Score one for kindness: Taxi driver returns lost hockey championship watch

When Joe White read the inscription on the back of the watch he'd been given to repay a favour, he realized it shouldn't be on his wrist.

Joe White received old watch as payment for a favour — then discovered its true owner

Taxi Driver Joe White was happy to return a watch to its rightful owner, Zane Forbes. (CBC)

Joe White, a taxi driver with Newfound Cabs in St. John's, likes to lend a hand.

"I do an awful lot of favours for people, just try to help them out," said White.

Some of those favours involve giving passengers a ride, even if they can't pay right then. That's how it came to be that a friend who owed him money gave him a watch as partial payment. 

At first, it didn't look like much — maybe not even to cover a few cab fares. But when White turned over the watch, a Bulova from the 1970s that had definitely seen better days, and read the inscription on the back of the watch face, he realized that it had a story to tell.

"The name on the back and watch was Zane Forbes," White said. 

"And if you grew up in the '70s like I did, and you watched a lot of hockey and stuff, you know the scene for us was he was almost a household name."

White says he does favours for people when he can, and sometimes payment comes in unexpected ways — such as a watch. (CBC)

In the 1970s, Zane Forbes was a star in Newfoundland and Labrador senior hockey. As a junior he played in Guelph, Ont., on a line with two other Newfoundlanders, named Terry Gregory and Dave Kennedy.

"They put us on a line together," Forbes said. "They called us the Screech line."

The Screech line, along with the rest of the team, made it to the national championship final in 1975. As a gift for that accomplishment, the City of Guelph gave the team's players a watch — complete with an inscription explaining its significance.

When White received the Bulova watch, it was in bad shape, with a broken case. (CBC)

It was that inscription that led White to Forbes, and the watch back to its rightful owner.

"This watch belongs to Zane Forbes," White said he realized as he held a magnifying glass up to its back to read the faded letters in the metal. "It's not my watch."

'So happy'

Forbes remembers receiving the watch, but he said he put it away after receiving it.

"I never wore it," said Forbes, who was inducted into the province's hockey hall of fame in 2000. 

"I was keeping it for my son, and this past Christmas it went missing."

Once White learned the watch's original owner, he got to work returning it. He contacted CBC in St. John's to get information on giving the watch back to Forbes.

In the meantime, White got the watch fully refurbished — "complete restoration, right from top to bottom, brand new" — so he could present it to the former player in pristine, working condition. 

I'm just so happy to get my watch back. So happy.- Zane Forbes

The two men were able to meet up in May, and White gave the watch back to the former player — taken from "garbage to factory condition" through the restoration, White said. 

"I can't thank you enough for that," Forbes told White, remarking that the watch didn't quite fit him now — but was a perfect fit for his son, the intended owner.

"I didn't expect this stuff. I'm just so happy to get my watch back. So happy."

White and Forbes were able to meet up so White could return the watch. (CBC)

When White was given the watch, he said, he wasn't sure if it had any monetary value — but he suspected there was sentimental value. Hearing Forbes had planned for the watch to be his son's made it even more meaningful to return it, he said, because his father had passed a watch down to him years ago.

"I understood where you were coming from," he told Forbes.

The former hockey player and retired firefighter left with his restored watch, a new case, and a reminder that people will do things for others for no reason other than that they believe they should.

The inscription on the back of this watch led it back to its original owner. (CBC)

"Not everybody does those type of things," Forbes told White.

And White is walking away with something as a reward for his good deed. He writes books about his work in the taxi industry — and now he's got a perfect story for the next one.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Cecil Haire