55°51'54.54"N, 4°15'27.47"W - 49°53'3.8'' N, 97°8'49.3'' W
“Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from an indomitable will.”
- Mahatma Ghandi
A life’s journey that began on this earth in Glasgow, Scotland, ceased in the early morning hours of March 12, 2020 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. With our hands intertwined, my head on his chest and surrounded by strains of music that he loved, my precious brother, John, passed away; finally at peace and free from all physical burdens he had endured bravely with strength, tenacity, determination, and a profound love for life. He was our family’s true Scottish ‘Soldier’.
If we are so fortunate to have someone in our lives who is our personal hero, how very blessed we are. My brother John was that person to me. He represents everything that is good in this world.
For me, ten tomes could never describe all of the superlatives befitting of John. Where do I begin to express the void left by his passing? In reality, I have thought of how I would put words to paper more times than I care to think about. John had battled so many life-threatening health issues and defied all odds to stay with us. He believed that life was a treasured gift and worth fighting for.
Being the first born to our amazing parents Agnes (née McLachlan) and John Todd, John was their pride and joy. Mum and Dad gave us a foundation of love and support strengthened by teachings of respect, kindness, and compassion for others. John exemplified all of these traits ten-fold. Like Dad, he was the consummate gentleman and grew up with a deep respect for women. His heart was one of gold; bigger than imaginable. If John could help out in a time of need, there was not a second thought. This extended not only to family and friends but to any child coming to the door with an organization or cause to support. You also knew that when John inquired how you were doing; he was sincere and genuine in his query…he really cared.
From Mum and Dad’s accounts, John was a curious, adventurous, and mischievous child; something John laughingly acknowledged! This inquisitiveness transitioned into a life-long quest for knowledge and interest in the world around him. Before his eyesight diminished, John was a voracious reader - interested in fiction and topical reads diverse in topics including nature, woodworking, and photography. Favourites included military history and biographies. As reading became more challenging, audio books gave him great pleasure, even though I would hear the repeat of many chapters over several times, signalling to me that he had nodded off…again! If ever I needed an answer to anything, I could most assuredly go to John. Teasing him, I often asked him if he ever tired of always knowing everything and he would just laugh. Engaging in conversation with John was interesting, enlightening and fun regardless of the topic…he was so well versed. I miss our conversations about ‘anything and everything’. At the same time, he was a man so comfortable in his own company that he required very little to make him happy…he was such a humble man who asked nothing of those in his world. Some of John’s happiest times were spent sitting in the back yard watching the birds at the feeders and laughing at the squirrels trying to get at the feeders.
Coupled with an incredible sharp wit, John had a brilliant mind and was a talented writer of short-stories, poems and ‘ditties’. He was a master of the English language and we would have loads of fun going over speeches or toasts he was preparing for friends’ special occasions, or the spontaneous ‘odes’ he would compose for me. I often said to him that I thought he should be a fiction writer…oh how I will treasure these writings left behind and no doubt ones yet to be discovered in his belongings.
By examples of word and action, Mum and Dad gave us pride in our Scottish heritage and ensured that John and I were confident that we could achieve and do whatever we wanted in life and be who we wanted to be if we worked hard and believed in ourselves. They also believed in education – by book and life lessons - and imparting knowledge. John took this very seriously when it came to me and he always encouraged me to try anything and took every opportunity to teach me everything from how to fish; look after a vehicle, including changing a tire; using tools – hand and power; building ‘things’ and so much more. There was nothing his ‘wee’ sister, shouldn’t or couldn’t learn about or do. His lessons continued right up until the last days of his life, and I will be eternally grateful for his unwavering encouragement and belief in me.
John exhibited a strong work ethic from a very early age when he began delivering for Moffat’s Drugstore after school and weekends to earn his own pocket money and help contribute to our household. Peddling a bicycle in winter across the frozen river to St. Vital for some deliveries surely was no easy feat. Growing up in a long family line of skilled tradesmen, John started his working career in machine shops, but his aspirations took him into the clerical and administrative world. John’s hard work and continued education eventually landed him in the Enforcement Branch of the Environmental Planning Department with The City of Winnipeg. John retired in 2001 after 28 years of dedicated service, taking with him many friendships and happy memories.
John was a believer in true friendship and as testament to this John was so fortunate to have continued many friendships that began in his childhood, teenage years, and young adulthood. Remembrances of fishing at the lake with Gary; road trips with Tony; travel with Peter; partying with the civic gang…these all brought a smile to John’s face.
As everyone grew up, lives and priorities changed, and John was honoured to become ‘Uncle John’ to so many of his friend’s children. John was the most wonderful Santa Claus, dressing up in costume often, and he especially relished in finding the ‘perfect’ Christmas presents for all of children. The noisier the better! John loved the children and delighted in watching them grow up…it gave him much happiness.
While all of the children in John’s life were special to him, he felt particularly honoured to be chosen as Godfather and namesake for his best friend, Peter’s, son. Peter and John held a very special relationship and bond that started on a playground not long after Canada became home to our family. I’m told the friendship started with Peter’s invitation to play. The playing never stopped and John cherished Peter’s friendship until the very end. Indeed, their friendship was one forged out of love, respect – more as brothers, and I am blessed to have that connection still. To add to the joy, Cheryl joined Peter in marriage and John quickly fell in love with her too. With the addition of Todd and Tiffany to Peter and Cheryl’s family, John was so very happy for his pal. When Todd and Tiffany were growing up, he rarely missed a special occasion or sporting event for either of the children and was always happy to listen to their tales of school and adventures. Taking the ‘kids’ out for fun was as much a joy for John as it was for them. He supported and encouraged them at every opportunity and maintained an interest in their activities through their adult lives. Many, many happy ‘family’ gatherings of the Todds and Rhodens took place at Peter and Cheryl’s welcoming home.
John loved holidays especially Hallowe’en for the decorations and Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving for the meaning of the celebrations. He delighted in having the house all done up for all of the special occasions and loved watching or hearing the children’s reactions to the ‘spooky’ effects we created every October 31st. A little-known fact…it was John’s choice every year what the colours would be for our Christmas theme. He loved whimsey and our house holds many treasured wee ‘faces’ and characters that he gifted me with. A treasured ‘character’ created by his favourite local artist, Lois Hogg that John was presented with upon his retirement is also a piece that he cherished, and I hold all of these ever closer to my heart now. Although in these last years, John was not able to participate socially as much, during these holidays and other special celebrations, having his close friends over for suppers brought John great joy…”Thank you” Peter, Cheryl, Lawrence, Malcolm, Roger, Kathy and Gord, Bernice and Ed for some of the happiest memories I will have of all of you together with John at different times over the years. You made John smile and happy which means the world to me.
I would be remiss at this time if I did not mention my deepest gratitude to the healthcare professionals that were dedicated to giving John the best chance at life as possible over the past 11 years. Indeed, the very literal chance at life again. Thank you to Dr. David Rush and the team of dedicated Doctors Storsley, Karpinski, Ho, and Shaw including special acknowledgement to nurses Cheryl and Angela of the HSC Renal Health Clinic. Your care and compassion will not be forgotten. And…especially ”Thank you” Dr. Rush for always remembering John’s name and stopping to inquire how he was wherever your paths crossed…that was very special to John and me. To Dr. Michael Goytan for not giving up on my brother and believing that surgery could give him strength and mobility again…your confidence gave us hope when there was little. Finally, to Dr. Brian Schmidt and his sons, both Doctors. As Residents, the younger doctors literally had a hand in bringing John back to life several years ago when he arrested twice in one day, and Dr. Schmidt who never failed to treat John with genuine kindness and concern. Thank you. Along John’s journey there have been so many professionals that have crossed paths with us; please know that whatever your role may have been - doctors, nurses, health care aides and custodial staff, it was important and we appreciated your assistance and professionalism.
Although John’s Home Care Attendants only briefly assisted John, his care was undertaken with his dignity being paramount, compassion, and always with a smile. With appreciation to Stacey for coordinating this wonderful group of professionals, and “Thank you” Rejeanne, Eleanor, and Mark for treating John with respect and kindness. Thank you as well to the visiting Home Care Nurses: Marianne, Ruby and colleagues. John was very appreciative to all of you for your assistance, as I still am.
My heart is in a million pieces and I know I am not alone in my grief. As John’s dear friend Malcolm once told me, and I quote, “John is universally loved”. I truly believe he was. John tried to prepare me for the day when he would leave me, but in this lesson, I am not a good student. I’ve had so many rehearsals preparing for this day over the years, and yet I am still not prepared. I am so grateful for the love and support from Peter and Cheryl…you both were so loved by John. To Malcolm and Roger, “Thank you” for your past and continued words and gestures of caring and encouragement…I know you are hurting too. Please know your friendship was cherished deeply by John. And a special note to Brent…”Yes”, I’ve been instructed to have egg salad sandwiches for you on the menu!
This is but a drop in a bucket of what my brother’s life has been all about, and of my life with him. Our wee family was the most important thing in the world to John, and he loved all of us with all of his heart. He is reunited with Mum and Dad now along with our other beloved family members long gone…a reunion that John looked forward to when it was time. When we are able to better celebrate John’s life when our world regains some sense and safety, we shall do that in a proper and fitting way. God willing, a wee cèilidh will be planned for late summer to give fitting tribute to my brother’s beautiful soul and to honour what his life meant to us.
I miss seeing John’s beautiful blue eyes that twinkled; I miss seeing that smile that would light up when I walked in the room; I miss the sound of his laughter; I miss hearing his loving cautionary “Keep your head on a swivel” as I was leaving him…always his reminder to me to watch what was going on around me. I miss cooking with and for him and I miss hearing the lilt in his voice saying, “That would be nice!” when I asked if he was ready for a wee cuppa tea. I miss my brother, my protector. I miss my best friend.
We never parted at night be it at bedtime or as I was leaving his hospital room not once without John thanking me and telling me he loved me. I always returned the sentiment with such a grateful heart. I also had always made sure that John knew he was my greatest gift in life. But the true gift he left me with that I will take to my grave, is knowing without a single doubt, that he loved me with every fibre in his body…unconditionally. I will always feel blessed and honoured to be John’s wee sister.
It was John’s known and expressed wish that he be cremated, and that has taken place. With my sincerest appreciation to Shane Neufeld and his support team at Ethical Death Care for making a very difficult process easier; for their professionalism, compassion, support and guidance…I am so grateful.
I am also so grateful for all of the cards, emails, and phone calls with messages of comfort and condolences coming my way. Reading the notes of remembrances of John from friends, former work colleagues and newer acquaintances have been touching and so welcome. Thank you for sharing your precious thoughts…please know your gracious gestures will help heal my heart as I reflect on them time and time again.
So touching as well are the very thoughtful donations to meaningful and impacting charities made in John’s memory. Thank you for your kindness. Please know this is not expected but for those of you who have inquired specifically about honouring John in this way, I do have three suggestions if you are so inclined.
Over the course of John’s lifetime, he personally donated to many varied and worthy charities and organizations, but a deep love of his was animals. John was mad about animals and loved all creatures, so The Winnipeg Humane Society was a favourite one that he always supported and donated to for sure.
The other two very treasured and impacting organizations are Transplant Manitoba – Gift of Life Program and The Manitoba Renal Adult Transplant Program. Because of an individual’s or their family’s impacting decision to donate a kidney 11 years ago, I was blessed with more time with John and we were both so grateful for that gift every day. It never escaped John, nor does it for me still, the price paid for that gift.
These are just a few suggestions but please choose any cause that is important to you…the very fact that you are thinking about John and reaching out to me is very heart-warming in itself…thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
John's friends and relatives are encouraged to honour his memory by reading his eulogy, sharing personal stories and memories, and offering condolences, by using the comment section on this page.
Its only “Ta-Ta” for now, my Sweet Johnny
I promise to always keep my head on a swivel.
“Gus an coinnich sinn a-rithist.”
With My Undying Love. Your wee sister, Alexandra
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