Tom Beynon had a remarkable football career for a Canadian offensive lineman who was around for just five CFL seasons.
In those five years he played in four consecutive Grey Cups, from 1966 through 1969, winning three of them. He was on the first Saskatchewan Roughriders team to win a CFL championship, in 1966, lost the following year with the Roughriders, then won two consecutive Cups in 1968 and 1969 with those other Rough Riders, the fellows from Ottawa.
Not bad for a kid from Waterloo, Ont., who almost quit the CFL in his first season because it looked as if he could not fit law school into his plans.
“For a Canadian kid who has that dream of playing professional football, you couldn’t have written it any better than that,” Beynon, 71, said over the telephone from his law office in his hometown. “I was pretty lucky.”
Yes, there was luck involved. Beynon was fortunate enough to play on two of the greatest teams in CFL history: the Saskatchewan side featuring Ron Lancaster, Hugh Campbell and George Reed, and the Ottawa group that had Russ Jackson, Bo Scott, Margene Adkins and Ron Stewart.
Beynon says there were people he played with and for who helped him get ahead, such as fellow Saskatchewan offensive lineman Jack Abendschan and former Ottawa co-owner Gordon Henderson. They both helped Beynon combine law school and football and, in Henderson’s case, pursue a career in technology and business law when his playing career ended.
However, none of that would have been possible without enormous drive on Beynon’s part. He put in all the hours required to get a law degree while playing professional football and he was smart enough to take advantage of the opportunities, becoming one of the best in the field of intellectual property rights.
Beynon also may have had the advantage of good genes. He comes from a family of high achievers, as his younger brother Murray is world-renowned architect, one of the principals in BBB Architects, which designed many of the world’s best arenas, such as the Air Canada Centre and the rebuilt Madison Square Garden. Tom Beynon warmed up for law school by graduating with a mechanical engineering degree from Queen’s University.
“When you have the privilege of playing at that level and winning, it gives you confidence in life,” Beynon said. “It made an impact on my practice of law.”
Having the confidence to achieve is one thing, but you also have to be willing to put in the work and make the requisite sacrifices.
“You survive on four or five hours of sleep, set the goal line and go for it,” Beynon said. “People say you can’t do it and that’s what sets the igniters off and you say, ‘Yes I can do it.’ It’s like being in the fourth quarter, down four or five and you have a group like Ottawa with Bo Scott and Russ Jackson and Ron Stewart. They’d say it will be a [lousy] party if we lose, so let’s figure out how to win.
“You have to sacrifice, of course. My theory is there are only two elements on the stove so you can only do two high-speed things at a time. In law school, I didn’t go out at night. I did football and law, only two things.”
It almost became just law in August of 1966 when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who drafted Beynon in the first round of the 1965 draft, traded him to Saskatchewan. He never played for the Ticats, and after he finished his first year of law school at the University of Western Ontario, Beynon was out of money. He tried to transfer to the University of Saskatchewan’s law school in Saskatoon after the trade, but was unsuccessful.
He decided to report to the Roughriders anyway to earn enough to go back to school at Western. The dean of the law school agreed with Beynon’s plan and they decided he would have the funds by late September. At that point, he would quit the Roughriders and report to Western, in London, Ont.
However, it became apparent the Saskatchewan team was something special, and Beynon was torn as his departure date approached. He confessed his problem over drinks with Abendschan one night.
Abendschan was aghast, but knew there were lots of fans around the football team who were influential in different areas. Within a few days, Abendschan introduced Beynon to one of them, Harold Pick, a Regina lawyer with connections in the Saskatchewan legal community. He quickly arranged Beynon’s transfer to the University of Saskatchewan law school in Saskatoon. Beynon commuted to as many classes as he could from Regina during the football season and attended full-time in the off-season until he had his law degree.
During those hectic days, a prominent Ottawa lawyer named Gordon Henderson gave a series of guest lectures at the U of S. He was an expert in intellectual property law, a field that intrigued Beynon because of his background as a mechanical engineer. Beynon got to know Henderson, who also owned a piece of the Ottawa Rough Riders, and soon Beynon was offered a job at his law firm.
“So I sat down with Eagle Keys [Saskatchewan’s head coach] and asked for a trade,” Beynon said. “I wanted to play another year or two. Eagle and I talked about it over a bottle of bourbon. When the bottle was done, Eagle said, ‘I can’t convince you to stay, so I’ll try to trade you to Ottawa.’ That team was a dream for a Canadian kid, with Russ Jackson, Ron Stewart, Bo Scott and Margene Adkins.”
Beynon reported to Ottawa for the 1968 season and the eastern Rough Riders beat the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup. In 1969, Ottawa won again, this time at the expense of Beynon’s former team.
A knee injury early in the 1970 season signalled to Beynon it was time to retire. He reported to Henderson’s law firm full-time and eventually travelled the world helping clients in the technology field. This included a stint in the 1990s representing the Russian Space Agency, where he worked with the famous spacecraft designer Mikhail Reshetnev.
“In some minds, he was the father of the Russian space program,” Beynon said. “He designed the Yuri Gagarin space capsule. He was a special human being. If I have a regret, I didn’t realize how special it was at that moment.”
Now, at an age when most of his peers are retired, Beynon is still learning. He graduated last June from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School with a master of law degree and was handed his sheepskin by an old football friend, university chancellor Roy McMurtry, who briefly played in the CFL and later was its commissioner.
Beynon says the reason he doesn’t slow down is a fear of developing the same medical problems as some of his former teammates. They have issues with dementia, common among former football players due to the repeated head shots they endured on the field.
“I’m just so fearful of mental decay,” Beynon said. “I know if you try and stay involved intellectually, exercise your mind and stay involved with young people, it will help you.”
To that end, Beynon devotes every weekday morning to pro bono legal work for the hundreds of young entrepreneurs who come out of Waterloo’s two universities.
“I don’t enjoy gardening but I do enjoy practising law,” Beynon said. “So I have arrangements with the kids. There are lots of young entrepreneurs here and if they call me between 9 and 11 in the morning, it’s free.
“I’m very lucky. I can walk without a limp, I can still see, still hear, swing a golf club occasionally and help people with their legal problems.”