A Helping of Hamish

Posted on July 24, 2020 under Faces in the Crowd with 3 comments

So long, Hamish

A few years ago, I sat down with Hamish in the staff lunch room at the Antigonish 5 to $1.00 to conduct an interview. Hamish died earlier this week and he will leave a gaping hole in the lives of his family, his community and of course, his beloved place of work, the Antigonish 5 to $1.00. He had a rich full life and he knew just about everyone in the store. Those he didn’t know would quickly enter Hamish’s sphere! There’s a lot of talk these days about essential workers.  I think that Hamish is one of those people that will be hard to replace. Reprinted here is the interview.

Ask any business person what the key to running a successful operation and they will quickly point out that it’s their staff. Forty three years ago, the late Creighton Jewkes made one of his most astute hires.

Meet Hamish MacGillivray.

A young 18 year old lad began his working career at the 5 to $1.00 in 1973. And in the natural course of things, this is where he will end it. But don’t hold your breath. When asked what he might do at the age of 65, Hamish replied, “ I’ll probably keep working.”

Good thing. According to one of the owners of the business, Hamish is “the heartbeat of the operation. The store is very quiet on the days that Hamish doesn’t work.

On warm summer days, Hamish can be seen driving in from “The Point” on his motorized scooter. This is his pride and joy. And when the winter winds howl and his bike is grounded, neighbors and friends drive him back and forth to work and home.

Hamish is passionate about Chinese food, Daryl MacLean’s “Beach Party” on Friendly 58 and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is not 100% sure why he keeps cheering for the Leafs!

Asked what he likes most about his job and he quickly points out that helping customers is the thing that is most important to him.

One could easily argue that Hamish embodies both the heart and soul of a business that has served the community for a long time.

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Keep Calm and Ask Dave

Posted on June 4, 2020 under Faces in the Crowd with one comment

 

David Phee  1956-2020

 

“His heart gave out.”

David grew up in a busy and loving household, the youngest of nine children. Faith was their bedrock. Saying the rosary daily and attending mass were very important to the Phee family. To this day, some members of the family still occupy the same pew at St.Ninian’s that they’ve occupied for decades. Throughout his life, David would rarely pass by the University Chapel or St.Ninian’s Cathedral without stopping in for a few moments of silent prayer.

Because of the wide discrepancy in ages of his siblings, David grew up ostensibly with two families , and both doted on David. It was hard not to because of his pleasant disposition, his decency as a human being, and his sense of humour. According to his sisters, “There wasn’t a person that didn’t like David.”

David was close to all of his brothers and sisters. He loved going for drives and having long chats. He enjoyed his fishing trips with Norm and was often seen with Eddy having coffee at Tim Horton’s. After six of his siblings died, he, Bette and Joan formed an inseparable trio.

A dedicated employee at St.F.X. University, David was forced to take early retirement because of health issues.

David had many hobbies including the collection of sports cards and memorabilia. He loved to dance, bowl, and go fishing and he loved tinkering with electronics.

I met David a couple of years ago when I performed music at the R.K. for the residents. I walked in to Tanglewood for the first time to do a concert for a group of residents. I spotted this gentleman with a 1000 -watt smile sitting towards the back of the room, proudly wearing a Toronto Maple Leaf jersey. Being a big Montreal Canadiens fan, I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to saunter over and tease David. I could tell in an instant that he was special. He laughed easily at my good- natured ribbing and then dished out some of his own. A new and lasting friendship was born.

Over the ensuing months, I got to know David very well. I performed every week in Tanglewood, where he resided. I could never leave without singing his favourite, “The Gambler”. Several times, while walking from one section of the home to the other, I would drift into Tanglewood just to say hello hoping that David would be around, such was his infectious joy of living. David was a favourite with the staff because of his ever- present smile and pleasant disposition. I am certain they will miss him terribly.

While he loved music, he worshipped his sisters even more. Joan showed up routinely and often arrived bearing cheese snacks and break-open tickets. Bette travelled up from Kentville often to see her younger brother. His eyes lit up whenever family or friends came to visit him. He adored his nieces and nephews. He proudly displayed photographs of them and their children in his room.

When I spoke to David’s family after his death, they told me that he had been suffering from heart issues for years which led to his admission to the R.K.MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish three years ago.

David enjoyed the simple pleasure of life and although he suffered with chronic health issues, he maintained a positive attitude, always choosing to look on the bright side of things.

According to sisters Joan and Bette, “David was an amazing listener and enjoyed hearing what others had to say. He was a people pleaser as well and liked to jokingly tease others to keep the mood in a room happy and upbeat. He really was a ray of sunshine in any room.”

On May 29,2020, David’s heart gave out for the last time.

His heart had been giving out to others his entire life.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

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Faces in the Crowd – Just Returning the Favour

Posted on February 11, 2020 under Faces in the Crowd with no comments yet

Bernice MacDonald photo

THIS STORY WAS FIRST POSTED IN 2016. IT WAS ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVOURITE INTERVIEWS. WILLEMINA PASSED AWAY LAST WEEK. HER STORY IS WORTH SHARING AGAIN. A GREAT LADY AND A TRUE HERO… AND ONE OF THE WITTIEST PEOPLE I’VE EVER MET!

On aging. “I spend my days the same way I used to. Everything just takes me twice as long.”

Meet Willemina Hendriske MacDonald.

She was born in Zutphen, Holland but spent most of her childhood in S’Gravenzande. Her home birth, with the assistance of a midwife, was filled with drama. At a crucial point in a tricky delivery, her father fainted. With no one else in the house, the midwife was busy attending to the mother and father of the newborn! A doctor was beckoned. He didn’t think the baby would survive. “I surprised the doctors back then and I have been surprising them ever since.”

Her brothers remember her as “a quiet girl playing with dolls, knitting embroidering and roller skating”. Their father died when Willemina was only 13. Growing up without a father was difficult on the family. As a teenager she filled her hours learning how to play the piano and was also an avid tennis player. Other sports included swimming, dancing and field hockey.

Most teenagers find it distracting when it comes to study time. When she was 14, the war broke out and it was very difficult to study at night with bomber aircrafts flying overhead. The Germans occupied their town and they were forced to move farther north.
She decided to learn Esperanto and quickly picked up French, German and English. Asked about her fluency in French, Willemina said, “It wasn’t the best but I wouldn’t starve in France.”

After completing grade 12, she took a secretarial course in The Hague and gained employment in Hagen. The Germans entered the Municipal offices where she worked, one day, in search of the registration lists of all the male citizens that they planned to utilize for the war industry in Germany. Risking life, she and fellow workers carted off all the records to a safe home. After the war, this deed was recognized as an act of heroism.

She was forced to flee once again. She remembers this as a time of constant fear. “The last year was hellish. I was frightened all the time until the liberation.” When the Canadians showed up in their town, any available room had to be used to house the soldiers. Jim MacDonald from Nova Scotia stayed in their house. He endeared himself immediately to her family, bringing fresh raisin bread which was all but extinct during the war years.

They decided that they were meant for each other, but she was a Protestant and he was a Catholic. By the time she finished studying how to become a Catholic, she knew more about Catholicism than she had discovered about her future husband.

She travelled to North America with their first-born, who was six months old at the time. The ride across the Atlantic was nausea inducing. She landed in New York and then went by train to St. John, New Brunswick where she rejoined Jim. They settled on the Dunmore Road in Antigonish County. For the first time in years, Willemina had found tranquility.

When she was only 45, and with seven children at home, Jim passed away. In short order she got her driver’s license and a job with the Municipality of the County of Antigonish where she worked until retirement. She was a tireless volunteer for many, many organizations including 4H and Club 60, to mention but a few.

Willemina is a professed political junkie. When asked about the possibility of Donald Trump becoming President of the U.S., she glared and said, “ He needs a good swift kick in the ass.”

She has a keen sense of humour. She suggested that one of the keys to a long life is surviving two heart attacks!

Reflecting on a long life well, lived, she opined, “I loved my family and I loved my community. I tried to do my very best. I also felt it was important to give something back after Canada liberated Holland.

It would appear that the debt has been paid in full.

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