Tony Dawson — Eulogy

My father always used to complain that he found eulogies very irritating, because they only spoke of the nice things about the people who had died. He hoped that when I gave a eulogy at his funeral, I would be able to present a well-balanced picture of the man that he was, flaws included. The problem is, that when I sat down to write this, I couldn't think of a single horrible thing to say about him! The worst I could come up with was that he was a bit of a procrastinator.

How do you describe a man such as my father? "Funny", "clever", "well-read"?; these adjectives really don't even begin to cover it. Instead, I would like to share a few stories with you that sum up his character.

A few years ago, I called my parents — one of my regular daily calls to check in with them. On this particular day, my father announced that he was going to a wedding in the afternoon. "Wedding?" I asked. "Whose wedding?" "Oh, a fellow that I met at the Second Cup yesterday". Apparently my father had gone for a little walk (just from Joicey Boulevard down to the Beach — only about 15 kilometres!) and had stopped for a coffee at a Second Cup. While he was drinking his coffee, he noticed a man at the table next to him furiously composing something. My father naturally struck up a conversation with him, and found that he was arranging an anthem to be sung at his own wedding the following day. I'm sure he gave the guy a few tips on harmony & counterpoint, and next thing you know, he had been invited to the wedding. The amazing thing is, he actually went to the wedding, went through the receiving line, and when the bride looked at him with a blank expression, the groom introduced my father to her with: "Oh, honey, this is the guy I was telling you about from the Second Cup yesterday!"

This amazing ability to connect with people is, I think, the defining characteristic of my father's personality. Above and beyond any intellectual accomplishments, of which there were many, or vast knowledge of music and literature, of which there was an endless supply, his ability to touch people, relate to people, and make people feel at home, was astounding. He really believed that everyone had a story to tell, and something to teach HIM, and he was determined to get it out of them.

About 15 years ago, he had been engaged to speak at a conference in British Columbia. Much to the astonishment of the conference convenor, he announced that he would really rather take the bus to B.C., as he found bus travel so much more interesting than flying. After he returned home, I asked him about his trip, he responded with "Oh, it was wonderful! I met so many FASCINATING people!" I thought he was talking about the conference at which he had presented. But no, he was talking about the bus trip. From Toronto to somewhere in Manitoba, he sat next to a man who had just finished serving 25 years in Kingston penitentiary for killing his wife. Over the course of the day & night that they spent together, they told each other their life stories, and vowed to keep in touch forever. His next companion was "the most interesting fellow". "Do you know," said my father, "that he doesn't know how to read or write, but he knows how to fix cars... oh, he's so lucky... I wish I knew how to fix cars!" And his next seat-mate was equally interesting, and taught my father how to speak Cree over the course of the 12 or so hours that they were together.

He was totally without prejudice in every aspect of his life, but particularly in his friends. His best friends ranged in age from Aaron Jackson, age 10, to John Speers, who is in his 90's. The age difference never bothered him, in fact, it never even occurred to him, and you definitely didn't have to be a learned English musician to be accepted into his circle of love and affection.

I remember when his friend Vince was in a band, and got a gig at the Red Lion Pub in downtown Toronto. Suddenly, my father became a groupie, and spent his Tuesday nights with gaggles of 20-year olds, watching Vince and his bandmates perform. And he loved it!

And of course, there was Michael Barkowski. My father was the best man in his wedding, even though there was a 50-year age difference between them, and spent a glorious evening in the hot tub with the bridesmaids at the rehearsal party, until my mother gently reminded him that he really should be "acting his age". At which point my father walked my mother home, kissed her goodnight... and went back to the party!

I could go on forever. But I don't think I need to. I know that everyone who is here today has, in some way, been touched by my father's warmth, love, and affection. He meant so much, to so many, the grief at his passing is palpable. There are so many people who are feeling that there is now a hole in their lives, I am not only grieving at my own loss, but I am grieving on behalf of all of you; I share your loss.

Before I conclude, there is one other aspect of my father's personality that I need to speak to. I have always known that my father was a great intellect, a great teacher, a great friend, and a great person. However, it has only been recently that I have come to understand my father as a great composer. Brainerd (who is the Music Director here at St. Timothy's), and the choir members brought out my father's musical gifts, not only for the congregation of St. Timothy's to see, but for him to see in himself, and for me to see in him. I always knew that he dabbled in composing. But at the performances of his works that were envisioned and executed here, I felt that I was in the presence greatness. Thank-you for recognizing, inspiring, supporting, and exposing his talent to the world, and particularly, to me. For through his musical accomplishments, I have been able to put the final piece of the puzzle in place, and have come to understand my father as the true musical talent that he was.

I started out by saying that my father was a terrible procrastinator. The one thing that he did not put off was his exit from this world. He left ahead of schedule. He left while he was still in top form. He left exactly the way he wanted to, and not a moment late. We can take comfort in the fact that he is now with my mother, which is where he really wanted to be. Here is how we will remember him:

- Red gloves on strings
- Postcards
- Pipe, tobacco, matches
- Stick people drawings
- A finely honed sense of the ridiculous
- Adventure!
- Marmite
- Block letter printing
- Walks
- Poetry
- Rolled oats & raisins
- God Save the Queen
- Coffee
- Mozart, Hindemith, Irving Berlin
- Joy...
- Love...
- Peace.