A Tribute to Tom

Posted on September 14, 2019 under Storytelling with 18 comments

Tom and his beloved dog, Oslo


My hero, my brother Tom, the inspiration for my Camino walk, has died.

He taught us how to live a life of passion and how to die with dignity.

Tom was a person of considerable energy and enormous empathy. Most of his life was spent in fifth gear. He had a zest for living. Whether working, volunteering, hiking or cooking, he did it with gusto. As people are wont to say, “He was all in”.

From an early age, he displayed his entrepreneurial skills by trapping muskrats and operating an ice cream stand. His work ethic was something to behold. His attention to detail in every aspect of his life left us all shaking our heads. His spreadsheets were legendary!

He and his wife Catherine loved to entertain. Getting a dinner invitation from them was something to be treasured. I often had the pleasure of hanging out in their kitchen watching this amazing tandem put their considerable cooking skills to work.

Several years ago, he received the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia’s award for distinguished service in the field of municipal administration. His family was justifiably proud but none more so than our mother who attended the ceremony, beaming with pride.

Approximately ten years ago, Tom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The prognosis wasn’t great. In all the ensuing years we never heard him utter the words “Why me?” He faced the illness head on as he did with everything else in his life. His mantra was so telling. “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of not living.” And oh, how he lived this last decade of his life. He made every day count. He would be very upset with me if I dared mention that he battled cancer courageously. That’s not how he viewed things. He, Catherine and their service dog, Oslo,  all volunteered at the B.C. Cancer Agency in Victoria. Even when he wasn’t feeling the best, he always reminded us that there were other people in far worse condition. I don’t know of a more selfless person.

Tom was a marathon runner, which morphed into marathon walking when his body told him to stop running. He knew every trail in Greater Victoria. Recognizing the need for water taps on these trails for both man and beast, he rolled up his sleeves and used his considerable skill and charm to convince several local municipal councils to assist with the project. He then went out and raised all the money for these unique fountains.

You can tell a lot about a person by the quality of their friends. Tom had a wide swath of really remarkable friends from all walks of life.

Tom’s beloved dog , Oslo, his loyal walking partner, died a few months ago.

A little over a year ago,with his health in decline, Tom decided to walk the Camino in Spain. Among other things, he wanted to pay homage to his best friend, Mark Taylor, who died tragically a number of years prior. Having walked the Camino myself this spring, I simply don’t know how he managed the long distance and uneven terrain. I remain awestruck at this achievement.

Earlier this year, I paid a visit to Tom and Catherine. He asked me to join him for some snowshoeing. Even with his compromised health, I had great difficulty keeping up with Tom as his long strides plowed effortlessly through the snow on a breathtakingly beautiful day on Mt. Washington.

His wife Catherine and children, Colin and Emily will miss him terribly. His siblings are bereft at his passing but the last thing Tom would want is pity. That’s not how he rolled.

A quote printed in Reader’s Digest years ago in the segment “Points to Ponder” rings true today. It describes Tom to perfection.

“Let me live until I die.”

Farewell, Tom.


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Oliver Smith’s Short Shift

Posted on July 11, 2019 under Storytelling with 2 comments

Oliver getting a few lessons in table hockey from great-grandfather, George

“The time you won your town the race,

We chaired you through the market place,

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder- high.


Today, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.


To an Athlete Dying Young. A.E. Housman

Young people are supposed to outlive their parents, their grandparents, and their great -grandparents. Oliver Smith’s life was grounded just at the stage of life when it was due to take flight. He fought the valiant fight with Ewings Sarcoma but sadly succumbed to this deadly childhood cancer the day after his twelfth birthday.

Terry Fox suffered from a similar cancer called osteosarcoma and he eventually died in 1981 while crossing Canada. He was raising awareness and money for cancer research. Terry Fox died young and has never been forgotten. Oliver died one day before the anniversary of Terry Fox’s death. Ollie Bots, the fundraising project that Oliver and his family started, will endure. Money raised from Ollie Bots goes towards research for Ewings Sarcoma and also supports local families affected by paediatric cancer.

It comes as little surprise that Oliver was athletic and that his passion was hockey. It was part of his DNA. His great- grandfather, George, spent much of his life in cold hockey rinks following the exploits of Oliver’s grandfather, Alex, and his brothers. Oliver’s dad, Bryan, an avid hockey player himself, has taken up the torch and spends countless hours coaching and working on skating skills with local hockey players.

Oliver faced this dreaded disease is a quiet, determined way. He didn’t complain about his lot in life even when pain short circuited his budding hockey career.

The first few chapters of Oliver’s life have been written. He played hockey until he couldn’t and then lived it vicariously through his hockey team and his beloved St.F.X. X-Men hockey squad. He got to meet members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who maintained contact with the family throughout Oliver’s final days.

Brad Peddle, the coach of the St.F.X. hockey team, spoke glowingly of Oliver. “It’s hard to put into words what Oliver meant to our group this year. This was a tough season in many ways with more adversity than most years, but Oliver inspired the group to get to another level. His spirit and smile through a much tougher battle he was enduring was both motivating and inspiring. Throughout the playoffs I was serving a 10- game suspension, meaning I could not go near the team before games. He stepped in and did the starting lineup every game, doing a remarkable job in a pressure packed time of year. Not many adults could do that, let alone a 12 –year-old boy. I firmly believe he is the sole reason our team went as far as it did and won a Bronze medal at the National Championship. After a terrible loss in the semi-final, crushing our gold medal goals, Oliver was the only reason our team stayed on track and got right back up to play and win the bronze the next day. Seeing Oliver being the first to go up and get his medal on the ice is something none of us will ever forget.”

How can anything good come from the death of a child? Death is mysterious enough when it involves someone who has led a long, productive life. But trying to rationalize, let alone explain the death of one so young and with so much promise is almost unfathomable. There are no words that will comfort his grieving family and the community that loved him.

Hockey is a game played in short shifts. This is when a player is competing at maximum capacity. Oliver didn’t get to play the whole game but his short shift was one played with passion. He lived the best kind of life he could in the time he was given.

Oliver was nurtured and cared for by generations of competent and caring women. Many of them were nurses, including his mother, Shauna. Love was the best medicine they dispensed to Oliver throughout his life, especially in the third period. His sisters, Megan and Emma ,were rocks. They honoured their brother the best way they could by continuing to pursue academic and athletic excellence during his illness.

But Oliver’s story is not over. His legacy started to build with Ollie Bots and it appears that this fundraising project will assist many families in the days and years to come.

 Oliver Smith lived a shortened life but one that was impactful. Those relatives who died before him would be justifiably proud of this exceptional young man.

Those left to mourn will continue to honour his life.

There are many chapters remaining in Oliver’s story. They just haven’t been written yet.

“Now you will not swell the route,

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran,

And the name died before the man.”




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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on May 20, 2019 under Storytelling with one comment

Me and one of my favourite traveling companions, Jan Bader from Heidelberg, Germany.

Three days ago, my walk was along one of the more nondescript sections of the Camino. It passed through an Industrial Park where Jan and I sat and had freshly squeezed orange juice. This was the high point.The trail continued alongside a busy highway through small towns that seemed to lack character. It was cold , windy and rained a bit. Not whining…just stating the facts.

I wasn’t the least bit concerned having trained in much worse conditions in Nova Scotia. But something strange happened along the way that is still leaving me shaking my head. Last week, in my hometown in Nova Scotia, Canada, a woman in her early 40’s died suddenly and unexpectedly. I sent condolences to a close family friend of the deceased.

I’m walking in the middle of nowhere with all my data turned off on my phone.I’m trying to be a purist on the Camino! I did have the volume on as I still keep the phone lines open for any emergencies. I was very startled to hear my phone ping. My friend was on the way to the funeral and was replying to my condolences through Messenger. How could this possibly happen? People who know me understand that, at the best of times, technology eludes me. I’m still shaking my head.

I stayed in a very large Alburgue that evening. One of the rooms that held 30 bunk beds was nearly empty, a rarity on the Camino.

The communal dining area was busy with the handful of pilgrims who had also checked in. Everyone was journaling, checking their guide books for the next day’s walk and checking social media.

I need you to use your imagination. At one table, there were six of us, three on either side. Some were drinking beer. Others were drinking fine red wine from Leon at 3 Euros (about $4.50 Canadian). Guido, from Italy was sitting to my right and a woman from Germany was on my left. Three pilgrims faced us on the other side of the table.

The German lady asked if she could borrow a guidebook. I was drinking a cold beer. Guido reached across in front of me, thrusting the book to the grateful pilgrim.However, so enchanted was he of this middle aged woman, that he kept his arm extended after passing her the book. His armpit was literally in my face and his arm was between me and my beer.

The people across from me were watching with grins on their faces. I delicately passed my hand under Guido’s arm and brought it up and over his arm in order to get a mouthful of ale. Guido remained unconscious of my predicament. I started pointing at his armpit to the three people across the table suggesting he had body odour, which he didn’t. This little charade continued for a full five minutes. When their grins turned to laughter, Guido finally realized that he was the subject of everyone’s attention. We all had a great chuckle.

Later at communal dinner, I struck up a conversation with a retired Anglican minister from Northern Ontario and a computer programmer from London, England She looked my age and the other chap was in his 20’s. I asked the minister if she felt safe traveling alone. “I’m on a mission of trust” was her reply. No question that her Camino was a spiritual journey. If she visits every church on the Camino, they might need to send out a search party for her later this Fall.

We had this amazing discussion about organized religion, spirituality, the after life, same sex marriage and so forth.

I am going to be very embarrassed if I show up at home after the Camino having gained weight after a 700K walk and about 1.2 million steps. Walking 25-35k everyday requires a lot of fuel. The eternal quest for pilgrims is food and drink… at all hours of the day. Some days, I am appalled when I think about my consumption which includes sweets and other junk food.

For example, on Saturday, I had already had consumed about 5000 calories before dinner. I went into this Spanish restaurant. There was a fixed price meal which, of course, included wine. The waiter opened a bottle of red and delivered fresh crusty bread. The seafood paella was exquisite followed by meatballs in a “green sauce.” Dessert and coffee… (the wine was limitless- I showed great restraint and showed my Canadian manners).Total bill? 11 Euros or approximately $16. I would be grossly overweight and an alcoholic if I lived in Spain.
Have a great week.
P.S. Jan Bader is a fine young man. I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humour. He has been me matching insult for insult. His humour and generally good mood will carry him far in life. Unless someone supplants him, he will receive my Camino award for “pilgrim with the best sense of humour”.

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