Read at his celebration of life: Saturday September 29th, 2018
I want to start by acknowledging and thanking my sisters Martha and Georgie for taking such good care of Dad for the past year. It’s easy to say thank you but much harder to appreciate the day to day routine of simply making sure that another person is comfortable, engaged and happy, whether you are in the same room with them, or away on an appointment. That has to be something that has occupied a major part of their mental and emotional life for the past year if not longer. I will never be able to thank you enough, or know the wonderful moments shared at Crown Point and in Toronto that made it a pleasure and that much more painful recently.
Most of us remember Dad’s friend Benny Proulx and the last place he lived, by Billings Bridge, before he passed away. He referred to it as God’s waiting room. Well Dad’s space at Martha’s was really a corner of heaven, with his books, music and a fantastic view of a city where he had made so many memories with us. I felt such comfort this year knowing Dad was in such a warm place.
And also Mary Jane and Pam did a wonderful job of indulging my dad before that with great social activity here in Ottawa –– hockey games, movies, Mad Men evenings and dinners with a ton of laughs and stories, and as Dad would say a lot of lies.
I know all of us are hurting right now, and many feel like we are more part of a bad dream than a sad reality.
But the good news is the wonderful tapestry of love that has become the backdrop to our lives as you look around the room. I am blessed with amazing nieces and nephews all because of Dad.
Dad was unconventional. I think we can agree on that. One of my earlier memories of Dad is on a car trip to the cottage, and a field we would pass regularly in the evening after seeing a drive-in movie. In the field were tall antennae, each with a red light on the top. We’d ask why the lights were there. To which he would reply so the planes don’t fly into the poles. But why are the poles there, Charlie or Georgie would ask, and he’d reply, to keep the lights on top. This conversation would go around in circles for many trips.
And more recently when words became superfluous he could tell you everything with a wink or a frown.
I will never float in another body of tropical water without thinking of Dad and our first trip to Barbados and how happy he was, surrounded by his kids as we got tossed around in the surf at Sand Acres. I remember us returning to Canada from one such trip, laden with way too many clinking bottles (Charlie literally had a suitcase of rum) and wearing all kinds of stuff that we’d bought, and the customs officer asked Dad if there was anything the family would like to declare. Dad was bright red from 5 hours of the drink trolley and looked at the customs agent stone face and said, “No.” To which the agent replied “you mean your whole family spent two weeks in Barbados and you didn’t buy anything?” “No,” Dad said. The customs officer rolled his eyes and let us all through. There were other trips too, like twenty-one times to Expo ‘67, a drive out to Prince Edward Island, a drive to Florida where Dad smoked an entire humongous dollar-store cigar I’d given him, on New Years Eve, and then frequent drives to Canton New York for Sunday lunch after church! Why not it’s just over there.
You can’t mention Dad without mentioning his love for music: We all have different memories of the music Dad brought to our lives, I remember Mendelssohn’s violin concerto and Bruch’s Scottish fantasy that lulled me to sleep in the basement.
Decades later when Dad and I went to the NAC, one of many times there, we listened to Barber’s Adagio for strings –– if you don’t know it listen to it, you’ll recognize it. I watched Dad, with his eyes closed, and knew even then, that it was a special moment and that I would treasure long after Dad was gone.
And Dad has probably witnessed more bad and good theatre than anyone in the English speaking world. He sat through numerous school concerts, ballet recitals, hockey games and ice shows. Dad was there with Mom and he would give out his characteristic single cough just as the curtain rose or the puck dropped, to let you know exactly where he was sitting.
And no, he never taught me how to throw a ball or throw a punch for that matter. Dad wasn’t exactly adept or coordinated, when it came to using tools. In fact as a toddler from watching dad smash his hand more than once, I thought a hammer was called a Jesus Christ. But he tirelessly drove me and Martha to swimming practice, Georgie to Ballet, Charlie to hockey, and on occasion he’d remember to pick us up. Not a word of complaint at 5:30 on minus 30 degree mornings. We’d all ski with him at Mont Ste. Marie on Sundays, and sail with him on the Ottawa River.
I have a couple of airplane stories. Many kids have memories of plane-watching with their dads. I never did this. Instead Dad took me to Toronto at a very young age in an Air Canada Viscount. Kids would have eaten at Fran’s, but I ate at the Bombay Bicycle Club, with grown ups and other lawyers. Not bad for a ten year old.
For my seventeenth birthday Dad had one of his friends take us up in a small piper Cherokee, we flew over the Gatineau and up towards the Laurentians. Dad sat in the back and watched while I shared the controls with his friend.
Now, we all know Dad could be forgetful or had trouble with less important details. A couple of years after the flight over Quebec, while I was working at Binks and Chilcott, I took up flying lessons. I told Dad and asked him not to tell Mom or she’d worry. She found out anyway when the instructor had to reschedule a lesson and phoned our place. I remember finding her crying in her office, upset that I hadn’t told her. Then I told her that Dad knew. Not a good idea. Off I went for my lesson and when I returned that night she was laughing so hard she couldn’t speak. She had confronted my dad about the secret, but he had no idea that I had told him I was taking flying lessons.
I know we all have our best memories of time spent with Dad and one in my mental file is an afternoon at the cottage, a few decades ago. Dad was standing in the water and I was sitting on the dock –– one of those classic still, hot, and sunny Ottawa River afternoons, and we were drinking those great unibroue beers from Quebec and talking about simple things. I remember this because I said to dad “maybe this is as good as it gets,” which wasn’t such a bad thing, in fact it was a gift to have time stop like that and just enjoy the stillness of the afternoon with Dad.
And when we weren’t being silent Dad had great stories from his challenging childhood in Ottawa, to his attempts to enlist, to backing our rental car into a ditch as Martha, Mom, Dad and I were about to board the ferry to the Isle of Skye, or the time Gerogie called him silly old jolly old daddy running around the kitchen like an egg, or the time Charlie—I can’t tell that story in this crowd. It wasn’t as much the story as the way his face lit up when he told them.
As you’ll see in family pictures, Dad loved our dog Julie from the first time that she untied his shoelaces as a pup. He’d take her with him on his Saturday errands, to the office, and various chores. When they got home at the end of the day they both smelled like they’d been smoking cigars. He loved her dearly and devotedly. When she finally became ill after her long life, the day before she died, Dad got down on the living floor with her and wept.
Dad protected us by chasing bats around the cottage porch with a broom, and really protected us by providing a warm home, and filling in the blank spaces in the background, doing things like walking Julie after everyone had gone to bed, or sleeping in my bed when thunder storms or bad dreams forced me to wedge myself between him and mom. One winter night on the 401 heading to Toronto we were marveling at all the cars in the ditch, soon realizing we were driving on sheer ice. As the car swerved 180 degrees side to side and we stared up into the face of a transport truck driver, dad put his hand on my arm. “We’re okay,” he said. And I knew we were.
I remember rendezvousing with him at the train station in Bordeaux and there we were on the upper mezzanine, and he pointed out mom on the main floor sitting with their bags, she looked up and waved and Dad and I waved and then we looked at each other and smiled. Didn’t need to say a word.
I know we all wish it could go on forever, and Dad would get up and down that hill to the Ottawa river and have one more swim before dinner with Martha’s gang, one more trip out to Vancouver to see Charlie and the west coast gang, maybe we’d all circumnavigate north America in a camper, one more nuit blanches with Georgie’s bunch, one more trip down south to bob in the surf with all of us, one more dinner and show at the NAC with Mary Jane. I hoped someday to take him on a scotch tasting trip across Scotland. It was Dad who said “life goes on,” and I know that his life will go on. I will learn more about him from Martha, Charlie, Georgie and you, and it will fill out the picture, make it that much clearer, sweeter and easier. His gift to us was his nature, that is what he taught us, just a gentle nature that set an example of how one should live one’s life, what should and shouldn’t be taken seriously, how to treat people, and how precious a gift life is, and how good a story remembered can be.