'He meant a lot': Hamilton man mourning loss of pen pal Alex Trebek

·3 min read
'He meant a lot': Hamilton man mourning loss of pen pal Alex Trebek
'He meant a lot': Hamilton man mourning loss of pen pal Alex Trebek

A man who rips tickets at a Hamilton movie theatre and the host of Jeopardy! may seem like an unlikely pair to forge a friendship, but in the letters they exchanged, Dylan Atack and Alex Trebek were just two fans discussing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Following news Sunday that Trebek had died, the 31-year-old with autism is mourning more than the loss of a legendary quiz show host. He's grieving the loss of a pen pal.

"It always touched me to see a package from Jeopardy!" said Atack. "Alex was a busy guy, and taking the time out of his day to respond to me meant a lot."

It started with a signed jersey.

Atack heard Trebek was a fan of the CFL team and had players autograph a jersey with a number he'd specifically selected.

"I got the number 22 on it because he was born on July 22," Atack said. "Alex sent me a nice signed picture back and he thanked me for sending him the nice, thoughtful jersey, and he told me it would go in a place of honour in the studio."

That began a back and forth between the two men that included several signed portraits and updates on the team.

Atack estimates he wrote Trebek six or seven letters. The host wrote back every time.

"I was giving him football updates. You know, how the Ticats were doing all the time and stuff like that," he said.

Though Trebek hosted Jeopardy in the U.S., Atack said he admired the fact that the host never lost his ties to Canada.

"He always talked about how proud he was coming from Sudbury, Ont., and I also know he was a big Montreal Canadiens fan too. He never forgot where he came from."

Besides his job at the theatre, Atack works with the Hamilton Bulldogs hockey team and is an equipment assistant for the Tiger-Cats. His room is covered in memorabilia.

"Living with autism has it challenges. But I wanted to show people, others, that you can walk around obstacle courses with any challenge that comes your way," he said.

While his communication with Trebek was uniquely focused on a football team, reaching out to celebrities is a pastime for Atack.

He's met Sidney Crosby as well as Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper, posed for a picture with Prince Harry and handed flowers to Queen Elizabeth.

Atack never met Trebek in person, but among the correspondence they exchanged was a card sent ahead of the host's 80th birthday earlier this year.

In a signed note Atack received in response, Trebek thanks him for remembering his birthday, adding "Go Cats!"

Another exchange followed an invitation from Atack to have Trebek come down for a game.

"Dylan, thank you so much for the kind offer. I may take you up on it someday," it reads.

Atack said he's sad that visit can't happen now, but he's thankful they could form a connection.

"Unfortunately he passed away. I was so grateful for his ... pen-pal friendship," he said.

"I will definitely miss writing to him and giving him updates on the Ticats. But I'm just happy that I got to get to know him a little bit through letters and giving him the jersey."