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Golden Knights owner Bill Foley reflects on team’s debut and losing his son

Golden Knights owner Bill Foley on NHL team’s debut, loss of son

There is a section in the forward to, “Man’s Search for Meaning,’’ that reminds us Viktor Frankl’s mesmerizing work is defined by a person’s greatest task in life, which is to discover such purpose.

inline-smallSeveriano del Castillo Galvan and Wes Rand

Frankl, writes the rabbi Harold S. Kushner, saw three possible sources from which to begin this pursuit: through work in accomplishing something significant; through love in caring for others; and through courage in the most difficult of times.

Bill Foley knows this path well, having experienced all of its many tests and emotions the past year, his journey climbing to an apex of incredible joy and celebration as owner of a Golden Knights team that as an expansion franchise advanced to a Stanley Cup Final, only to plummet from the indescribable and excruciating pain of losing a son.

“William Patrick Foley III,” said Foley of his youngest child. “It’s so hard. He was me, more than any of my kids. He always pushed the envelope, which I have, too. He was the nicest, friendliest guy, a leader people relied on.

“I should be gone. Not him.

“Why not me?”

inline-regVegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley. Richard Brian / Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph

Through work in accomplishing something significant …

Should there be a timetable on when a statue of Foley is erected outside T-Mobile Arena, some arbitrary waiting period before honoring the West Point graduate?

Um, no, actually. Raise it now.

Do you know why Ray Guy is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? It’s not just for his terrific punting, but because he forever changed the way the game was played.

The same was true in basketball with the late Jerry Tarkanian, whose hand prints and influences are still noticeable at every level.

The Knights might never win a Stanley Cup, but history will always credit Foley for changing the scope of this city’s sports existence in a manner no one had before or will going forward. Ever.

He’s the mold. It’s broken.

He can’t talk about the Knights without smiling, not mention the fact two more sheets of ice will be built in Henderson by 2020 to handle the overnight explosion of local youth hockey, a direct result of his franchise’s success, not get a twinkle in his eye dreaming about kids from the east side of Las Vegas and those from Summerlin creating a cross-town rivalry.

He’s the reason for all of it.

He built Fidelity National, countless wineries, golf courses, hotels, ski resorts, steakhouses and auto-parts stores, but there is something different about hockey. Something more personal.

There is no better example of the support Foley offers his team than defenseman Nate Schmidt, suspended for this season’s first 20 games for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy.

The Knights never, not for a second, wavered in their belief of Schmidt, even signing him to a six-year, $35.7 million extension during the time he was out.

Such faith began at the top.

“In this day and age, a lot of people would have distanced themselves from my situation,” said Schmidt. “But not Bill. I explained to him what I believed happened and he heard me out and from the moment I opened my mouth, he said he trusted and supported me. I’m getting goose-bumps just thinking about it. That’s why I wanted to be here. This is a second family to all of us.

“I don’t know the feeling of (losing a child). I just hugged him. What can you say? No parent should have to deal with that. It hurts. We still feel for him every day because he will deal with it the rest of his life. It’s a terrible burden to carry.

“Bill is much more than a business man or a hockey owner to us. He’s the head of our family.”

inline-regThere is no better example of the support Foley offers his team than defenseman Nate Schmidt, suspended for this season’s first 20 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Chase Stevens / Las Vegas Review-Journal @csstevensphoto

Through love in caring for others …

The soldier in Foley embraces that strict mandate about discipline and self-respect, about having pride in unit and country, about owning a sense of duty and obligation.

About the inherent need to protect one’s family in the worst of times.

In an interview with the Review-Journal, Foley spoke extensively for the first time about the loss of his son and the circumstances that led to it.

Patrick Foley was an award-winning winemaker at Foley Johnson in Rutherford, California, and the freak accident that caused him to hit his head in August wasn’t thought overly dangerous when, a few nights later, he was out for dinner and seemed fine.

He wasn’t slurring words. He didn’t seem affected in any way.

At the time, he was in one part of Montana and his parents another.

The following morning, Carol Foley received a call from her eldest daughter, Lindsay, who had found her brother unresponsive. The head trauma had killed him at age 31.

I felt an immediate need to take care of everyone, to make sure everyone was OK. Sure, that’s the (Army) in me. We’ll get through it. Drive on. Drive on. Never give up.

Bill Foley

“Carol getting that call … that was really bad,” said Bill. “They did an autopsy and found no drugs, no alcohol, nothing. It was the Black Swan event of our family, totally unexpected. People who don’t know us well don’t understand how close our family is. … It’s beyond terrible. We’re all having a really tough time.

“I felt an immediate need to take care of everyone, to make sure everyone was OK. Sure, that’s the (Army) in me. We’ll get through it. Drive on. Drive on. Never give up.

“And yet I’ve had a lot of moments myself, especially recently. I’ll just be driving down the freeway and completely break down in tears. I can keep myself busy during the day, but at night, when things calm down, that’s rough. I might not look like I’m in bad shape, but there are a lot of days when I’m in really bad shape.”

There is a crack in his voice and tears in his eyes and yet he goes on about Patrick, because if it’s true there must always be a struggle between a father and son, while one aims at power and the other independence, the Foley men know it well.

He talks of how Patrick worked in investment banking before turning to the wine business, earning a master’s certificate in enology and viticulture at Lincoln University in New Zealand, working harvests at his family’s vineyards, becoming so skilled in the process that one of his recent vintages was ranked the world’s 100th best wine.

“He would have been upset it wasn’t No. 1,” said Bill, 74. “Pat would often tell me, ‘Dad, I have done everything you asked of me,’ and he did. Just a silly accident and two days later, he’s gone. … Something like this happens, and all you have, all you have built, means nothing. You can have it all.

“I just miss sitting and having a glass of wine and talking with Patrick about life. I miss him terribly.”

inline-regGolden Knights general manager George McPhee, from left, team owner Bill Foley and defenseman Deryk Engelland watch as a banner is raised in honor of the victims of the Oct. 1 shooting before the start of an NHL hockey game between the Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks at T-Mobile Arena ON March 31, 2018. Chase Stevens / Las Vegas Review-Journal @csstevensphoto

Through courage in the most difficult
of times …

The family took a trip to Hawaii following Patrick’s death, a way to be together and out of the spotlight under which so many of its ventures place them.

It is, said Courtney Foley, the first time she can remember her father not focusing at all on work, not being plugged into his many businesses and responsibilities.

She wants more of that for him, as does her sister Lindsay and brother Robert. More than legacy, they want him focused on living, on moving forward, leaning on those who love him most as they all deal with what is an incredible void in their lives.

“I have never seen him smile as much as when (the Knights) were winning last season,” said Courtney, now running the family’s Chalk Hill Estate winery in Healdsburg, California. “I’ve never seen him happier than he is with this hockey team. He was always busy when we were younger, very focused and regimented, working all the time. So for our family to be able to share that experience of the (Stanley Cup Final run) was very special. I felt like I was seeing him in his West Point days. He was so happy, and it allowed us as siblings to be together more than we had been in a long time.

“Patrick was my best friend and an extremely talented winemaker. He had a striking resemblance to my Dad. I hope more than anything my Dad can simplify things more. I have seen him soften a bit, take more time to interact with people. I want him to enjoy his success, to not work as much, to sit back and take pride in all he has accomplished, to be with my Mom and not get as caught up in the crazy cycle of life.”

What is to give light, Frankl wrote, must endure burning.

This past year, from the joy of his hockey team making history to the indescribable pain of losing a son, Bill Foley knew both.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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