voice of authority – the guy who could walk into any pub or bar and be instantly surrounded by well-wishers and people just wanting to be near him.
He later served as the media relations director for the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders before joining CHQR 77, where he was part of the Stampeders’ radio broadcasts. In 2001, Mr. Powers was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum; he retired eight years later and could often be seen picking up his granddaughter after school.
“I asked her if she wanted me to come and get her every day,” Mr. Powers once said. “She told me, ‘The job’s yours if you want it.’”
Files from Ann Hui and Tu Thanh Ha were used in this report.