The blog has been unusually quiet for the past week and a half. There was no Fashion Friday post last week and nothing in honour of International Women’s Day yesterday. My father passed away less than 48 hours after I published the last post. All I’ve written since then is his eulogy and a myriad of lists. Lists of things to do and people to contact. In fact, I wrote so many lists that Richard suggested perhaps I needed to make a list of my lists!
As I worked on the eulogy, when we chatted with Dad’s pastor while planning the memorial service, and when we visited with friends and family after the service, it was comforting to recall who Dad was before macular degeneration robbed him of his sight, a stroke stole most of his speech and mobility, and in his final months, dementia began to weaken his mind. My Dad was many things. He was a kind and generous man who was accepting of all people. He had a keen scientific mind, but also loved good literature and often quoted poetry to us. Above all else though, Dad was an adventurer. Even though it was very far removed, he was proud of his Gypsy heritage!
After graduating from the University of British Columbia in the spring of 1946 with an honours degree in chemical engineering, Dad found a job up the coast in the pulp and paper town of Powell River. That fall, he bought an old 24-foot wooden boat powered by an ancient 1927 car engine. With a friend, he sailed it up the coast from New Westminster to Powell River where he spent many hours over the next year sanding, re-caulking, and painting the hull and having the engine overhauled. He also met his bride-to-be that fall and the summer after they were married, they spent two weeks puttering up the coast in that old wooden boat. Apparently it rained every day but one, but that didn’t deter them from further adventures!
It was also during the Powell River years that Dad took up mountain climbing. He was a member of the BC Mountaineering Club for many years and ascended many peaks in the Powell River area as well as around Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. Dad always had a passion for seeing what was in the next valley, behind the next hill, or around the next corner. As a climber, he had at least one first ascent because, in his words, he was mad enough go one mountain further back than anyone else had ever bothered!
Dad loved to get away to quiet and remote places. For our very first camping trip as a family, he piled Mom and three kids into the little rowboat that he’d made with his own hands and rowed us across an isolated inlet to a rocky point where we would set up camp and stay for a week. A second trip in the rowboat brought the big canvas tent and the rest of our camping gear across. We had so much fun that we returned to the same spot the following summer!
After we moved to Vancouver in 1963, Dad’s passion for the path less traveled took us to some of the most remote places in BC that were accessible by road. As a child, I remember wondering if some of them were really roads at all and if we were going to get permanently lost! In 1967, we drove the then mostly unpaved Alaska Highway all the way to Anchorage. The following year, Dad chartered a little floatplane and we flew into Garibaldi Lake to spend a couple of weeks camping, climbing, and exploring. While we were there, Dad and I climbed Mount Price together.
Just before Christmas 1968, Dad accepted a job with the newly formed Government of the Northwest Territories. He moved to Yellowknife in January while the rest of us stayed in Vancouver until the end of the school year. Our last long road trip as a family took us from Vancouver to our new home in Yellowknife with a side trip to visit Wood Buffalo National Park. Dad’s role with the territorial government involved quite a bit of travel, sometimes to comfortable spots in southern Canada, but mostly by small aircraft into settlements across the Arctic. On one of those trips, he froze his fingertips while desperately clinging to a komatik (sled) as it bounced across the ice and snow behind an Inuit man on a snowmobile.
In the early 1970s, Dad decided that it was time for he and Mom to begin seeing more of the world. With my younger siblings, who were still living at home, they spent the summers of 1973 and 76 exploring Europe. In typical Dad fashion, those trips took them off the popular tourist trail to some more remote and unusual destinations including Leningrad and Moscow.
In May of 1982, Dad retired and in his words, he and Mom became homeless wanderers. Their belongings were shipped to Vancouver and put into storage while they spent most of the following year traveling North America and sleeping in the back of their little Malibu station wagon. After returning to Vancouver and living in a rented apartment for six months, it was time to set off on an even more audacious adventure. Dad ordered a Volkswagen camper van from a dealership in Vancouver to be picked up at the factory in Germany. Rather than flying directly to Germany, they got there via Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, two weeks in China, and the Trans Siberian railroad across the Soviet Union. After picking up the Volkswagen, they spent more than a year living in it and roaming around Europe and the Middle East before finally shipping it back to Canada. Sometime later, while a niece housesat for them, Dad and Mom were off on yet another adventure living in a rented van in Australia for several months. It was there that they survived a head on collision virtually unscathed.
In retirement, when he wasn’t traveling, Dad quickly learned that there’s no end of things to do as long as you don’t want to be paid. He spent three years working as volunteer office manager and treasurer for the Africa Community Technical Service, an organization committed to providing clean, accessible water to isolated communities in Africa. That led to yet more travel as he and Mom spent seven weeks in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania with the director and his wife seeing first hand what their efforts were accomplishing.
Over the years that followed, the Volkswagen van brought them over the mountains to Alberta numerous times to visit their children and grandchildren. Their last big trip was to a resort in the Dominican Republic where they celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. That brought their total number of countries traveled to 67.
Life changed significantly for Dad when Mom began to show signs of dementia. For many years after that he devoted himself to the challenging task of caring for her. As a family, we were deeply concerned that he was burning himself out, but he faced it like another mountain to climb and later, after she passed away in 2014, he was heard to say that those had been good years.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 1, while I stood at his bedside, Dad ascended his final peak and caught his first glimpse of what’s on the other side.
At the reception following his memorial service, I was asked if I had inherited my father’s adventurous spirit and I was proud to reply that, yes, I believe I did! Thank you, Dad!