"I wasn't what you might call a fighting soldier. I was a fixing soldier."
Captain Tony Kingsmill, recipient of the Military Cross
I was never much drawn to the obituaries. I mean, c'mon. Reading about dead people? Seemed like such a maudlin thing to do. I never saw the point really. Never saw any reason to stray onto those pages in my daily paper peregrinations.
My wife, however, was a keen obituary reader. I never really understood her reasons for going there. Even when she tried to explain it to me. It was her thing. Certainly not mine.
But things change. Now - with the passing of my wife and my father and a clutch of close friends all in the same year - I find myself inexorably drawn to the obituary section of my morning paper. Don't know why exactly. It just seems the thing to do these days.
It's a fascinating read actually. And a great exercise in story-building. I look for names that I'll recognize, or younger birth dates than my own, or interesting or offbeat tales. I look for courage. And humour. And hope. And compassion. But mostly I look for inspiration.
And sometimes I find what I'm looking for.
It was the picture that caught my attention. That familiar craggy face. Open smile and squinty, happy eyes. Totally guileless. Totally true. I know that face, I said to myself. But it was the first sentence that really got my memory banks spinning.
"After a wonderful 90 years of truly great living," started the obituary in Tuesday's Vancouver Sun , "we're sad to announce that Hugh Anthony Gault (Tony) Kingsmill passed away peacefully on May 19th surrounded by his loving family."
What an inspiring opening, I thought. What a novel contained in those 30-odd words. So positive. So generous. Sure, there was sadness expressed at this man's passing. But not an ounce of regret. And that's so rare. Think about it. Can you imagine experiencing nine decades of truly great living? Can you imagine someone writing something like this about you?
In the case of Tony Kingsmill, those words were particularly apt.
One of the most positive-minded people I've ever had the pleasure to meet, Tony did indeed live a great life. Ask anybody who knew him. The guy was blessed. But it's not like he was smug about it or anything. Au contraire. A Whistler original - and a man whose feelings for this place ran very deep - Tony was also the kind of person who seemed much happier giving than receiving.
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