By Mike Phillips

Pierre Guite is not your ordinary cancer fund-raiser. But then, he wasn’t a typical pro hockey player. And he cheerfully tells stories about driving managers nuts when he was selling high-dollar medical equipment.

And here he is, retired in Fernandina Beach since 2004 and loving it, a Rotarian who volunteers with organizations that help the down and out – and raising eyebrows among the people I call donor-minders at the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. They’re not used to volunteer fund-raisers setting a goal of $2,500, reaching it in two weeks and adding a zero.

Along with the $25,000 goal, the fund-raising challenge calls for him to log at least 500 bicycle miles in 27 days this September. But that’s Mr. Guite for you (pronounced gee-t with a hard g). He likes to start early and stay busy. He’s already lined up a medical hardware company he particulary likes, Sensus Healthcare, as a sponsor.

Pierre also likes to talk. I only had to ask him three questions: How did you get into pro hockey? How did you get into selling medical equipment? And what got you into the children’s cancer fund?

The hockey part is easy. He grew up in a rough, French-speaking Canadian community, and if you are a fairly big, fairly tough young Canadian, you are a hockey player from an early age. Pierre says there are two kinds of people on most hockey teams: gifted athletes and goons who know how to fight. The goons are expected to protect the athletes and – when the inevitable hockey fight breaks out – make the other side wish they hadn’t started it.

Pierre didn’t fit either description. He was pretty good at fighting and pretty good at forward offensive positions. (Defense? Forget it.) He was useful but tradeable. So he got around the pro circuit and, thanks in part to his cheerful nature, made friends all over Canada and the northern U.S. But he retired at 28 and got into the restaurant business with some player friends. The restaurant pros they hired cleaned them out. At 30, he was broke with a wife and two kids. He needed a job.

Answer to question number two. His gift of gab got him into a medical sales position at Xerox. He learned a lot and did well, but Xerox sold that division after three years. He stayed in medical sales (and credits Xerox with teaching him how to sell), gradually working up with a series of employers to the more lucrative assignments. He retired in 2020. Boredom set in, so he started volunteering – and got into serious bicycle riding.

Which leads to question three. He reads anything having to do to bicycles, and an article in July stopped him cold. It was about the cancer research fund’s Great Cycle Challenge and a story about a little girl who said cancer will kill her unless someone finds a cure. Pierre thought about his own grandchildren. What if one of them was diagnosed with cancer? What would he tell the child? That maybe a cure would be found someday? Or better, that Gramps was doing something about it.

The tough old hockey player and fast-talking salesman teared up a little when he told me that. This goal of his has become personal. If you want to help him reach it, go to greatcyclechallenge.com, find his spot in the list of fund-raisers and add a few bucks to his goal. After all, whether you know Pierre or not, he’s your neighbor – one of your many remarkable neighbors.

With that in mind, here is an Observer announcement: We ask correspondents to focus on specific facets of life in Nassau County. In journalism-talk, that is called a beat. One that was born today will be called, simply, Neighbors. And I have assigned that one to me – though any writer who wants to help me carry the load is welcome. If you know a Pierre, someone who selflessly goes out in the community and makes things better, please email me at nkymikephillips@gmail.com. I have a lot of Observer issues on my plate as editor,

Pierre Guite

but that one will be my top priority. I believe that the first duty of any community news service is to be part of the glue that holds the community together. And one way we can do that is to tell people about each other.

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