Hundreds gathered at the Whistler Conference Centre on Saturday, June 13, to pay touching tribute to two men who gave so much to the people and community they loved.
Friends, family and coworkers of Whistler’s Ross Chafe and Kelly Blunden, who lost their lives in a tragic highway crash outside of Pemberton on May 31, came together to celebrate the lives of two men whose legacies will be remembered not only for what they achieved as individuals, but for how deeply they impacted the lives of those around them.
“Today, the intent is for us to get together, share some stories, cry, laugh, hug and console one another, to raise our spirits from the sorrow we all have, and understand the love and respect that not only our community had for Kelly and Ross, but how far these two gents’ personality, skills and humanity reached all of us, let alone everyone they touched around the world,” said MC Wayne Coughlin, who counted both Kelly and Ross as friends.
Ushers donned the red and black jerseys of Ross and Kelly’s local hockey team. Longtime friends from as far away as Kelly’s native Edmonton, and Ross’s hometown of Montreal, flew in to pay their respects.
Stories were shared, along with loving embraces. Of course, tears were shed, but this wasn’t a somber affair — that’s not how Ross and Kelly would’ve wanted it.
This was a celebration. A testament to life, to passion, to lives lived fully with grace and humility.
Kelly, who headed the IT department at Municipal Hall, was remembered as much for his selflessness as his inimitable sense of humour.
“Kelly’s sense of humour was second to none,” said friend and colleague, Lloyd Adams. “To really work with Kelly meant you had to be able to take some jabs. But you also knew you could give them back because he could definitely take it.”
Here was a man who would go out of his way to help others, whether a friend, or soon-to-be friend, whose lust for life, for his family, for the pastimes he cherished — hockey, road biking and his beloved Oilers chief among them — was as infectious as his signature smirk.
“The first thing that comes to mind is how selfless my dad was. It was hard to get him to do things for himself. He had an endless desire to help others,” wrote Kelly’s son, Keegan, in a poignant message that was read at the ceremony. Kelly also leaves behind his partner of 31 years, Donie, and his daughter Tia.
“His inviting and approachable smile couldn’t help but make you grin, too — even if you didn’t know him. He had such joy in his heart and he made sure to share it with others,” Keegan wrote.
Friends of Ross, meanwhile, spoke about the former national team cyclist’s awe-inspiring athletic abilities — which he typically downplayed with his usual modesty.
He was also remembered for how much of himself he gave to others.
“Whatever your personal philosophy, we can surely all agree that people who are no longer physically present with us here on Earth do live on in the memories of those who knew them,” said Sean Burke, who met Ross through the Whistler chapter of the Toastmaster’s Club. “Ross’s modesty, generosity and overall willingness to give to others means there is a great number of people with extremely fond memories of him, and in this manner, he will always be with us.”
Ross was also known as an avid traveler with a keen sense of adventure, up for anything that life threw his way. But if there was anything that played the backseat to that adventurous spirit, it was his unwavering commitment to his family, wife Lizanne, and daughters Alexandra, Fabienne and Isabelle.
“Ross Chafe embodied the definition of a real man. His example, as a husband and a father, was something we could all learn from. He was an engaged, active and devoted parent and partner,” said friend and neighbour Luke Fernandez.
“His success — and he was successful — was rooted in his ability to connect with people. These connections were strong, based on his kindness and generosity for everybody, all across the world.”
The final tribute of the day came from Stewart Blaser, who proudly called himself one third of “the three amigos” with Ross and Kelly, and who cycled with both men on their final day.
“I want all of you to know, without a doubt, that Kelly and Ross were having fun that day. They had big smiles on their faces. They were doing what they loved,” Blaser said, fighting back tears. “The two of them would want us to carry on, to live life to the fullest and be happy.
“To Ross and Kelly, your positive influence on my life will be cherished forever. Ride on, my friends. Ride on.”