CUSTIS, Bernard Eugene
Thursday February 23, 2017 marked the passing of Bernie Custis in his 88th year and the commencement of great grief for so many people from the worlds of education and athletics. Bernie is survived by his sister Joan (Custis) Mayfield, Philadelphia PA, nephew Brandon Mayfield, Philadelphia PA and niece Joanne Mayfield, Hartford CT. Predeceased by his wife of 47 years Lorraine (Dafoe) Custis, brother James Custis and sister Madge Whitley. Bernie was fortunate to have a wonderful companion, Doreen Douglas, who will miss him dearly. As a testament to Bernie’s character, he had many families adopt him and for so many, he is a much loved uncle who will be sadly missed. Bernie was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 23, 1929. His athletic prowess shone at an early age and he lettered in baseball, football, basketball and track and field while attending John Bartram High School. Bernie earned an athletic scholarship to Syracuse University in 1947 where he starred in football as an African-American quarterback, which was unheard of at that time. Bernie’s exposure to overt racism occurred when he attended a training camp after being drafted by the Cleveland Browns and was told that the NFL was not ready for a “coloured” quarterback. Bernie was given the opportunity to play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1951, where he became the first African-American quarterback in professional football in North America. Bernie was able to demonstrate his skills at quarterback and running back and he was instrumental in winning the Grey Cup in 1953. His football career ended abruptly due to injury in 1956 while playing for the Ottawa Rough Riders but also heralded his coaching career with the Tip Tops, East York Argonauts, Oakville Black Knights, Burlington Braves, Sheridan College Bruins, and the McMaster University Marauders, during which time he mentored and had significant impact on the lives of innumerable young athletes. He was awarded coach of the year awards for the OUAA (1982 and 1985) and for the CIAU (1982). Bernie was inducted into the Syracuse University Hall of Fame (1977), the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (1998), The McMaster University Sports Hall of Fame (2000), The City of Burlington Sports Hall of Fame (2008), and The Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame (2013). Bernie became a teacher and a principal for the Wentworth County School Board and dedicated himself to having all youth maximize their potential in his 35 years in the field of education. Bernie was also a talent scout for the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The coach may be gone but his legacy will endure forever. Many thanks to Dr. Adam Greszlo, CCAC, staff of Appleby Place Retirement Home, Joseph Brant Hospital, Lakeshore Place transitional care unit, Dr. Ragonetti and the staff of Billings Court Manor for the exceptional care provided to Bernie as his health declined. Visitation at SMITH’S FUNERAL HOME, 1167 Guelph Line (one stoplight north of QEW), BURLINGTON (905-632-3333), on Thursday, March 2, 2017 from 6-9p.m and Friday, March 3, 2017 from 1p.m. until the time of a Celebration of Bernie’s Life at 2p.m. at The Burlington Performing Arts Centre, 440 Locust Street, Burlington, Ontario L7S 1T7. If so desired, donations to Right to Play, the Burlington Humane Society or the Alzheimer’s Society would be appreciated.
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