Saying goodbye to Dad

My father passed away last week and we had a lovely, but unfortunately capacity-limited, funeral for him on Saturday at our family church, the Church of St. John the Evangelist, in our old neighbourhood in London.

I was honoured to make a few remarks (below).

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad had been members of the church – pillars, really – for over 60 years, and I was delighted that the Choir (of which Dad had been a long time member) was able to attend and sing some of Dad’s favourites. Dad had asked for John Rutter’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You to be sung, and the choir did it magnificently.

Here’s a slightly larger choir performing this wonderful work. I am extremely grateful to our choir for singing this one. (I could barely hold it together while listening to it.)

It was wonderful to see family and old friends at the visitation and later at the funeral service. Thank you to all who came, or who watched the live stream. That made the week easier.

I was honoured to deliver a eulogy for Dad, only a few months after doing the same for Mom. Here’s what I said, with more than a few pauses where I could compose myself. Dad, people laughed in a few spots. I hope that’s OK.

Eulogy for Dad

Welcome back

Well, welcome back everyone. It seems like we were just here.

Mom and Dad both loved the theatre. So in that vein …

Welcome back from intermission. Previously at St. John’s, in the Act One finale last July, we said goodbye to Mom, Anne, Gran, Mrs Hayman, a wonderful star to whom Dad was devoted for 65 years.

Today is Act Two. I want to tell you some stories. We have four scenes. Let’s get started.

Scene 1: Bob the Technophile

When Alex was born, Dad couldn’t understand why I felt the need to give a newborn baby an email address, and he wrote an editorial for our family paper the Point View Reviewer wondering why we didn’t just come up with a way to print messages on paper and deliver them through Canada Post. But … he changed. He grew to love online communication. And he’d want me to welcome everyone joining us on Zoom today. Even though Dad would have no idea how that worked, he loved anything that connected people.

Dad was fascinated, although often stumped, by technology. A slide rule was high tech when he was a student. But he adapted easily to this new world. For instance he’d love seeing the list of people who liked or commented on a Facebook post, and it was great fun trying to explain to him who everybody was. OK see those are my high school friends, there’s someone from the band, that’s your neighbour and … I don’t know who that is, one of your Internet friends maybe?

Dad was an amazing early adopter. In 1971 he bought the first pocket calculator any of us had ever seen! He let me take it in to wood shop class, where the teacher was so impressed, he helped me build a beautiful stand for it. It was so early, we didn’t even realize you could spell words on a calculator by turning it upside down. We just multiplied 4 by 7 and went, whoa, it figured that out in two seconds.

And he bought an Apple ][ years before anybody else had a “home computer”. He soon became the first person I knew to buy an airline ticket online! He had signed up for an account on “The Source”, an early nationwide bulletin board, that cost $15/hour to use. Somehow he found a travel agent in there selling tickets, and he experimented a bit and, apparently, actually purchased a return ticket from Toronto to Paris, or something. Of course he had no intention of travelling to Paris, he was just experimenting with this technology …- and we had to persuade him that yes, we think that was an actual thing, we think you actually DID buy a plane ticket there, you better call them back and cancel it.

Years later, in 1996, Steve Jobs demoed buying a plane ticket on the Internet, and immediately called United Airlines to cancel it, and everybody went, “oooooh, cool, that’s the future”, but I remembered Dad had done it fifteen years earlier.

He went through a brief spell where – being an engineer – he wanted to understand how computers worked, how you wrote programs for them, what was actually going on inside these boxes. That phase didn’t last. He wisely decided he would just enjoy using the computer. He’d leave that understanding part to others. Good move. Let the experts be the experts. We did have many discussions about the difference between a “file” and a “folder” though, as Dad pointed out that a “filing cabinet” actually holds “files” and my analogies were all wrong. Taught me a lesson there.

That Apple ][ got me curious, and here I am in my 29th year of working for Apple. Dad was always very encouraging about that even if he was a little unclear what it is I do here.

I overheard him telling somebody once that “Stephen is in charge of education sales for Apple”, which is, um, overstating it slightly. But he was proud of whatever it was.

Scene 2: Bob the Performer

When Dad was in high school at Rothesay Collegiate in New Brunswick, he organized the school’s bugle band, and something must have clicked because he enjoyed performing for the rest of his life.

Dad finished high school at London South, and here’s a quote from the 1946 South yearbook, describing a school assembly.

The program was continually being interrupted by the unscheduled appearances of Walden Allen, Dick Hutchison and Bob Hayman, who pestered the audience with skits and songs. But the people loved them.

The performing bug continued when Dad was studying engineering at the University of Toronto. He tried out for U of T’s Blue and White marching band, but it turned out they were looking for people who could actually play an instrument.

So Dad pivoted and founded the Inter Varsity Barbershop Quartet Champions of 1949, the legendary Four Flushers, from Drano, California.

The Four Flushers

The Four Flushers, from the University of Toronto 1950 Engineering Yearbook

On the evening of February 21st, the men of Civil Engineering grabbed their best gals and headed for the Savarin Hotel. A swell evening was had by all. The “Four Flushers,” of 5T0 Civil and international fame, comprised the official entertainment. After singing several numbers, the quartette was forced, by popular demand, to give its rendition of that old folk song—”Cigareets and Whisky.” The roof promptly fell in.

Dad also managed to appear in some London Little Theatre musicals. I remember him boasting of being in a production of Guys and Dolls, where he played The Greek. Now, I was very impressionable, and grew up thinking The Greek must surely be the star of that show, so imagine my confusion when I finally saw a production of Guys and Dolls and learned that The Greek only had about two lines. No matter! It was Show Business.

And yet some of Dad’s greatest artistic successes occurred right here, at St. John’s Church. I’d like to speak to the choir for a moment.

to the choir

Dad was a member of this wonderful choir for many years. He loved worshipping and singing with you all, but he loved socializing with the choir even more. Thank you, David, and everyone else for being here today and singing some of Dad’s favourites.

But he also founded the legendary St. John’s Marching Band in 1971. Dad would play the trumpet, sometimes – I never did figure out where exactly he figured out how to play the trumpet – or maybe the violin, and my siblings were in it too, along with whoever else in the church played any instrument at all, and the band would play for the Christmas pageant or the Lessons and Carols service, and then scatter until next year – unless the church was running a Chicken Dinner or putting on a show or a road race, and then the a slightly different St. John’s Marching Band, sometimes enhanced with a few ringers, would reassemble. We are all grateful that St. John’s has had a series of directors of music willing to embrace this ensemble. I am grateful for their tolerance and senses of humour about the whole thing.

Mom and Dad would host Christmas or Victoria Day parties and invite the entire neighbourhood, and a new ad-hoc orchestra would be formed. And with Dad and Uncle George on trumpet, my siblings on clarinet, me on trombone, Mom on the piano and other cousins on whatever instrument they were learning, the family band would get together on Christmas Eve and visit Grampa and Nana and Uncle Don and Aunt Grace and Aunt Jean to serenade them with Christmas carols from the well worn red and green books.

And the nightly flag lowering at the Point View cottage was always accompanied by a bugle solo, that could be heard far and wide. Dad was big on ceremony.

He and Mom travelled to Europe with Western’s New Horizons Band, playing to, if not exactly the great concert halls, various nursing homes. Talk about a captive audience.

I was inspired by all this and put a few bands together in my life and Dad was a great supporter, especially when the University of Waterloo Warriors Band would occasionally visit London and play a tune or two on the lawn at 994 Maitland St. before going off to see Waterloo edged by Western 72-0. Cathy was in one of those bands too, although I didn’t get around to marrying her until 30 years later. Y’see? You should join a band. Or a choir. A lifetime of memories is there for you.

Here’s the thing. I learned a valuable lesson from these groups Dad would assemble. Musical quality isn’t the important thing. No. What’s important? Just getting together with your friends and playing some music, and having fun, now THAT’s important.

Thank you, Dad

Scene 3: Bob the Traveller

Dad loved to travel. His philosophy was that money wasn’t doing you any good in the bank, so you might as well travel. And travel, he and Mom did. They saw the world. Sometimes they even took us.

Mom and Dad took our family on some memorable trips, including a mission in 1969 to see the launch of Apollo XI. Michael and I have been bragging about that one ever since – and that is what personally got me interested in science and technology.

I remember a wonderful two-motorhome trip with the entire Jones family. Mr. and Mrs. Jones owned a motorhome, Dad rented one, and we spent a great weekend arguing the merits of Champion vs. Superior motorhomes.

Mom and Dad also shared their love of theatre with us, and we all went to New York in 1978 to see some Broadway shows. We all remember Dad gasping at the ticket prices.

“$28 each?” he’d say. “That’s absolutely ridiculous, you should be able to take the whole family to a show for $28.”

The most memorable trip was to France in 1980. Imagine, trying to book travel for your family without the Internet, just with brochures, to a country where you didn’t speak the language. Dad’s bold speech at every hotel , using the remaining words of high school French he knew, became part of family legend. We’d all repeat this line to ourselves for years. Dad would stride up to the hotel, counter, and smile, and loudly tell the clerk

“Je Voudrais Doux Chambres pour Cinq Personnes.”

(That’d be “I Would Like Sweet Rooms for Five People”.)

Somehow that worked and we got our two rooms for five people.

We visited the world war 1 grave of Dad’s uncle Gordon McIntosh, killed at 19 in World War I in Lapugnoy, France. Dad made sure we were aware of those sacrifices, and of how hard Gordon’s death was on his mother, Gordon’s young sister. It was a very moving trip.

Also I remember we detoured through Belgium at one point because Dad wanted a real Belgian waffle.

Mom and Dad made many more great trips once they realized they didn’t need to bring the kids along, including a round-the-world trip where they flew to France for cousin Ian Hayman’s wedding, and then – seeing as they were already in the area – continued on to visit other cousin Ian Wallace in the Philippines. And on to Australia’s finest luxury resort, Hayman Island.

They cruised the seven seas, they saw the pyramids along the Nile, they cycled through France with the Whelens, they skied in Austria, but they enjoyed travelling to the family cottage at Point View on the shores of Lake Huron most of all. The family cottage wasn’t just our family, it included the entire MacFarlane and Baldwin clans across the ravines too.

Dad saw to it that family gatherings at Point View were frequent, and fun, and frequently filmed. A whole series of movies were shot on Dad’s Super 8 camera, starring every kid who was around, including classics you might remember like The Shed, or You Axed For It, or Quest for the Holy Pail. Movies with plots and special effects and soundtracks and everything. It was a regular Hollywood-on-Huron directed by Dad, H. R. Spielberg himself. And Dad would edit the movies – no small feat, you kids might not get this but back then editing a movie actually involved “cutting” film with a razor blade and gluing it back together, with the constant risk that the film would jam in the projector and melt your masterpiece.

We’re all so lucky that Dad created these moments on film, and preserved them and then showed them over and over and over again whenever guests were at the cottage. What a gift that was for the next generation.

We did our best to repay this – Cathy and I took Mom and Dad, and Cathy’s mom Eleanor, on a Caribbean cruise a few years ago. Sadly, all three of these wonderful people have passed away in the past year, but the picture of the three of them in Cozumel, enjoying frozen beverages while wearing silly balloon hats will make me smile forever.

Drinks in Cozumel with balloon hats

Thank you, Dad

Scene 4: Bob the Builder

Dad was a builder of buildings, of course – a general contractor with John Hayman and Sons, building buildings all over southern Ontario. A great occupation where you build permanence – structures you can point to decades later. (Unlike, say, the computer business, where programs I wrote last year don’t work any more.). He built buildings.

But he was also a builder of family. And not just family who lived in his house – family meant cousins, and second cousins, and sometimes kids in the neighbourhood who we just assumed were our cousins and they just figured Dad was their uncle. I’m honoured that so many of you from Dad’s big extended family are here today. Welcome, especially, to Kathy from Houston, Lisa from Atlanta, and Ian from France.

On an early job of building buildings, he was helping build something at the Labatt’s head office here. One day, eating in the Labatt’s cafeteria, he asked his engineering friend Harvey Hurlbutt who those pretty girls over there were. And Harvey happened to be dating one of them, and offered to introduce Dad to the other.

That was Mom, also working at Labatt’s. They – obviously – hit it off, married in 1956 and loved each other deeply for 65 years.

You know Michael and Susan and me, but you might not know of our brother Tim, their first baby, who never came home from the hospital. Ever the engineer, Dad insisted that the nurses explain Tim’s spina bifida condition. And he couldn’t do anything about it. I cannot imagine how devastating that must have been to this new couple. But Dad supported and loved Mom unconditionally, and while he was building London, he was also building a family.

At their home, Dad built a coffee table out of, probably, lumber he’d scrounged up on a job site – and Mom gently suggested that perhaps fine finish carpentry was not his best skill.

But he was also building skating rinks in the backyard – and, naturally, making dramatic films of mythical hockey matches played there. One squad of neighbourhood kids taking on another, and the underdogs would always triumph because that made for a better movie.

Dad mentioned to me that he knew it was time to retire when the company started working on jobs that involved demolishing buildings he’d built at the start of his career. After retiring, he kept a hard hat in the car, and found a new calling inspecting churches around the province. For this, and many other contributions, the Diocese awarded him the Order of Huron.

Dad was proud of Michael joining the family firm and of Susan’s neuropsychology career, and he warmly welcomed Cathy and Brent to the family. And the family kept growing to another generation. Four day old grandson Alex was the star attraction at Dad’s 65th birthday party. Jenni reminded me Dad made it his mission to get this baby to laugh, even if it took all summer, and when Alex finally did, it was glorious.

Nick arrived a little later, and then Rob and Katie, and as a special bonus, Tyler and Caitie-with-a-C. Dad adored all six grandchildren, and was looking forward to Tyler’s wedding to Diana this summer – and I am deeply honoured that his grandchildren are escorting him on his final journey today.

Dad, the Builder. He built communities. Not just structures, but connections.

All along, Dad was completely devoted to Mom. His favourite expression about Mom was that “She never complained.” We kids had our doubts about THAT – like, really, what about this incident, or that one? – but Dad insisted. She never complained.

Mom and Dad were able to live out their lives at home at 994, which is what they both wanted, and I have to acknowledge all the work that my brother Michael did every single day to make that possible. And we are extremely grateful to the compassionate staff of Medical Priorities.

Now … I don’t really understand what happens when you die. I like to think you get to meet everybody who passed before you, and fill them in on what’s been happening. I hope Dad gets to reconnect with his wonderful sister Molly and brother Donald. And baby Tim too. Let them know how we’re doing.

When Mom passed away last summer, I do know that it left a huge void in Dad’s heart.

But I imagine Mom has been complaining, for the first time, wondering where on earth Bob was.

And Dad surely felt those complaints, and decided that wasn’t right, and did what he could to join Mom again. So, last Saturday, while listening to Anne Murray sing his favourite song, he slipped quietly away, with Michael and Susan and me at his side, to be with Mom again. And I know the first thing he asked her. Could he have this dance? For the rest of his afterlife?

And Mom surely answered, “Oh, Bob.”

Thank you, Dad, for everything.

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