He calls it his “mask” and it is an impressive creation to behold.
He is 6 feet 7 inches, dark and handsome in the graduation photograph from Princeton University which he attended on an academic scholarship. A gifted athlete, he comes from four generations of a Prairie family where the men, all tall and dark, starred in professional football and hockey.
He played Varsity Blues hockey – goaltender – for the University of Toronto before graduating in law in 1989.
He worked for the city’s leading law firms before serving as general counsel and director of corporate development at CanWest Global Communications, later becoming general counsel for Cookie Jar Entertainment, a television producer of such international children’s hits as Arthur, Caillou and Inspector Gadget. He appears to have it all: prestige, power, money, connections, family, a fine home with swimming pool in a sought-after address nears the shores of Lake Ontario.
Now let him peel back that “mask” to reveal the failed marriage, the added body weight that he now believes was a subconscious defence strategy to make himself unattractive, the fact that, at 48, he no longer works but is on extended leave while he goes through therapy and sorts out where, between today’s reality and yesterday’s mask, he will find himself.
No one ever knew that there were years in which he would secretly consult train schedules and investigate the tracks in and around town in search of a convenient place to end it all. No one saw him that dark July night four years ago when he crawled out onto the edge of a bridge over Sixteen Mile Creek and sat until dawn considering “the pros and cons of life.” He could find no “pros” but also felt he could find no courage, crawling back from the jump to walk the long distance home and weep in his bed.
Graham James is the Rhodes Scholar of child abusers. Greg Gilhooly
“I was now a failed suicide,” he says. “There wasn’t a thing I could succeed at. I thought that, once again, this was just another sign of my weakness.
“That’s how crazy it gets.”
His name is Greg Gilhooly. He believes he may be Graham James’s first victim.
And this is his story, the one he was never allowed to give in court.
Next Tuesday in Winnipeg, Graham James will be sentenced after pleading guilty in late February to sexually assaulting two young hockey players he once coached, former NHL star Theoren Fleury and Fleury’s cousin, Todd Holt. In 1997, James was sentenced to 3 ½ years for sexually assaulting former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and two other unidentified former junior players. He served just 18 months in prison.
It was lawyer Greg Gilhooly who discovered in 2010 that James had been quietly pardoned in 2007 by the National Parole Board, allowing him to leave the country. Gilhooly learned of the pardon only after he had approached Winnipeg police with allegations that he, too, had been sexually abused by James.
It happened in the late 1970s when James was coaching a midget team in Winnipeg. The abuse began when Gilhooly was 15 years old and continued for three years until the youngster left for Princeton University. All this time Gilhooly lived at home with his family – unlike James’s later victims, who were all billeted while playing for the Swift Current Broncos junior team – and James carefully kept a distance while at the arena.
Though both were initially in the same hockey organization, James did not coach Gilhooly’s teams but worked out with him and trained him. He would ask Gilhooly to meet him at one of the Salisbury House restaurants to help go over team “systems” and strategy, after which James would take the confused youngster back to his apartment where, Gilhooly says, all the sexual abuse took place.
“It was an absolutely secret relationship,” Gilhooly says. “We would meet to discuss theory of the game, positioning, how I could develop. This is how he was able to keep it quiet. He'd say ‘If your coaches find out I'm helping you,’ or ‘If your Dad knows I’m helping you your coaches will find out.’ This is why it was so brutal. No one ever knew.”
Following the release of Fleury’s revealing book, Playing with Fire, James was charged for a second time, this time for abuse of Fleury and two unidentified former players who turned out to be Holt and Gilhooly. The Crown was preparing to take it to trial when a deal was struck in which James would agree to plead guilty to two of the charges but not the third. Gilhooly believes that James did this to avenge Gilhooly’s involvement in having the secret pardon revealed.
Gilhooly reluctantly accepted the Crown’s argument that not having a trial would save time and that James’s punishment, if he pleaded guilty on two charges, would not be materially different from that if he were tried and found guilty of all three charges.
It was an agreement he would come to regret.
James pleaded guilty. Fleury was allowed to give his powerful victim’s impact statement followed by Holt, who had decided to let his name stand.
Greg Gilhooly, who had flown to Winnipeg to watch the proceedings, suddenly found himself without a voice, without identification.
“I was still an alleged victim,” he says.
And, in his mind, his minor-hockey mentor had once again gained control of his life.
“Graham James,” he says, “is the Rhodes Scholar of child abusers.”
The student athlete
The Gilhoolys were a family immersed in sports. John Gilhooly, Greg’s grandfather, played hockey for the Regina Pats, then football for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. John’s brother George also starred for the Roughriders. Another brother, Bill, played minor pro hockey in Seattle and David, the youngest, played for the New York Americans of the NHL. Greg’s father, Michael Gilhooly, played hockey in Regina with such future NHL stars as Bill Hicke and Red Berenson. Greg’s brother Doug is a natural athlete and sister Dawn was a nationally ranked swimmer.
Greg was the student athlete. He starred in the St. James’ minor hockey association, but he shone even brighter in school. He skipped a grade which he thought wonderful at the time but, in retrospect, he sees it as the beginning of the troubles that Graham James would exploit.
“It’s a horrible thing,” he now. He reached puberty after his classmates, was ahead of his teammates in school. Even his size made him out of place.
At 14 he was playing for the St. James Canadians, a bantam team that went to the Silver Stick tournament and it was here that he first met Graham James, who was acting as trainer for another bantam team. James was at the same time coaching the St. James midget team, which he took to the national championships, and so the younger bantam-age kids were all acutely aware of what it might mean if they caught his eye.
“He was essentially trolling for younger kids,” Gilhooly says, “while he would have described it as taking the weekend to go ‘scouting’ players.”
They struck up a friendship and Gilhooly began hoping he might one day play for this charming new coach.
“One of the things I have been dealing with in therapy,” Gilhooly says, “is wondering whether Graham was a sniper, picking out targets, or whether I was in the wrong place when the bomb was dropped from the plane. I think it’s a bit of both. I think that predators like Graham are very good at picking their targets.
“This isn’t snatching up a child on the way home from school. This is a guy who knows what he wants and he is looking for it and trying to find it, and he found it. He found the scholar athlete all alone, and who was vulnerable, whose relationship with his father at the time wasn’t the best, who didn’t have a strong infrastructure of friends taking up his time, and who would be susceptible to the combination of what he brought to the table in terms of being a hockey coach and an educator.”
James told the boy that he had a master’s degree in English, though in fact he did not, and that he had contacts at Princeton University where he would help Greg to land an academic scholarship and where he could also play varsity hockey.
“For someone like me he was, in many ways, a dream,” Gilhooly says. “Here was someone who understood athletics and would understand the academic in me. He made me feel welcome when I wasn’t in very many groups.”
He now knows he was being “groomed” by a brilliant seducer, a man who could hold up the promise of success in exchange for sex, a successful coach who knew where a youngster was most vulnerable. “He didn’t touch me for months,” Gilhooly says. But once it began it was impossible for the youngster to stop, even though, physically, he towered over James.
“One punch and it would have been all over,” he says. “And believe me, that’s one of the things I’ve carried with me for 30-odd years.
“It’s difficult enough for me to try and understand how he gained control over me in the first place. The best way for me to describe it is that I believed that he had the ability to say yes or no to anything and everything that I held near and dear to my heart. And that my life would be over if he went ahead and did any of the things that he threatened me with and then everything I had would just ... evaporate.”
What happened was that once James gained control through lavish praise and promise, he gained even greater control through threat. When Gilhooly showed signs of rebellion, James told him if he told anyone, or if he left, James would destroy him.
“‘Not only will you not go to Princeton,’” Gilhooly says James would tell him, “‘but you will be labelled as this and people are going to think that of you and no one is going to believe you.’ It’s easier at age 48 to think through some of these things. When you’re 14, 15, 16, and you’re just coming of age in the first place, you don’t know who you are or what you are. Here you’ve got this guy telling you what you are, and your body is responding, so he must be right. And yet it doesn’t feel right inside. Who am I? What am I?”
He desperately wanted out. He was confused but had no one to turn to. No girlfriend, though he craved one. A father he felt he could not talk to. From age 15 until he graduated from high school he was dominated by James. The Princeton scholarship came through – set up by Canadian graduates of the school – and Gilhooly only learned later that he had won it on his own, that James, in fact, had no contact at the New Jersey university.
He left for Princeton and, finally, he believed “It was over.” Graham James never even called.
Running and hiding
But it was far from over. Confused and unsure of himself, Gilhooly says he “self-sabotaged” at Princeton, unable to embrace success of any sort. If he aced one exam, he would all but fail the next. He made the hockey team but quit before he could earn his letter.
“I was running and hiding from a great many things,” he says. He dated for the first time but it did not go well. He binged on cheeseburgers and forced himself to vomit after each binging session. Later, when he began putting on weight, he considered himself “a failed bulimic.”
He studied law at the University of Toronto, where he also played varsity hockey for coach Paul Titanic. When Gilhooly broke one of his goalie skates at training camp Titanic, a former NHLer, contacted Ken Dryden, the Montreal Canadiens great, who offered up his huge goalie skates for Gilhooly to use while he waited for new ones from the factory.
“I felt like I was trying on Cinderella’s slipper,” Gilhooly recalls. “I wanted so badly for my feet to fit. I mean Ken Dryden’s skates! I curled my toes to wedge my foot into one but not even close.”
There would be no fairy tale. He played but did not star. “I had the biggest five-hole in the history of the game,” he laughs. “I mean, just consider the geometry of it.”
Once he graduated, he had no trouble finding work at the most prestigious firms. He married a woman who already had a child by a previous marriage and soon the two of them had a daughter. On the surface, it seemed he had it made.
“I never felt that I deserved success,” he says. “Whatever anyone saw on the outside of me – tall, athletic, Princeton graduate, University of Toronto graduate, Varsity Blues goaltender – I just felt that I was a fraud inside, and every day was me putting a mask on trying to be something I wasn’t. Because I was a failure.”
Just as Gilhooly was beginning to climb the corporate ladder, Sheldon Kennedy came forward with his explosive charges against James, who he said had molested him, and others, when they were junior hockey players in Swift Current, Sask.
“Sheldon,” Gilhooly says, “is the great hero in all this. It is beyond words how strong he was to do what he did, and especially when he did it. He did it alone in the face of the hockey community rallying around Graham at the time, believing everything that was said about Sheldon because he had his faults and he was an easy target for anyone who didn’t want to believe Sheldon and wanted to believe Graham.”
In reading Kennedy’s book, Why didn’t I say Anything, Gilhooly came to realize that James met Kennedy around the time Gilhooly left for Princeton: “He was probably in the midst of grooming Sheldon when I went away to school.”
Kennedy’s courage made Gilhooly come to terms with his own reality. Once his father passed on in 2003, he decided to tell only those closest to him. He told his wife first, then he told his therapist. At around the same time, his marriage, which had not been going well for other reasons, collapsed. His brother, sister and mother all supported him.
“It is a long road back,” he says. “It is not something you just show up one day and have it all explained to you and say, ‘Well, I’m better. I’m good and deserving.’ “But I do see a light. To be honest with you, I did not for a long time. But I do now. And one of the reasons I do see a light is because of my daughter.”
He hopes for more light on March 20, when Graham James will be sentenced. He commends the federal government for getting tough on crime and believes it should be even tougher on this crime: “I wish and hope that our system is able to deal with a monster like Graham – and it’s not right now.”
Greg Gilhooly sat down this past week and wrote out the victim’s impact statement he would have given had he been allowed. “My name is Greg Gilhooly,” he began. Two thousand painful, torturous words later – the entire statement can be viewed at www.globeandmail.com – he wrote “I deserve a good life with a happy ending,” but felt obliged to add: “... the horror never, ever goes away.”
Writing his statement helped, he says. He will be in Winnipeg court Tuesday when 59-year-old Graham James finds out what his punishment will be.
And after the sentence is handed out, Greg Gilhooly will go to the University of Manitoba where he has arranged to speak to law students about the significance of hearing from the victims in the Canadian justice system.
“I view this as me standing up to Graham,” he says.
“Graham has thrown out a last challenge, and this time he will not victimize me.”