My heart is broken.
Last week, after a long battle with dementia, my beloved father Garry died, age 69. He is no longer suffering and my family and I have received all sorts of love, private and public - Flin Flon’s support has been like a universal hug.
In this week’s column space, I want to tell you a bit about Garry - my Pop - and who he was. I feel just mentioning what he did in life doesn't really do him justice, but I’ll do it quickly here, then go further in depth.
Pop was born Garry Roy Westhaver, May 29, 1953 in Halifax, the youngest of a small Nova Scotia family of 17 kids. That’s not a typo – we triple-checked our family records to get that number right.
Garry spent his childhood running wild around St. Margaret’s Bay Road, often with his older brother Ricky and his cousins Scott and Steven. Garry was always smart in the street, not in the classroom. He left school in eighth grade and worked a wide range of jobs, as a labourer, a day shift worker at a paper bag plant, a transport driver for medical supplies, a bouncer at Keddie’s Motor Inn. These were the days he remembered most, even to the bitter end.
One of his buddies once went for a job interview with a recruiter for a mining company out west. As a goof, Garry filled out an application of his own and sent it in. The buddy didn’t get a call back. Garry did.
That impulse led Garry on a decades-long odyssey through northern Manitoba mining. He found life here. He found love here.
Garry put in hard years with the company, working just about every job someone could do underground, 38 years in total. He married my mom in ‘90, became a father in ‘94 and moved to Flin Flon in ‘96, where he would spend, except for a late spell in care, the rest of his days until last week.
That’s the rundown – those are the major events. That’s the quick, soulless run of Garry Roy’s life. Those tell you a few things, but they don’t tell you who he was.
I told you about Garry. Now, let me tell you about Pop.
Pop was a gruff-looking man - a barrel chest, a handlebar moustache and often, a foul mouth. When he’d come into the dressing room before hockey games when I was a kid, some of my teammates would hide from him, terrified. Despite that, he was a kind and loving man, a doting father, someone more than willing to set aside his own comfort for his family.
Pop wasn’t always serious - he appreciated a quality rib, even made at his expense. He could dish it out and take it - and did both with a mischievous smile. He had a goofy side. I can remember coming home from hockey practice on Sunday nights, singing along to Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” in high falsetto and and in borderline laughter hysterics.
He was as loyal as they come, to his family, friends, his union local brothers in Snow Lake, whoever needed it. Pop had a strong sense of right and wrong - and desire to push things toward the “right” if needed.
Pop was willing to fight for what was right - whether it was with hands in his younger days or with words, plans and proposals as he got older, he had the courage to stand up. To sum up, he was a “do no harm - take no shit” guy.
He enjoyed being of service. Back in the day, Pop was the president of Snow Lake’s Steelworkers - Local 8262, if I remember right - from the 1980s through to the early 1990s. In his latter days as a major rep, Pop negotiated a lateral transfer for the Snow Lake guys moving to Flin Flon so they wouldn’t lose benefits or seniority when they had to move. He was instrumental in the company’s employee and family assistance program - when Pop’s dementia started going wild, my mother and I both used it to help us work through the stress of caring for him. We still feel like that was, in a weird way, Pop looking out again for those he cared about.
Pop was a Scout leader in Snow Lake and a board member of the Bombers for years, often selling tickets for team draws or keeping an eye out on kids running around in the Whitney Forum lobby.
Pop had a big voice and laugh, but he loved the quiet. He’d go fishing in the silence, go for long walks, people watch, hang out in the garage puffing on Export A greens for hours in contemplation. He enjoyed the outdoors, sitting at the campfire, on the boat or dock, wherever.
Pop hated pretension. He hated funerals. He hated the morose feeling in the air, tears being shed. He would never want you to cry for him.
He would want you to enjoy the things you do and the people you’re with, the company you keep and the places you go. He hated dressing up.
If you think the tone of this is too glib or flippant, the reason is that it is my sincere belief, knowing Pop, that this is how he’d want it to be. No crying. No sadness. Just goofs.
I have three things I want all of you to do, today, tomorrow, every chance you get. First, love your loved ones. Bury hatchets. Give as many hugs as you can. Be the bigger person if you can. Love those you love and make peace with those you don’t. Look after yourselves. Be there. Be present.
Second, do the things you love in his honour. Pop was passionate about the things he cared about. He loved his fishing, he loved his Bombers, he loved his New York Islanders, he loved his family and friends. He never made a big deal about that passion - he just let it speak for itself.
Third, fight the good fight. When my mom and I looked after him, we fought the good fight in his honour. When I write this paper each week, I fight the good fight in his honour. Whatever you do, fight the good fight in Pop’s name. He deserves nothing less.
Ernest Hemingway once said that each man dies two deaths - once when he is buried and again when someone says his name for the last time. Pop has died once. I have no intention of ever letting him die again. I hope you fight that good fight with me in his honour.
Garry Roy Westhaver is dead. Long may he live. Long may Pop live.