The term 'down to earth' appeared to be coined with Gary MacKenzie in mind.
Kind, generous and funny are words his friends repeat in describing the Coquitlam resident who died Friday after a hardfought battle with lymphoma.
They mention his basement based shop - more stuffed with hockey gloves, skates, equipment and memorabilia than furnished - where MacKenzie worked and met so many people.
Newcomers emerged from that basement as his friends. Friends soon became loyal fans.
"He was highly organized and knew what he was doing, but his basement shop looked like a disaster zone," recalls longtime friend Jay Sheere. "While things were hanging from the ceiling and piled up here and there, he knew where everything was."
Many in the Tri-Cities knew the warmhearted gentleman as "the best skate-man in town."
Getting to know Gary, a number of his friends note, was easy.
Doug Cole, the president of the Port Moody Oldtimers Hockey League and a friend for more than 20 years, recalls his first encounter with the skate sharpening guy from Coquitlam.
"He built stuff for goalies - like cheaters for goalie gloves, the same thing the pros wore," A recalled Cole, who was living in h Penticton at the time. "I heard about him the same way most people heard about him - from someone who met him and was a fan of his work and a fan of Gary's.
"When you met him you just felt welcomed - he was one of those guys you meet who can talk with anyone."
A proud family man, MacKenzie ran QuickStop Skate Shop in Burnaby for many years, but decided to close it and operate a smaller version out of his basement so that he could spend more time at home with wife Dawne and children Russell and Devon. He cherished his role of husband and father.
While he moved his shop to the basement, he filled it to the top with equipment, laces and gloves that piled up on shelves and hung from the ceiling. And his loyal customers and friends followed.
MacKenzie's talent for sharpening skates and fixing and creating better equipment soon attracted athletes and coaches from other sports - including lacrosse and golf - so that the circle known as Gary's community grew and grew.
It had no boundaries and covered various sports, groups, generations and provinces. From pros to young children, everyone who knew him was warmed by his easy-going manner and eager-to-help nature. He eagerly showed a new visitor his Bobby Hull autographed stick, complete with banana-like curve.
"He was very community minded and had a real cutting sense of humour," said Sheere. "For me personally, I've lost my best friend."
Sheere recalls attending Vancouver Giants games and walking the concourse with MacKenzie.
"It seemed every five steps you were stopped by someone coming up and saying 'Hi Gary,'" said Sheere.
Wendy Medwid compared a visit to MacKenzie's basement shop to a trip to the hairdresser.
"What should have been a 10-minute job for sharpening would end up being at least an hour because Gary wanted to know how your kids were doing in hockey and school, how your husband's business was doing," she said.
Bruce Simpson said over their 25year-old friendship, MacKenzie was generous with his time for everyone. What he also saw was a clever pal who loved to play practical jokes - like the time he filled a friend's car with popcorn, and hid to film the reaction.
"One time he riveted new blades on my skates, and on the top and inside of my blades he rigged up bells... I had to jingle down the ice," recalled Simpson.
After friend and then-NHLer Paul Kariya was injured during a kitchen accident, MacKenzie made a pair of oven mitts out of hockey gloves.
Even after being diagnosed with cancer two years ago, he insisted on working and socializing in the same fashion, and continued sharpening skates until recently.
"He was just giving of himself whether you played minor hockey or were a pro," said Cole.
Fourteen months ago, the Centennial Hockey Academy organized a fundraiser called 'A Game for Gary.' MacKenzie, who spurned the spotlight, was touched by the turnout and stood proudly behind the bench, kibbitzing with his many friends and supporters.
By his own wishes no memorial service was held - although both Cole and Sheere imagined it would be difficult to find a facility large enough to accomodate all the family, friends and acquaintances who were touched by the softspoken Coquitlam resident.
"He was one of those rare people; very old school and just a real nice guy. It's a huge loss," said Cole.
In lieu of flowers, memorials in Gary's honour can be made to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.