William Russell Brown
There are not many people in their 70’s who have had, interacting in their lives, a vital, active and engaged parent. William (Russ) Brown died on May 18, 2020 at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre where he was a resident in the Veterans’ Wing and where he received outstanding care marked by respect and compassion. The depth of our loss is not diminished by the fact that he was in his 103rd year when he died. On the contrary, our loss is made greater by the 70 plus years we had him in our lives.
Dad was predeceased by his parents, George and Myrtle Brown (née Paisley), parents whom he revered and respected. Many years later he was predeceased by our deeply loved mother, Lillian (née Morris) and later still by his partner, Mary McCloskey. Predeceasing him as well, were his much loved brother, Cam and his wife, Betty and his adored ‘baby sister’, Peggy and her husband, Les. These are the words dad used in the speech he gave at one of his 100th birthday parties:
Growing exceptionally old has at least one negative. Many relatives and friends drop off. People you thought were indestructible are suddenly gone. Death always comes as a shock and the shock hangs on for a long time. However, it is gradually worn away as good memories take over and the laughs, the fun, the love and the good fellowship all come back.
We are about to live out the truth of those words.
We can never fully know a person through what that person does throughout a lifetime but what dad did does speak eloquently to the core of his nature and the values that informed his decisions. A few days after Canada declared war in September, 1939, dad applied to the military. He chose the RCAF where in fairly short order he became a talented pilot. So skilled was he that the RCAF commissioned him to be part of the prestigious Canadian flight training program for the allied effort. He moved from Flight Commander to Squadron Leader at the age of 26 and then to Chief Flying Instructor at Stanley, N.S. and finally to Staff Officer at No. 3 Training Command. His Air Force Cross hangs in his daughter, Linda’s, dining room after which it will be passed along to his grandchildren.
Dad left the RCAF in 1945 and returned to McGill University to complete his degree in Business and Commerce. Degree in hand, he joined Bell Canada, following in his father’s footsteps but also recognizing that as a husband and father he needed a career that would provide a reasonable level of stability and predictability. The next 33 years saw many family moves, promotions and challenging opportunities for dad until his retirement in 1978.
At that point in his life another dimension of our father took form. He threw himself into photography, carpentry and then ceramics. For years he took courses in an effort to master the skill of throwing pots and navigating the complexities of glazes. When he reached a plateau in his learning, he sought a more advanced level of expertise and enrolled in the highly respected 3-year Arts and Design Program at Sheridan College where he graduated with honours. His aptitude for artistic expression then moved to carving and writing. At the age of 90 he wrote and published a book on driving where he outlined a program that he argued would reduce the number of vehicular fatalities by 35%. Using his own money he distributed copies of his book broadly and widely throughout Canada and the States in his effort to identify an agency which would implement his ideas. The Best Seller list eluded him.
After his book, he set out to write dozens of opinion pieces on a broad array of topics ranging from compensation levels in Corporate America, to equality issues to ageism to democracy. He was a principled man who was driven by a sense of sound ethical behaviour and a desire to effect change. He tilted at more windmills than we could count but we always admired him for not turning away and retreating into the easier sanctuary of indifference.
The man we have not yet mentioned is our dad. This is the man who organized his three children’s birthday parties, who made us igloos, tunnels and backyard skating rinks during the Montreal winters, taught us to swim and ride a bike in the summers, who fashioned top hats for our ballet routines, who helped us build things, write things and understand things as we grew up. He encouraged our autonomy but always welcomed us home. If we had to identify one overarching quality, it would be his generosity. One would be hard pressed to identify a person more ready to give – his time, his knowledge, his money, his love. And this generosity extended well beyond his immediate family. When he lived at Abbeyfield Residence in Caledon East in his late 90’s, he built a garden, provided decorative plants for the entrance way, organized and provided the wine for Friday afternoon socials, opened doors for and helped seat those less capable than him. Frequently he offered to drive his fellow residents to this or that appointment (offers which some declined doubtless due to their apprehension about driving with a 100 year old). He had another ‘family’ at Abbeyfield and this family remained dear to him in ways that families do.
Dad is one of those people who builds rich memories in other people. As well as his friends and deeply cherished relatives, he leaves his children – George, Linda, Joanne, his ‘adopted’ daughter, Shirl, his grandson, Justin, his granddaughter, Katie and her husband, Jordan and their 4 children: Hudson, Georgia, Jackson and Irelynn, all who will preserve and honour those memories.
Dad, as well as his family, regarded his 100th birthday parties, one at a local banquet hall and the second at Abbeyfield Residence as his celebration of life. He expressly requested that there be no further event at the time of his death. Should you wish to do something in his memory, would you simply undertake a small act of kindness, or make a gesture of generosity, monetary or not, as a way of honouring our father.
Arrangements under the direction of Humphrey Funeral Home A.W. Miles – Newbigging Chapel Ltd., Toronto, ON