Tribute was paid to the former Belfast Giants owner who used the game of hockey to bring divided communities together.
Gillespie, known to fans as Mr. Belfast, passed away at his home in the United States on Tuesday.
The Stena Line Belfast Giants have sent their condolences to the family of the ‘legend’ man for the key role he played in establishing the club as a world-renowned sports franchise.
“Gillespie grew up in Belfast and built his life and career in Houston, Texas,” a spokesman said.
“Through his frequent visits home, he discovered the Belfast Giants and quickly became a passionate fan and advocate for the team, inspired by the inclusive and welcoming space the Giants created and hockey’s ability to bring once-divided communities together.”
Mr Gillespie stepped in to save the team as they teetered on the brink of collapse after the 2002/3 Superleague demise.
“His extremely generous philanthropic gesture leaves a lasting legacy today,” the spokesperson added.
“Over the next 10 years, under his leadership, the Giants won two EIHL league titles, two playoff titles, a Knock Out Cup and a Challenge Cup, and developed a large and loyal fan base that helped shape the game to make it the largest indoor spectator sport in Northern Ireland.”
Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO of The Odyssey Trust, said Mr Gillespie “leaves a legacy that will live on forever in the hearts and minds of fans”.
“Jim Gillespie was a giant of a man in every sense of the word,” he said.
“Without his generosity, vision and passion for this team, there was no way the Belfast Giants could have survived, let alone become the global success story they are today.
“Our heartfelt condolences and gratitude go to Jim’s wife Mitzi, their children and the wider Gillespie family.”
The Belfast Giants Head of Hockey, Steve Thornton, also paid tribute.
“I had the privilege of coaching the Belfast Giants during Jim’s tenure; He was one of the nicest guys you could meet,” he said.
“Without his kindness and commitment to this city and his team, the Giants simply would not be here today and ice hockey would not be the mainstream professional sport that it has become in Northern Ireland.
“He knew this sport had the potential to unite people here and our commitment to making a difference for the local communities lives on to this day. It is fitting that his niece Laura is helping to continue this important work today by advancing our outreach with schools and community groups, which is a true testament to his legacy.”
Mr Gillespie was named Honorary Life President of the Belfast Giants in 2012 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to ice hockey in the city.
A year later he was inducted into the British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I originally got involved with the Giants because I discovered they could make a difference,” he said at the time.
“For the first time I have seen a sports team break down the barriers that have historically hampered spectator sport in Northern Ireland.
“On one of my visits home, I attended several games and was pleasantly surprised to see families from both sides of the divide sitting together enjoying the excitement of professional ice hockey. “For someone who grew up in Northern Ireland, it was so heartwarming to see people come together and have a great evening with their families and friends.
“I have decided to participate”
Odyssey Trust chairman Martin McDowell said we all owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Gillespie, whom he described as a “giant of men”.
“His selfless service to this team and this city paved the way for the growth and development of a sports franchise that has had a significant and far-reaching impact throughout Belfast and beyond,” he said.
“As an organization, team and city, we can never repay the gratitude we have to Jim and the entire Gillespie family.
“His loss will be felt by his Giants family here in Belfast and around the world.”
A special seat installed on the bridge overlooking the Giants’ home ice at the SSE Arena in Belfast bears the name of the man whose community involvement lives on.
It’s anchored in the mantra of the team he helped formulate; “In the land of giants, everyone is equal”.
A condolence book will be created at the beginning of the coming 2022/23 season.
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/ice-hockey-club-pays-tribute-to-belfast-giant-jim-gillespie-who-has-died-41901740.html Ice hockey club pays tribute to ‘Belfast Giant’ Jim Gillespie who has died