A Hockey Referee Meets Mr. SpockPlay
This story is part of Only A Game's Thanksgiving Leftovers Show. Find the full episode here.
When Paul Stewart was just a kid, he went everywhere with his Dad, Bill Stewart Jr., as he refereed football, baseball and hockey all over the Northeast. That helped Paul develop a love of sports … especially hockey. But his family wasn’t wealthy.
"Longingly, I waited for my own pair of skates," Stewart says. "And I didn’t know we weren’t rich."
But in 1959, Bill Stewart stretched the family budget and bought Paul his first pair of hockey skates. They helped Paul parlay his hockey skills into a short pro career.
From Hockey Player To Referee
Paul Stewart’s stats from his final season tell you pretty much all you need to know about the kind of player he was. In 21 games with the 1979–80 Quebec Nordiques, he scored two goals and racked up 74 penalty minutes.
But Paul Stewart would go on to make a bigger name for himself as a well-respected NHL referee from 1986 to 2003. He became the first American to officiate more than 1,000 games. Sometimes, his job brought him to Boston, where his Dad, Bill Stewart, had taught and coached three sports at Boston English High School. When Paul visited, they’d watch Star Trek together.
"And he’d elbow me a little bit and say, 'Now there’s an English High boy that did well for himself,' " Stewart says.
The boy in question was Leonard Nimoy.
Long before he grew the pointy ears, Nimoy was a student of Stewart’s. “Cool,” Paul Stewart thought. “My Dad taught Mr. Spock."
One day, early in his officiating career, Paul Stewart was standing in line at the airport in L.A.
"And I felt someone behind me," Stewart says. "Referees have that sixth sense, you know. And tough guys do, too, because they don’t want anybody sneaking up. And I turned around, and there was this icon that I had seen on television — hours and hours and hours watching.
"I said, 'Do you mind if I tell you a story?' He said, 'No.' "
Stewart told Nimoy that his father had taught and coached him at Boston English High.
"He said, 'Who’s your Dad?' " Stewart says. "I said, 'Bill Stewart.' He said, 'Ah! Coach Stewart!' He says, 'Does he tell you what a great athlete I was?' I said, 'My Dad told me you’re a nice Jewish kid from Dorchester. Your Dad was a barber. You always came to class on time, you didn’t mess around, and you were barely adequate in track.' And he laughed and laughed."
"And he said to me, 'How is your Dad?' I said, 'Well, he’s around the clubhouse turn. It’s not going so good,' " Stewart says.
In 1987, Bill Stewart was suffering from congestive heart failure.
" 'Can you send him a note for me?' " Stewart remembers Nimoy asking him. "And I said, 'Yeah.' And I gave him a card. And he wrote: 'Coach Stewart — It was always a pleasure. Leonard Nimoy. Mr. Spock.' "
Paul Stewart says his dad got a pretty big kick out of that. Bill Stewart died not long afterward.
"You know, it’s like a pebble in a pond," Stewart says. "It ripples. And the energy keeps going. And I think that my Dad had that effect."
Paul Stewart will be inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame on Dec. 12. Apparently, ripples spread across frozen ponds, too.
A children’s book, The Magical Christmas for Paul Stewart, was published in October. It was inspired, in part, by our story that aired on Dec. 22, 2017.
This segment aired on November 24, 2018.