He spent summers with us at our grandparents’ log cabin on Lake of Two Rivers in Algonquin Park. When he reached highschool age – there being no such school in little Whitney – he was sent to Huntsville where he often boarded with us. Early on in his teaching career, he landed a position as head of the science department at Huntsville High, and he and his wife, Diana, moved to Huntsville where their family and our family virtually merged.
We were all so close, which is surely why we miss him so much.
He made it to 80 – no surprise, given that when he was 70 he looked and acted 40. He passed away on October 29, while being cared for at Algonquin Grace Hospice. Earlier this year we all had gone into shock when we learned that someone so fit, someone who took such exquisite care of himself, could suffer terminal cancer.
As he put it, “It was like being catapulted into old age.”
His first hero was our grandfather, Tom McCormick, then the chief ranger of Algonquin Park. Don was my first hero – seven years older and never without an adventure in mind.
He built rafts and we all sailed the lake with an old sheet for a sail. He set the swimming standards for when we could move up to swimming beyond the dock and be allowed to dive off the high rocks along the point. He whittled the bows and arrows and found the best trees to climb.
He was forever busy, a growing child who never once said, “I’m bored.”
Nor were those lucky enough to hang around with him.
Don was a fine athlete. Not so much a natural athlete as a determined one. He played hockey and lacrosse well enough to make the town rep teams. He played rugby at Queen’s University until he broke his ankle in a match. He built a tennis court on his Ravenscliffe Road property and became so good at the sport he began teaching. He was a fine downhill and cross-country skier. He turned to golf later in life and while he never mastered the game – who does? – he became a more-than-adequate recreational golfer.
But where he really excelled was in a sport not even imagined when we were young – triathlon. He was always a splendid swimmer and a passionate biker. Running was a chore – remember that rugby injury – but he was more than up to the challenge. Soon enough he was Canadian champion for his age category.
He could have been World Champion for his age category. His numbers were good enough to shatter the current record. But a leg injury, then the pandemic, and finally the cancer diagnosis took that away from him. No matter: he’s the World Champion in our family.
He taught us all to live a life that matters. He showed us how to treasure and nurture long friendships. He was a fine husband to Diana, a great father to Kelly and Jamie, and the world’s best “Poppa” to Simon, Kieran, Spencer and Kyla.
He gave back endlessly to his community – the Ironman 70.3 Muskoka competition, serving on town council, working tirelessly to complete the Trans Canada Trail through Huntsville – and he was active in his church, even singing in the choir.
That determination he brought to other facets, as well.
He became an accomplished enough photographer that he was often asked to do weddings and special occasions. He decided to become a journalist so that he could both take the pictures and paint the pictures, and the many features he produced were professional enough to appear in any journal.
His personal courage was on full display this past summer. He decided that for him quality of life was far more important than quantity of life. He stopped the aggressive chemotherapy treatments and soon felt so much better he was back golfing and taking special trips with Diana and family.
Most special of all, no surprise, was a return to the point at Lake of Two Rivers with his children and grandchildren. The log cabin has long gone but not the memories.
Don will be returning to that special point. And so will we, his family, and we will remember our “brother” as a life that truly mattered.
One that has taught us all so very much.
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