I have three Tilley hats. I bought my first in 1994.
Three of my good Scrabble friends at the time were Chris Clark, editor of the Guelph Tribune, Brian Skerrett, bookshop manager at The Bookshelf, and Andy Schoenhoffer, at the time a copy editor at the Guelph Mercury. We played an early version of on-line Scrabble on Hillside BBS. Every few weeks the four of us would meet in the Bookshelf’s Green Room for Scrabble and beer. For a couple of years, Andy and I went to the weekly sessions of the Toronto Scrabble Club, but that’s another other story.
In November 1993, we went into Toronto for the first annual Scrabble With the Stars. It was a charity fundraiser for the Canadian Give the Gift of Literacy Foundation. The deal was that each table had three common folk and one celebrity. We played a couple of games, had some punch, mixed and mingled, and went home. The celebrity at my table was Alex Tilley. Andy had Pierre Berton. I forget who the other two sat with.
At the intermission, we met at the cash bar and did some name dropping. I was a bit jealous, because I hadn’t heard of my celebrity. Or it was one of those things where the name is familiar but you don’t know why. Anyway, I never did flit about in the celebrity world. So someone explained to me that Alex owned Tilley Endurables, a high end line of travel clothing. He turned out to be a very nice person. He didn’t flinch in the slightest when he came last in both games, so I didn’t gloat when I won both of them.
During most of the nineties I commuted in and out of Don Mills to the Workers Health and Safety Centre. As it turned out, Tilley’s flagship store, warehouse and manufacturing hub was on Don Mills Road, just around the corner from my office in the Ontario Federation of Labour building.
In June 1994 I went shopping in Alex’s store and got a 15th wedding anniversary gift for Lynne. I also bought a hat for myself. You can’t get out of the store without a catalogue, so I brought mine home. It was a fun read with a self-deprecating sense of humour, much like the boss himself when he has a Scrabble board on the table in front of him.
Lynne took a photo of me at our picnic table with the Scrabble Board set up and the new hat on my head. I sent it to Tilley with a tongue-in-cheek letter. A few weeks later they asked permission to print it in the next catalogue. I agreed. So there I was, on page 41 of their 1995 edition. After it came out, they went one step further and put the picture and letter in their daily Globe and Mail ad for a week.
There was a second Scrabble With the Stars in 1994 where I played against CBC personality Mary Lou Finlay, and again in 1995 when my celebrity was actor Nonnie Griffin. The celebrities must concentrate all their energy on whatever it was that made them famous. In my experience, it wasn’t Scrabble. As Alex Tilley said, he finally found something he was good at, and it wasn’t Scrabble. It was all fun.
I still have the hat. I still wear the hat. It is an excellent gardening hat. There’s a major sweat stain all around it. A couple of holes that weren’t there when it was new. It looks as though it could have gone through the digestive system of an elephant, but it hasn’t. Yet.
Tilley hats have a lifetime free replacement guarantee, but I haven’t ever taken advantage of it. My hat is a living, evolving work of art and I intend to keep it.