Oh no…really tis the winter of our discontent!
This week is getting worse by the day. I just received a phone call from Melinda. When she introduced herself I naturally began a rant about something, assuming she was looking for my opinion on one or the other of today’s issues. When I paused she thanked me but then said she had some news for me: as her voice broke, she informed me that my long-time friend, colleague and fellow learner, Dr. Owen Anderson passed away this morning while sitting at his breakfast table. That’s right, our best example of a Renaissance Man, died at seventy-seven.
As you know, the wife of another long-time friend died earlier in the week. Interestingly these two men had a unique connection with me – we all met at the University of Alberta (UofA) in September 1964 in British Medieval History (with Professor Blackley) which met at 8:00 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays. Yes, we had classes on Saturdays and this one was at 8:00 a.m. AND NO ONE DARED MISS that class – Owen would have the Professor call out the names if he thought someone was skipping and if so, he would further suggest someone should go and phone that person (which would mean finding a pay phone as there were no cell/phones in those ancient of days) and inquire why they thought it was okay to deprive the class of their input to the conversations that morning.
There are many more stories I could share about Owen over the past fifty-eight years. Maybe on another day I will do that. For now I am in a state of shock. Owen had given me no warning that his health was failing. My last communication was a day or so ago when he was commending me on my series of thoughts on the winter of our discontent. Little did either of us realize there would be one more part to the chapter – that being his own departure that highlights just how deep my discontent now is. The irony is that earlier this morning I was thinking that I needed to contact those colleagues who had been meeting on ZOOM for most of last year and suggest that we resume once I return from my pending USA trip. Now that will not happen, as Owen was the central linchpin to the conversations that we would have.
I am very sad for his family – Linda his wife, his wonderful, bright and diverse off-spring Melinda, Guy, Robin & Kate and all the many resultant grandchildren & great-grandkids. They have lost a wonderful Poppy. He was always sharing with me various activities, projects and events that he was involved with in different ways – sometimes he sent pictures, sometimes he passed on e-mails, sometimes we just talked on the phone. The extended family was an amazing evolution. He will be missed.
I am also sad for myself – in fact, if I am truthful, I am most sad for moi… Dr O have been good friends for six decades… we studied together, we served key roles in student government at the UofA, we worked together at Indian Affairs and later again at BDO, we even took a ski holiday to Banff one January and when I was working in Regina I was often invited over to the house for Sunday dinner. In each and every instance, a great deal of our free time was devoted to trying to figure out ways to make the worlds both near and far better, more thoughtful, with producing greater justice. Through Dr O I came to learn more about the perspectives as well as histories and opportunities of and for Aboriginal peoples. We also shared a deep love of music; of course, his abilities and capacities for understanding various musical genres was at a much higher pay-grade than I operated at but he never was condescending about it. His capacity to read, absorb, re-translate books was earth-shaking – he had to have an I.Q. north of 150. I will miss him for all this.
He will miss me too:
• I always drove faster and better cars!
• And I knew more about the Canadian Football League (CFL) although he did occasionally attend games!
OAA was an amazing individual. He was talented on so many levels. He was a musician extra-ordinaire. He could deliver an hour long address based on perhaps a dozen lines he had written on one sheet of paper. He was as comfortable discussing theological matters as he was dissecting political policy. He could debate, he could reinforce. He was reflective and thoughtful yet he could also be very decisive and collaborative. I could go on and on but right now I really just want you to know that his death has almost overwhelmed me. We were only four and a half months apart in age. We both had prairie roots, including ties to ranch country. We both earned doctorates at the UofA. We both enjoyed good wine and scotch.
I am not totally sure why he didn’t let on that his health was failing – but I am not surprised. He was never one to let pity hang around. That doesn’t make me any happier, knowing I could have had one more visit, one more debate, one more theological conversation if only he had given me a head’s up. But then again, I’ve had so many great moments with him that the memories should sustain me for as long as I’m allowed to walk this planet… so thank you for listening, I’ll be alright. In fact, I think I am going to go now and have a drink and reflect on a life well lived, well-lived to the point that my life has been the better for it.
Thank you Owen for being such a gracious friend and colleague. May your soul rejoice in its new journey, while we rejoice in having had you in our lives for so long.