Hodge: Losing a legend, and a local character

Kelowna columnist Charlie Hodge says two people have left large legacies

By Charlie Hodge

The world has lost two very unique characters this week, one of international status and the other of a much lesser worldly fame—yet dearly loved and admired by all those who knew him.

While the world spins in the death of legendary genius Stephen Hawking, Kelowna grapples with the surprising and stunning departure of homegrown icon Pierre Calissi.

I only knew Hawking from a distance, through the eyes of television, magazines and other forms of public exposure. His contributions to science, philosophy and the world in general leaves him in the stratosphere of recognition. Truly he remains a household name spoken with respect and admiration for his contribution to learning and questioning of all that surrounds us.

Born in 1942 Hawking was a theoretical physicist, author, and cosmologist. He was best known for his scientific work on gravity theories, black holes, general relativity, and quantum mechanics.

In 1963 at age 21 Hawking was diagnosed with ALS and informed he had two years to live. ALS eventually paralyzed him however he communicated through a speech generating device operating on a single cheek muscle.

Stephen refused to let illness stop him from contributing actively in his world; his physical state never ended his mental contribution and he wasted little energy dwelling on personal plights.

With Hawking’s physical demise I like to think he’s ventured into ‘the great unknown’ – just exactly the place he would like to be.

For Hawking, the unknown was simply another challenge.

Calissi, in many ways, was the other side of the coin to Hawking.

Pierre was proud to be born in 1960 in Kelowna General Hospital, “back when everyone knew everyone else,” he once told me.

Like many local lads he grew up in the orchards of the Okanagan and spent his life connected and dedicated to the grape and agriculture industry.

A humble but warm, fun loving and embracing sort, Pierre made the world a brighter, happier, funnier place to be. His love for friends, family and Kelowna knew no bounds. He never shied away from wearing his heart on his sleeve. If Pierre Calissi liked you he was not afraid to show it—and did not care what others thought about his passion.

Pierre loved life.

Sadly I never spent as much time around Pierre as I now wish I had, however my brief encounters with him were always positive, and often poignant. Amidst his love for laughter and frivolity, Pierre likewise never shied away from telling you what was on his mind, or calling BS when he saw or heard it, and encouraging others to do their best at whatever it was they did.

He liked to ‘play dumb-bugger’ as we jokingly referred to it, however Pierre was much more on the ball with local and civic issues than he would pretend, with how the world works, and how life can deal out its cards.

Calissi relished in telling anyone who would listen that, ‘Hodgey was the best stick-boy and trainer the Kelowna Buckaroos ever had.’ It was a friendly reminder to me just how long I had known the Okanagan pioneer lad. A consummate hockey and sports fan, Pierre always found the good in people.

Many moons ago I heard that Pierre and his best sidekick Domenic Rampone were headed off to yet another worldly adventure, with Mexico as part of the destination. I had somehow managed to acquire huge authentic Mexican sombreros several years before and when hearing of their planned voyage I recognized an opportunity to unload the oversized head warmers.

You’d have thought I had given Pierre a million bucks. During their trip I received a number of photos of the two desperados comically displaying their headgear and for several years after Pierre repeatedly thanked me for the silly hats.

Last month the larger than life, loving and loveable local legend died of pneumonia. The hearty, tough, feisty ice-road trucker was shockingly taken from friends and family in a most unsuspecting way. I cannot begin to imagine the hole in the hearts of wife Marcy, friends, and family his parting has made.

However, I do know for his dear friends like Dom, and others—Pierre would genuinely want us to move forward with a smile and positive energy—with the knowledge that nothing makes the world a better place than love and laughter.

That was a huge part of what made Pierre’s world spin.

Charlie Hodge has been writing for the Capital News since the late 1970s

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