Harry, we hardly knew you

GH Redfearn

My dad as a dashing young man - circa 1948

One never completely ‘gets over’ the loss of a parent, so much as adapts to the gut, heart and soul-wrenching void, and eventually learns to live with it.

33 years ago today (August 5, 1978) my father, George (Harry) Redfearn sailed off this “mortal coil” all too soon at the young age of 50.

Born in 1928 – my father was the first of three sons whose father was a gregarious, hard drinking, one-eyed (no, he wasn’t a pirate; he had a glass eye) great lakes’ captain (Capt. Ralph Redfearn) and mother, a tea-totaling Christian fundamentalist lady (Pearl Edwards). Proof that opposites do attract.

One of the few treasured memories I have of my grandfather Capt. Ralph (seated just behind and to the left of my father in the photo below) was the result of the time I threw a glass of milk in his face for no apparent reason.  Instead of beating the daylights out of me (apparently I was one of his favorite grandchildren) without skipping a beat, he wiped the milk off his face and all he said was “well that was one hell of a smart trick”.

Here’s a photo believed to be of my dad taken when he was about seven years old. As you can see from the photo, a number of the Redfearn clan commandeered sailing vessels on the great lakes.

My father would have likely followed in the footsteps of his father and become a great lakes captain as well were he not color blind. To become a captain one must be able to distinguish the various colors of flags on sailing vessels.

Thinking back on this incident now, I can laugh and see the source of some my own father’s incredible patience and good humor. Another favorite memory of mine is the time my father took us aboard a massive lake freighter in about 1968 (one of the Misener freighters) on which my retired grandfather ‘kept ship’ a few winters. I loved losing myself in the cavernous engine room imagining that I was in charge of the humongous vessel.

My dad met my mother (Kathleen Mary Woods) on a blind date in Colborne, Ontario and they eventually got married  in 1949.

My mom and dad are located in the foreground of the photo, my mom's foster parents (Gerald and Gladys Fox) behind her and my grandmother Pearl behind my dad. I'm guessing that Capt. Ralph was sailing somewhere on one of the great lakes at the time or maybe he took the picture.

Like many young men of his generation, Harry’s parents could not afford to fund a post-secondary education for him. He worked for a time in a canning factory as a teenager and, when he had the chance, loved to golf, play hockey and baseball, all sports that I would also enjoy playing and watching to this day.

As a young husband he worked full time for a few years as a teller in a number of bank branches around south-western Ontario.  His forte for numbers and managing finances landed him a job as treasurer of Superior Sanitation Services (later acquired by Laidlaw Waste Systems) in Kitchener, Ontario in the early 1960’s.

My dad got me my first job on the back of a waste disposal truck in 1971. It was back-breaking, grueling work, the ‘best’ education I could ever have wished for. I will be forever grateful to him for that incredible life-long lesson.

In 1977 my father accepted a position as general manager of Capital Sanitation in Ottawa and moved there with my mom. They lived large in the nation’s capital for awhile. My wife Barb and I were able to visit them and spend a few memorable nights out on the town.

Less than a year later he began complaining of horrendous headaches, fell ill, was diagnosed with an inoperable giant cerebral aneurysm on the basilar artery and within a few short months and two unsuccessful operations, passed away, though not before instilling in me, my two sisters and older brother a strong work ethic, love of family and enduring zest for life.

Other gifts my father gave to me were a love of: reading, history, political figures (e.g. JFK, RFK, Winston Churchill etc.), space exploration, sailing vessels, Scottish bagpipes and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

We hardly knew you dad, but your influence lives on.

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” – Ecclesiastes