Hockey people are considered to be the nicest of any in pro sports. A spirit of generosity is often one of their foremost traits, and that's a main reason why Jessica (Redfield) Ghawi was so drawn to hockey and people in the sport have reached out so much to her family since her tragic death on July 20 in the Aurora, CO, theater shootings.
The Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings were the first NHL team to reach deep into their wallets by donating $10,000 to the Ghawi family's recently established Jessica Redfield Sports Journalism Scholarship Fund, which set an initial goal of raising $20,000 in 120 days but passed the $40,000 mark in only 11. The Colorado Avalanche will be heavily involved in various ways of honoring Jessica's memory, and the Philadelphia Flyers have also expressed intentions of doing the same.
Jessica, who I knew in Denver and whose memorial service I attended last weekend in San Antonio, fit right in with the hockey world. She was a fierce competitor in the fiercely competitive world of sports journalism, but off the job she was all about giving. Just a few weeks before she died, Jessica had worked tirelessly to organize a foundation of sorts with the goal of providing donated hockey equipment to families whose homes had burned to the ground in the wildfires surrounding Colorado Springs. She quietly set about finding ways to get the expensive gear to those who might need it again, all the while trying to go to school, work at the internships she had with Denver media outlets, and hold down a waitressing job.
"She absolutely didn't want any publicity for it. She didn't want to be known as someone who exploited a tragic situation for her own gain," says her boyfriend Jay Meloff, a 22-year-old former Canadian junior player hoping to make the roster of the expansion Denver Cutthroats of the Central Hockey League this fall.
Ironically and tragically, a gunman's cowardly and despicable act brought Jessica's giving to light.
Only a few years ago, Redfield (she adopted her maternal grandmother's maiden name for professional purposes) was a punk-rocking, rebellious teenage girl who probably didn't know a hockey puck from a Ring-Ding snack cake. She suffered from anorexia and bulimia, which grew so serious she developed a heart condition that had to be corrected with surgery. She had no idea what to do with her life, until the influence of ex-boyfriend John Patrick began to sink in.
A sports fanatic, Patrick was mostly into football, but he watched pretty much any game on TV, including hockey. Texans are probably more familiar with the ice in drinks than the ice in rinks, but for reasons that even Jessica wasn't quite sure about, she took to hockey and quickly became a rabid fan. She was a regular at San Antonio Rampage (AHL farm club of the Phoenix Coyotes) games and was inspired to go to college and get a communications degree, with an eye on sports media. A few years later, in Denver, she was on the way toward finalizing her goals.
Jessica's perfect night out would be spent at an Avalanche game working as an intern for several outlets, including the team's owner, or watching a game over a couple drinks at a bar, then talking hockey for a couple more hours. At her memorial service, Nate Lundy, the program director at Denver radio sation KKFN The Fan, gave a one-man play of sorts about what a typical phone call from Jessica was like. Many such calls involved the latest goings-on in her favorite sport. Why the Avs hadn't signed Ryan O'Reilly yet was the topic of one recent call. "Of all the players they can least afford to be without, it's him!" Lundy recalled her saying.
When Jessica was in the press box at Avs games, her boyfriend Jay would sometimes be in the stands watching. They would send little coded signals to each other, but only when the action stopped. Otherwise, their attention was glued to the ice, and Meloff says that Jessica's curiosity about how the game was really played made him know that she wasn't just a woman who thought it would be cool to date a hockey player.
"She would ask me why a goal might have happened, and I'd tell her the real reasons why -- that this, this and this happened to allow that puck to go in," he says. "And she'd be totally fascinated and just want to know more. She was well on her way to being a true expert in the game, not just someone who cared about the goals."
Jessica wanted to continue evangelizing about the sport to a wider audience, to be a real hockey journalist. Whether as a writer or TV personality or both, she wanted to tell the true hockey stories that too often get oversimplified in the U.S. media. Some day they will be told by the beneficiaries of Jessica's scholarship. For a young woman who just wanted to give back to the game that helped get her life on track, her fund is her great final act of hockey selflessness.