Remembrance of Andy Hugessen, delivered by Rev. Diane Rollert at a memorial service Jan. 11, 2009
My last memory of Andy before he went into the hospital: he was coming in the back door of Phoenix Hall with his heavy winter coat and his big boots.
I was rushing past the open door in the foyer, all the way on the other side of the hall, when I saw him out of the corner of my eye.
“Oh good,” I thought, “Andy’s here, even if Jane isn’t well enough to come today.”
I smiled with thanks to see him, and for a moment, even from a distance, I saw that twinkle in his eye.
That was on a Sunday.
The next day he collapsed in choir rehearsal, and the doctors were planning brain surgery. The last time we spoke, it was the day before he was discharged from the hospital.
After seeing him during his first weeks in the hospital, it was hard to imagine that he’d ever speak again. I told him he was the miracle man, and his eyes opened wide with surprise.
Then he whispered a poem to me for the coming holidays:
Christmas is coming,
The geese are getting fat
Please put a penny
In the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny
A ha'penny will do;
If you haven't got a ha'penny
Then God bless you!
He chucked me under the chin and smiled that unforgettable Andy smile. That was Andy to so many of us. When Andy smiled at you, no one else in the world existed. He was so kind, and gentle and humble that I always had a hard time placing him within the context of his family history.
Andy could trace his roots to nobility in England. His father, Andrew Knatchbull Hugessen, left England behind and immigrated to Canada where he studied law at McGill, and became a senator.
Andy was born into one of the families of Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. He used to joke, “We looked down on Westmount.” It’s hard to imagine Andy looking down on anyone.
Andy and Jane met on that fateful day skiing the most dangerous slopes of Mount Washington; she with a friend, and he with members of the McGill ski club.
I imagine Andy a shy and awkward young college graduate, trying hard to impress Jane, the bold college co-ed with the killer sense of humour who matched his skills on the slopes.
I can still see him telling the story of their meeting, of the can of beer that he accidentally sprayed all over Jane, of the search to return her lost passport. He laughed with joyful self-deprecation as he recounted the events.
Andy had gone to private school at Bishops and then studied engineering at McGill. But when he and Jane married, he was clear that he didn’t want his children to go to private school.
So they moved to the West Island, where they raised their four children, Wendy, Brian, John and Martha. That’s also where they first became active Unitarians.
When Andy’s older brother died of cancer in his 30s, he and Jane became deeply engaged in the lives of his brother’s children, helping to bring them up.
Andy was a loving father who delighted his children when they were young with made up stories like Stella the Star Fairy. He was a loving grandfather who went out skiing with his grandchildren in his day-glow orange snowsuit.
He would tower over them, a mile high, patiently listening and encouraging them to pursue their passions. He once told his grandson Andrew, “If you’re going to use the name Andrew, you’d better use it well.”
In his earlier career, Andy worked as a consultant moving from assignment to assignment, helping companies to standardize production in places as far away as Africa, Malaysia and Columbia. Later he switched to teaching engineering at l’Université de Montréal.
It was a remarkable choice, not what you’d expect for a man who grew up in the heart of anglophone Montreal. With great pride he became fluently bilingual. He advanced far beyond the academic mastery of technical language; he got the jokes.
Andy was an engineer at heart. He loved to get up early in the morning and putter about fixing things at the family’s summer home at Lake Anne. He was drawn to wine and beer making because of the science, along with the joy of sharing his labours with others.
Even in his last days in the hospital, as he became bored with a physically confined life, he began to explore the mechanics of his hospital bed with the wonder of the inquisitive child he must have once been.
Andy was a true a sportsman. Even in his 70s, he and a group of buddies would venture out on fishing expeditions. One year he popped his hip during a canoe trip in New Brunswick and had to be airlifted out.
For all his quiet reserve, Andy was a perfectionist. He liked to have things done right and done well. He lived with an intensity that surfaced in his competitive spirit. Although he was humble to the core, something drove him to be the best, especially in sports. It was the kind of drive that led him to the Canadian Olympic sailing team for the Helsinki games in 1952.
Jane was Andy’s countermeasure, the one who brought him into balance, and lightened his spirit. They shared a marriage and a true partnership for 56 years. He knew sad years and challenging times, yet he always faced them with patience, staying connected, no matter what.
I think that was the Andy we knew best. Andy who was always at Jane’s side as her health failed. Andy who could generously help out an acquaintance in need with no questions asked. Andy who smiled patiently, who managed to tease the nurses in the hospital, even as his speech and movement were limited. Andy who held Jane’s hand, who smiled lovingly at his children and grandchildren, and said who goodbye with that twinkle in his eye.