Richard pass
Credit: Photo by Marley Hutchinson

At Ronald McDonald House, Pass doesn't have far to go to get in some shots

The executive with the perfect name for his hobby

Despite his name, these days Ronald McDonald House CEO Richard Pass keeps his basketball pretty much to himself. That’s because he no longer plays on a team as he once did—as a guard in high school and university in his hometown of Brandon, Manitoba, and in a senior league there and in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, before moving to B.C. in 1990. “When I’m retired, I have always thought I would play again at some kind of senior games level,” he says.

For now, Pass shoots baskets, which helps him think, unlike his other hobby, playing guitar. “In guitar, I’m focused on music. With basketball, I can be lost in my thoughts and still have a feel of the rhythm of the shot,” he explains. “Whether I’m processing a strategic planning session for the board of directors or strategy for a capital campaign, as I’m shooting it seems to free me up and give me an opportunity to have a bodaciously big thought and then kind of process it.”

He shoots on public outdoor courts on weekends and at Ronald McDonald House during the week. The new residence, opened in 2014, has a court with a professional calibre rim for families staying there while their severely ill children receive treatment at BC Children’s Hospital.

“Occasionally the families or someone will come out, and of course I shoot hoops with them because that’s why we’re there, but often I just get 15, 20 minutes in to really process my thoughts,” Pass explains. “If I am working on a big project, sometimes I’ll shoot for half an hour or go on a weekend.”

At public courts, he looks for a solid backboard that doesn’t vibrate—otherwise he gets distracted wondering why the ball is bouncing oddly, disturbing his rhythm. The rim must be 10 feet high, with a mesh. “I shoot well enough that if it has mesh, then it’ll roll back toward me,” Pass observes. “If there isn’t a mesh, then the ball continues through its arc and I have to chase it too much.”

A basketball game that Pass still plays is horse. Players try to execute the same shots, getting a letter (h, o, r, s, e) if they miss and are eliminated when the letters spell “horse.” “It’s just a shooting game, from proper shots, three-pointers and layups to behind-the-back and hook shots and little trick shots that I still can do, thankfully,” says Pass with a laugh.

Back in the day, he enjoyed playing basketball because it’s a full athletic exercise involving agility and stamina. “I liked it because it was a team sport, but there was an individual element, so you could mentally decide when to do your thing and when to pass the ball,” he recalls. “So it’s a real collective of team and individualism.”

Although Pass doesn’t watch sports in general, he takes an interest in a couple of NBA teams and follows the NCAA. He attends matches when travelling in the U.S, and when a dozen NCAA teams held a tournament in Vancouver last November, he went to the opening night and a few games.

That month his 26-year-old daughter, Jade, asked who his favourite basketball player is. His reply: Julius Erving, a former Philadelphia 76er. At Christmas she presented him with a game basketball autographed by Erving, which now sits in Pass’s office. She asked if he would use it. “First of all, I’m blown away that I got this incredible gift, and then I said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Pass exclaims. “I might spin it on my finger, but that ball’s never touching the court.”

Warrior Spotlight

CEO of Ronald McDonald House B.C. & Yukon since 2006, Richard Pass led a capital campaign that raised more than $32 million for a new residence. It accommodates almost 2,000 families a year who stay in Vancouver while their children receive treatment for life-threatening illnesses. Pass also opened a 2,000-square-foot Ronald McDonald Family Room in Surrey Memorial Hospital for families of children treated there. The charity’s main fundraising season runs summer through Christmas, but this spring a new Home for Dinner program enables individuals or small groups to contribute funds. “It’s not about raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, although that would be nice,” Pass says. “It’s about whatever could be raised in that group.”