A Life's Story
May 29, 2021
Always on the move
Fleet-footed Drybrough didn't rest on athletic laurels
By: Geoff KirbysonÂ Â
When Dave Drybrough heard that Bobby Hull and Ulf Nilsson had signed the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame’s autograph wall in 2014, right beside his signature, he thought it was only appropriate.
"I would have scored more goals as a member of the Hot Line than Anders Hedberg anyway," he deadpanned. (Hedberg completed the trifecta of signatures of the WHA Jets’ most famous trio when he signed the wall four years later.)
Hockey was one of the few sports in which Drybrough didn’t excel. He played senior men’s basketball, tennis and golf but it was on the track where he made his biggest mark.
Perhaps his grandest moment was setting the Canadian record for the mile in front of a home crowd at the national indoor track and field championships, breaking the tape in 4:10:4 at the Winnipeg Arena in 1960.
"He was the dominant runner in Manitoba from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s," says Rick Brownlee, executive director of the Hall of Fame. "He was the national cross-country champion in 1956."
A four-minute mile was the gold standard back in that era and Brownlee is quick to note times are typically slower inside due to the many tight turns on the smaller tracks.
Drybrough also represented Manitoba internationally in 1958 and 1959 when he ran the mile at the Drake Relays at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
"They were a really big deal. All of the American universities would send their best. It was an invite-only event. He finished seventh in both races," Brownlee said, before adding for emphasis. "That’s seventh in North America."
Drybrough also shone at the 1959 Pan Am Games trials, finishing second in the 1,500 metres and third in the 3,000-metre steeplechase, earning a spot on the Canadian team that summer.
"He won his 1,500 semifinal but he was (clipped from behind) with two laps to go in the final, fell and didn’t finish," Brownlee said.
After retiring, he coached the University of Manitoba cross-country team to a national championship in 1964.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 as both an athlete and a builder.
Drybrough died of cancer in March. He was 84. He is survived by his "bride" of 59 years, Connie, son Keith (Kirsten) Drybrough and their children, Julia and Madelaine of Winnipeg; son Dan (Marjolein) Drybrough of Calgary and their children, Benjamin, Jack and Samuel; and daughter Heather Drybrough and her children, Jane and Isabel Askham, also of Calgary.
Drybrough wasn’t one to rest on his past athletic laurels. So much so that even his own children knew more about his career as a chartered accountant than a national-level athlete.
He spent the majority of his career at Coopers & Lybrand (now Pricewaterhouse Coopers) and he also served as an executive at Gendis Inc. and as the chairman of Canwest Global Communications.
"Some of the (athletic) stuff we didn’t learn about until we were adults," says daughter Heather. "He was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and that’s when I learned a lot more about his accomplishments, which is kind of crazy."
She and her dad would go jogging and they’d play catch together but they never battled each other on the tennis court. She left that up to her brothers.
"Our relationship was more what books we had read and what challenges I had at work," she says.
Dan, who followed in his father’s considerable track spikes at the U of M, remembers his dad telling him about his indoor mile record when he was a kid and thinking, "that’s kind of cool." If there was ever any doubt about the coolness, it was erased when the Canadian Track and Field Association sent Drybrough a formal certificate in the mid-1970s to commemorate his record. It hangs on the wall at the family’s 8th Avenue cottage at Victoria Beach.
In 1980, Dan remembers watching his dad cross the finish line of the Manitoba Marathon in a time of three hours and 11 minutes.
"I’ll never forget him running the last 200 metres at the U of M track with his arms raised like he had won a gold medal at the Olympics," Dan says. "That was pretty good for a 43-year-old guy with a bum leg."
Time at the cottage was precious for Drybrough, as was the annual trek that he and Connie took to Hawaii. He excelled on the tennis courts, winning multiple titles in the annual Victoria Beach open tournament in singles and in men’s and mixed doubles. He used to run the tournament and help do the draws of the biggest tennis event in Manitoba.
Dan remembers his dad having just finished the draw one year and sitting around with fellow organizers drinking a few stubby beers when somebody knocked on the door. It was a just-arrived renter who had caught wind about the tournament and asked if he could enter.
"Absolutely. We’d be more than happy to have you join our tournament," Drybrough told him.
Minutes later, he was erasing parts of the draw and redoing them to include the new entrant.
"He wanted everybody to be involved," Dan says.
When he turned 40 and realized the younger generation wasn’t going to let him relive past glories, Drybrough simply started a masters tournament for those 40 and over.
His on-court battles with good friend Rolly Ruhr were the stuff of legend. Drybrough wasn’t shy about telling the naming story of the trophy which is awarded to the masters singles winner every year. He and Ruhr agreed to donate the trophy with the caveat that whoever lost in the final that year would go first on the trophy name.
"So, it’s the Ruhr-Drybrough trophy," he would say with a laugh.
Drybrough was instrumental, along with Ross Yarnell, in expanding Victoria Beach’s three shale courts into six hard courts in the early 1980s. Today, the Victoria Beach courts are arguably the top tennis destination in the province.
Heather remembers going door-to-door with her dad soliciting donations from fellow cottagers. Most people, even non-tennis players, were happy to get out their chequebooks.
"We went to one cottage and the guy told us, ‘I’m not giving any money for the tennis courts because we don’t have new cards for the bridge club,’" she says. "We should have told him new cards were included with a donation."
Keith indulged his dad’s love of his favourite baseball team, the Cleveland Indians.
"He went to a couple of Indians games as a kid. That was his first team and he stuck with them through all those years," he said.
Keith bought his dad an authentic Indians home jersey, a warm-up jacket, multiple caps featuring Chief Wahoo and an autographed picture of legendary Indians pitcher, Bob Feller.
Drybrough was just a kid when his team last won the World Series in 1948 so when the Indians made it to the Fall Classic in 1995, he made sure to buy tickets to game four at Jacob’s Field. Despite flipping his cap around backwards on a number of occasions in attempts to spur the Indians on to a rally, they lost that game 5-2 and the series four games to two.
When watching that game or any Winnipeg Goldeyes game — he once threw out the opening pitch at Shaw Park — Drybrough kept score in his program.
After spending so much time on the move, there were moments when Drybrough wanted nothing more than to sit in his recliner and watch some sports on television.
"Watching the Olympics was so important to him. In the summer of 1976, he rented a colour TV — because we didn’t own one — and brought it down to the lake," Dan says.