January 30, 1967
In the three decades since his appearance on SI's cover, right wing I Rod Gilbert has become the New York Rangers' alltime leading scorer (406 goals from 1960 to '78), been named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, played himself on a steamy daytime soap and been married at the United Nations by the mayor of New York. Compared to those highlights, being on a magazine cover wouldn't seem to be a big deal. "Oh, no, I can't forget it," says Gilbert, now 56 and the director of community relations for the Rangers and Madison Square Garden. "That cover got me engaged."
A week after Gilbert's mug hit the newsstand, he made an appearance at a fan dinner attended mostly by men and boys. "In walked the most stunning woman I'd ever seen," says Gilbert (pronounced jhil-BEAR). "Long black hair, dark eyes, dressed to the nines. I went whoa! inside, and I asked her what the heck she was doing there." The woman, Arunee Leeaphorn, was a Bangkok native studying at Columbia. She had a copy of SI tucked under her arm. "I wanted to see if you looked the same in person as you do in this," she told Gilbert.
They were engaged two years later. "What a wonderful relationship we had," says Gilbert, though the pair split amicably in 1970. By then Gilbert, a French-speaking native of Montreal, had found another love, New York City. He has lived in Manhattan since 1964 and after retiring stayed visible by opening an Upper East Side restaurant. In '82 he did two episodes of One Life to Live in which he had a dalliance with a TV reporter trying to make her husband jealous. "He was with Miss Globe, she was with me," says Gilbert. "I figured that was about right."
In 1989 Gilbert read a newspaper story commending Wayne Gretzky for running a hockey clinic in Harlem. Gilbert seethed at the notion that a player from another team—the Great One was with the Los Angeles Kings at the time—might win over fans in Rangers territory. He took the clipping to Jack Diller, then executive vice president of the Garden. "You can let this happen right under your nose?" asked Gilbert. Responded Diller, "You want to help me do something about it?" With that Diller hired Gilbert, who expanded the Rangers' clinic program and today runs a network of team-sponsored charity events.
Gilbert married Judith Christy, an advertising executive, in 1991 at the Church Center for the U.N. David Dinkins, then New York's mayor, officiated. "This is such an amazing city," says Gilbert. "Life here has been full of good times and great surprises."