Tribute 1 — The Major

Outside the normal Chapters in the Epistle of Q, I am starting a new column that highlights some of the people who have been notable influencers in my life. Initially I will talk about those who have passed on from this world, but eventually I will mention some who are live and well (more or less!!). In some cases I will mention these people by name, in others I will not (especially if they are still alive).

Here is the first such Tribute…

Dear Darrell
It is never an easy moment when, as a son, we lose our fathers. No matter if we have some advance warning or not, it is a tough loss. So I am truly sorry that I can’t be at the Celebration of Life for your father (Major Harvey) on Saturday. Some times our wishes don’t match up with the realities that confound our daily lives.
Nevertheless I do want you to know how significant your father has been in my life. Our connection began in 1965 when I was appointed Student Minister to the pastoral charge of Westminster, Chauvin and St. Andrew’s, Wainwright in the Presbytery of Edmonton in the Synod of Alberta. As a student theolog I was relatively young even then although it was my fourth appointment. Why your father took me under his wing I’m not sure – perhaps it was because my initial appointment was in the Maritimes, or maybe because I had served in the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment and been a Cadet Officer at Madoc High, rising to the rank of Major myself, or maybe he just instinctively knew I needed an empathetic authority figure in my life at that time.
It really doesn’t matter. The key is that he was always there for me. Whenever I had a concern about the congregation or about my work within it, he was one of the central ears that I had. Moreover he always had sage advice. Sometimes, due to the mobility requirements of his career, I think he understood my own multiplicity of residential addresses that contributed to a kind of rootlessness. He and your Mom, a saint in her own right, always provided a safe place to visit. Young student ministers have different skill sets, and sometimes obtuse interests. I never really enjoyed the mundane home visits that were required. I liked purpose to any visit – partly because of my introversion, partly because I just liked to talk about substantive issues. Both were accommodated by your father. If I didn’t have something to delve into, he would regale me with military stories – not just about the Wainwright Army Base either. He would take me back to his own journeys. On the other hand, if I was into a good interactive conversation about the church, about Canada, about life – he was always at the ready. I’m not sure how often I was in your home: I know it was often enough that you and I were almost like brothers and the security guards at the Base just waved my bright red Ford Fairlane Sport Coupe right through the gate. It was a place of refuge in many ways.

Your Dad always had something useful to say about the church services I conducted. It might be the choice of hymns or the scriptures selected to support my sermons. It could even be something I said during a prayer. The important thing was that I always knew he was paying attention. I couldn’t afford to be a slacker. And, I definitely had to be thoughtful in both my preparation and my presentation. It was the first time in all my appointments that I had such a forceful participant.
He also was a constant reminder that one should be mindful of one’s dress. He was always impeccably dressed. He always had proper posture. Seeing him in church made me instinctively stand a little straighter, make sure that I was just a little more careful with my choice of apparel, keep my hair trimmed appropriately. He never said a word about my appearance – he just was the model of how we all should look, whether in church or on the street.
Perhaps his most important moment came when the minister who oversaw the pastoral charge (technically it was vacant because it did not have an ordained minister in the pulpits) decided to remove me at the end of March 1966 one month before my final exams for my B.A. degree. Your Dad was more than firm in his leadership against the decision. He organized meetings, he confronted Presbytery, he expressed his distaste for the individual and collective behaviour of supposed church leadership. While ultimately he and his colleagues were unsuccessful in overturning the edict, it was the first time outside of my own home that I had experienced such a strong defense of my abilities, of my worth to an organization and its membership. That moment has stuck with me to this day.
Subsequent to that time, your Dad & Mom had been willing to come to my first university graduation as substitute parents. When I couldn’t get the time off my first summer job outside the church (as Bar Manager at the Highlands Golf Club in Edmonton), we had to cancel attending that event. But the gesture was much appreciated as my parents were in Ontario and couldn’t have afforded to fly out for the ceremony.
While our connection tended to fade for the next few decades, occasional re-connections would occur. Usually these happened because a minister they knew (or were parishioners with) would know me and we would have a brief re-union usually by phone or letter. We finally re-connected on a more permanent basis as the new millennium came upon us. We were to get together for dinner in Ottawa where I was connecting an ethics seminar for the federal government. I was so looking forward to the moment to again see both your parents.
However a storm came in and Air Canada asked me to change my flights, to come to the airport much earlier so they could actually get me back to Edmonton in time for another task the next day (as it was we sat on the taxi-way for maybe an hour waiting for it to be adequately cleared and then the plane de-iced again and then for our turn to lift-off).
We kept in regular contact through written and e-mail correspondence and the occasional phone call. I tried to provide some comfort, albeit at a distance due to work requirements, while your Mom lost her battle with cancer. I then would make sure that I periodically checked to see if your Dad was okay. When I moved to PEI we had a renewed opportunity to see each other again. He even supplied me with a guest bed when I had to come to Halifax for a visit with a specialist at the major hospital there. There was a delightful symmetry to that time as my partner was Deputy Minister at Veterans’ Affairs – so technically she was making sure he was well looked after (which he always claimed he was – he always thought VAC was a good and supportive organization!!).
Had Covid-19 not come along we would have made another return trip to the Maritimes and I would have had the opportunity to see your Dad one more time. Unfortunately that moment didn’t happen. Nevertheless the memories continue and will for the remainder of my life. For a man who was Second-in-Command of a major military base to even care about a young student minister let alone support and go to bat for him was a major moment in my life. That in later years he again was a thoughtful supporter of the things that I was doing was a special moment.
Your Dad will always be special. As a result, so will you Darrell. We will celebrate his life at some point going forward. In the meantime know, that your Dad made an impact on the lives he touched – I know that for a fact because he made a big impact on mine. [note: On the 18th of September, I paused and raised a glass of scotch in his memory, in his honour!]
As always