Roland John Nuttall 1958-2008

He was ‘the fun guy in the dressing room,’ but a friend’s collapse on the ice hit him hard


Roland John Nuttall
Roland John Nuttall was born on Feb. 2, 1958, in Amherst, N.S., the second of three children to Roland Nuttall, a construction company owner, and his wife, Madelyn, a nurse. John, as he was known, shared a birthday with his sister Karen, who begrudgingly accepted him in place of the pony she had requested. The resentment was short-lived; whenever Madelyn, who worked nights to be home during the day, slept, Karen would sneak John out of his bassinet to hold him. “She was a little mother,” says Madelyn, recalling how John and his brother Stuart, born in 1959, basked in the attention.

A sunny boy who was rarely without his signature grin, John grew up on the ice, playing hockey with Stuart and his friends. “If they weren’t at the rink,” says Karen, “they were out on the marsh.” (Those games involved chasing their dog Bismarck, a St. Bernard with a habit of stealing the puck.) John was fiercely competitive and “a fabulous skater,” says best friend Jimmy Skinner, who was part of a group of “hockey buddies” who started together in peewee. Countless weekends caravanning to tournaments cemented the bond that would continue into adulthood. Says Madelyn, “They were just like one big family.”

Though hockey was his first love, John was an all-around athlete, excelling at golf, swimming and fishing. Like his father, he had a magnetic personality, and teased those close to him “something terrible,” says friend Rob MacDonald. As a teen, he knighted himself “Sir Johneth of Nuttall,” and when he started losing his hair toward the end of high school, he diverted attention to Jimmy, two months his senior, by calling him “Old Jim.” Says Jimmy, “He was the fun guy in the dressing room.”

When John was 23, his father suffered a massive heart attack. Roland, who was 56 at the time, had been mowing the lawn, and died instantly. Before moving to Ontario to study forestry, John took over the construction business for a time. “He wasn’t very old, but he sure was the man,” says Madelyn. When she got engaged again, her children encouraged her to make the wedding into a big celebration. John set the boisterous tone for the occasion during the rehearsal, says Karen, with his “crazy, foolish” strut down the aisle, and suggestion that those in attendance “walk this way.”

After graduation, John was eager to return to Amherst, where he found work with the province as a forestry technician. He rejoined his hockey buddies on the ice and took over the family homestead. His “huge circle of friends” made an impression on wife Beth Mitchell, who played on a softball team he coached in 1988. John treated her son from a previous marriage, three-year-old Craig, “just like gold,” says Beth, and marrying him “was a no-brainer.”

About six weeks before their son Brett was due to be born in 1991, complications prompted an emergency delivery. After screeching behind the ambulance to Moncton, she says, “poor John arrived in his house slippers.” As a child, Brett was stuck to John, joining him on daily drives through parks and “even when he went down to the store to get milk,” says Beth. “Brett was the light of his life.”

Staying fit came easy to John. In summer, he’d often squeeze in a round of golf before work. In winter, he got his exercise at the gym he owned with Beth, and at the rink, where he played and coached his sons. The boys were watching his team in November 1998 when friend Ron Elliott collapsed on the ice. “John was the first guy to him,” says Jimmy, recalling how his failure to revive him with CPR “chewed him up.” Ron’s death touched John and his friends deeply. Every November, they joined Ron’s father in his Wake Up Call Awareness campaign, reminding older athletes to get regular checkups.

This past year was peppered with the 50th birthday parties of John and his hockey buddies. He continued to take his health seriously. After waking up in a cold sweat in June, he went to the doctor, who told him he was “in great physical shape,” says Beth. The couple spent most of the summer on their boat, practising for the early retirement they were planning. “We just sat there and played cards,” says Beth. “We were together 24/7.”

On Sunday, Oct. 12, John rose early to play golf. That evening, he was at the rink for the first game of the season with the Sunday night crew, and the men had agreed to go easy on each other. John was in the corner digging out a puck when he dropped. While they waited for paramedics, his childhood friends tried to revive him with CPR and a defibrillator. This time, it was Beth who trailed the ambulance to hospital. But when she arrived and saw his lifeless arm slip off the gurney, she knew there was nothing doctors could do. John had suffered a massive heart attack. He was 50.


Roland John Nuttall 1958-2008

  1. I would like to thank Rachel Mendleson for hearing John’s story on the National News and contacting our famly and friends for input into this wonderful tribute to him. Unfortunately we did’t have enough space to include all the great memories we each have about John.

    Everyone involved in this interview process were amazed at Rachel’s professionalism and journalistic talent, and we are truly honoured to be part of this legendary Canadian magazine.

  2. A lovely, touching story. He died so young. Life is short.

    All the Best to his family.

  3. John was a great man, a wonderful father and a true hero.

    He will always be remembered in our hearts.

    A wonderful article and tribute to John.

    Myself and my family mourn for your loss, and are always here for you Beth, Craig and Brett.


  4. Thank you for sharing such a sad but heart warming story. Beth and her family are an inspiration for their strength under such hard times.

  5. Looking for some news from home, expecting to read about my country certainly not my hometown of Amherst, I was simply blown away to read about John’s sudden passing. I also spent my winter’s at the Stadium when not skating on Mr. Elliott’s pond and my summers at the Amherst Golf Club. Although several year’s younger than John I often played goal with and against him and his friends and teed it up with him a few times as well. He was just a great person, enjoyed life and the people in it. I recall my Father speaking highly of John’s Father on numerous occasions, looking back I realize that they are exactly the type of people that make Amherst the great town it is. Though this news brings back the painful memories of hearing that Ronnie Jr. had passed away, it also brings back wonderful memories of the great men they were.

    Thank you to MacLean’s for bringing this story to someone who, living in Tokyo, sometimes needs to be reminded of how fortunate he is to have grown up in Amherst and around the great people who call it home still.

    My condolences to the Nuttal family he will be missed teh world over,

    Jonathan Allen

  6. There is not enough words to explain how great of a man John Nuttall was, but this write up summed up most of his greater qualities. Thank you for all the good memories, and helping me experience life lessons. I’m glad I learned these lessons from one of the greatest teachers I could get.

    John was the kind of man that showed genuine care towards his family and friends. You couldn’t help but feel loved/cared about when you were in his presence.

    My thanks go to Macleans for a great tribute to such an inspiring man. You’ll always be in my heart Uncle John

  7. I had the pleasure of golfing with John, Phil Fairfax and Curt Splight in Sept. 2007 the last time I was home. Soooo much fun. Such generous, hospitable, fun & geniune people. I know these guys are missing John big time. John left this world to go to another place. He left this world a better place, he helped make Amherst a better place. His freinds and family must miss him dearly, and for good reason. John was always so welcoming to me even though I would only see him every 5 years or so.

    I consider myself very fortunate to have known John Nuttall and Ron Elliot.

    As I prepare to return to Amherst for my mother’s 90th birthday, I remeber these gentlemen and all the great times I have had growing up in this town.

    Thank you to Macleans for their understanding of the importance of such stories.

    David Cuvilier

  8. John, you will be missed. All good men will be missed. My heart goes to the family. I knew John and he was and is still a wonderful spirit. My prayers are with everyone always.


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