Remembrance by Rev. Diane Rollert, October 29, 2011
There are stars whose light reaches the earth only after they have disintegrated and are no more.
And there are people whose scintillating memory lights the world after they have passed from it.
These lights which shine in the darkest night are those which illume for us the path.
There are stars indeed.
Gordon is one of those people whose memory will continue to light the world long after he is gone.
Until the last year or so of his life, age was never an impediment for Gordon. He was robust and active, a consummate sportsman, who skated, curled, sailed, played tennis, golfed, and loved to ski. His daughter Anne fondly remembers her father taking his four children skiing every Saturday morning in the winter. When Gordon’s daughter Janet took up figure skating, Gordon took lessons too. When Janet graduated to ice dancing, he became her partner. What an image: father and daughter gracefully spinning together on the ice.
Born in Toronto, Gordon studied engineering at UTS (the University of Toronto). He graduated early in order to serve as an officer in the Second World War. It was an experience he never spoke about, yet I remember how proudly he wore his uniform each Sunday closest to Remembrance Day, as he and his fellow veterans placed the memorial wreath right here in this sanctuary. Last year, I had tears in my eyes as I watched Gordon standing at attention, his hand in a salute. He had lost so much strength in the preceding months yet there he was, proudly present.
Gordon arrived in Montreal in 1950 and tried to set up a consulting business. He said that his lack of French at the time made the effort too difficult, so he took a job with a large firm.
He worked for Dupont as an engineer, building plants and factories, until his retirement at the age of 65. Of course, he didn’t really retire, he just moved back to consulting. Over the years, he learned to speak French, often spending a week each year outside of Montreal, staying in a boarding house just to be immersed in the language. He became a true Montrealer, who loved both the anglophone and francophone cultures here.
Gordon told me that he had travelled a lot in his life. He had lived all over Canada, from his early childhood until the age of 20. Everywhere he went he made two or three friends. “My life is all about friendship,” he once told me. He mourned the loss of friends who had died, but it was the loss of contact with friends who were still living that pained him most.
Gordon was 70 years old when he married for the second time. He had become a widower two years before, having lost his wife Isobel, mother of his four children, Janet, Anne, D’Arcy and the late Graham. He and Nancy first met at the Montreal Jazz Festival, introduced by a mutual friend. Then something in a long distance phone conversation got things started, and a year later they were married. When they became serious about their relationship, Nancy asked Gordon, perhaps half-jokingly, how long he thought he could live. He absolutely convinced her that he could live for the next ten years. Instead, he lived another twenty, proving just how full of life and energy he was. “Old” was never part of his vocabulary.
Gordon and Nancy shared an instant sympathy. On their first date, they danced in the kitchen and they went on practicing their dancing in the kitchen after they were married.
They shared a love of many things, and complimented each other from day one. They loved to travel together. The most exciting trip may have been their travels along the coast of Patagonia, sailing on an 82 foot catch from Uruguay to Chile for three or four weeks.
Gordon served on the crew. There were no twilight years for him.
Gordon had his contemplative side. He loved to bird watch. He was passionate about astronomy and genealogy. He told me that he had travelled to where Darwin had done his research and he was fascinated with ideas of reconciling science with faith. He was a believer in science, he said, but he still felt there was something more. He spoke to me of his Anglican roots, of his love for the Anglican liturgy, and that he sometimes missed the directness of the Anglican priest who told him exactly what to think. Still, he said, he felt right at home here with the Unitarians. He enjoyed his years as an active member of this church, and he was proud of the two years he served as our treasurer.
Together, Gordon and Nancy brought their two families into one. They loved their thirteen grandchildren equally, six from his children and seven from hers. It was a sad loss to all his
grandchildren when Bapa didn’t come home from the hospital this last time.
He was a genuine, hardworking, good family man, with a smile that could bring light to the darkest room. He had known trials in his life, but he always chose to remain positive. Even as he lost his physical strength, he accepted the change. In his last days of life, he revived enough to say goodbye to each family member, smiling as he saw them or spoke to them.
All he ever wanted, all he ever needed, was to be close to those he loved.