1930 - 2012
The fact that you're reading this today means that I have died in my 82nd year. My first wife claimed I was too bossy, my second that I always had to have the last word. They were probably on to something because here I am, indulging myself and writing my own obit.
I was born in Montreal in 1930 where, like many inner city kids then, I went to school and played on the streets, not thinking much about what I'd do when I grew up. After high school, and with no money for further education, I took a routine office job in a big company where I was bored for the next three years. I took night classes at a local college, but at 20 and wanting a more adventuresome life, I thought I'd join the army to fight in Korea. My stepfather, who had survived the Somme and Passchendale, talked me out of it!
Almost by chance, I joined the Mounted Police. The Force was very much smaller then, in some respects like an exclusive club, with many rules left over from the nineteenth century. Discipline was strict; members were liable to be posted anywhere in Canada and they had to remain unmarried for five years. We worked long hours with no concern for overtime, and members were constantly challenged. I loved it!
I worked general police duties in Nova Scotia; spent time assigned to the Security Service in Ottawa, and a couple of years as an instructor at the training depot in Regina. I volunteered for northern service and spent two years at the RCMP's northernmost detachment where, among many adventures, I learned to drive a dog team long distances around Ellesmere Island. My formative years in the Mounted Police were memorable.
The Force sent me back to University to complete the Commerce degree I had started back in Montreal, then gave me a series of management and leadership postings, each with increased responsibility. The best by far was the four years I spent as the area commander in NW Saskatchewan, for it was there I believe I really learned my trade. No one ever mistook me for a professional detective, but it turned out that I had some small talent in organizing men towards a common purpose.
By 1972 I was a Superintendent in Victoria with 21 years service. I was destined for a transfer to Ottawa HQ, a fate which didn't excite me, so when the Calgary Police Commission offered me the leadership of the Police Department in Calgary, I jumped at the chance. Given clear direction to innovate, I found an organization with much skill and experience but a lack of focus on appropriate goals. In what I think was a first in Canada, we started referring to the Police Service rather than the Police Force, and that led to significant culture change. Members were encouraged to speak up about where and how improvements could be made, and a broad cross section of officers at every level contributed to the development of different, imaginative approaches to the job. Constant review and adjustment since then has led to the current Calgary model of policing which I believe leads the country in virtually all meaningful measures. I was proud to have been in at the beginning.
After almost a dozen years as Chief Constable, I retired from policing and was appointed Alberta's Ombudsman, a role in which I enjoyed jousting with bureaucrats in the interest of making government systems more customer friendly. I later took a senior position with Canadian Airlines, from which I retired for good in 1991.
I loved clever jokes and bad puns, and had several friends with similar tastes. I particularly valued the friendship of those who saw that this is indeed a funny old world, and that it is important, essential even, to be ready to laugh at yourself.
I remained good friends with Heather, to whom I had been married for 16 years and with whom I had three children. For the last 25 years of my life I was married to Brigid, a widow with three adult children, and we enjoyed a long and adventurous retirement, full of laughter, travel and good times.
I enjoyed reading and talking about history, politics and religion, and I usually had a mystery on the go. I stayed healthy with cycling, squash and golf. I liked to cook, for which Brigid was eternally grateful. While I could be outgoing if the occasion required, I enjoyed my privacy and preferred the company of family and a few close friends. At 20 I was looking for adventure, and by being a bit of a risk-taker and very lucky, I found it! I got to see most of Canada first hand, and enough of the rest of the world to appreciate that we live in the best of all possible countries. While I wasn't in any particular hurry to check out, I'd had a good run and was ready to go.
I am survived by Brigid, Heather, my three children (Jon, Jill and Elizabeth), three stepchildren (Jane, Mike and Tim), four grandchildren (Jake, Edie, Penny and Greta), my younger brother Mike in Vancouver, and several step-grandchildren and in-laws, all of whom got along unusually well with each other and all of whom I loved and will miss.
I don't believe in an afterlife, and would just as soon there be no funeral or ceremony to mark my death. A private family celebration of a full life, plus the thought that some friends and colleagues might raise a glass to good memories, is my idea of the appropriate way to go. But I have a hunch my family has other ideas, and I may not have had the last word. Cheers, everyone.
In lieu of flowers, a donation to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre is welcome.
Published in Calgary Herald on Oct. 2, 2012.