Tess was Theresa Bond, bush pilot, paramedic, storekeeper and elemental force. Tess died when the bush plane on which she was traveling as a paramedic crashed into a mountainside on a flight from Atlin to Smithers. Tess, her young patient, and the pilot were all killed in the crash. Words can only hint at Tess's passion and energy. The poem below is by her friend and soulmate, the B.C. poet Kate Braid. Though Kate and Tess only knew each other briefly, it is a measure of Tess's impact on people that this poem is one of five poems which Kate wrote in her honour and published in her first book of poetry, Covering Rough Ground.
Aron was Aron Senkpiel. Aron helped create Yukon College, became Dean of Arts and Sciences there, founded the Northern Review, and, with typical vision, became a strong proponent of a circumpolar institution or University of the Arctic. I wrote the poem below while Aron was dying of cancer, and I'm pleased to say that I was brave enough to share the poem with him. It gave him great pleasure. After Aron's death, his two sons adopted me, and one of them—Peter—is directly responsible for the creation of Fathers: A Literary Anthology.
The last person, Bill Messenger, was one of my professors at UBC. Aron and I were lucky enough to take an early 20th century novel from him in 1975. Although I've had many good teachers and professors over the years--David Suzuki and Malcolm Bradbury are only two of the more prominent—Bill Messenger was by far and away the best teacher I ever had. His passion, discipline, and integrity changed me profoundly. Without him, Fathers: A Literary Anthology wouldn't exist, and I think of this whole enterprise as a tribute to him.
Enough said. I hope the foregoing words, and the four pieces below encourage you to post your own tributes. They needn't be essays or poems either. Sometimes one word is enough.
Bruce "Gunner" Shaw is gone. With his death in a car accident March 29, 1984 we've lost more than just a friend. We've lost a legend. We've lost a man who lived hard and who did everything to the fullest. We've lost an all too rare and vital individual who could charm and bully us into giving life its full value. With Bruce there were no half measures. He was a perfectionist. You had to enjoy more. You had to feel more. You had to do more.
Very few runners in the Pacific Northwest haven't been influenced in some way by Gun's life. Many knew him only as the red-bearded, barrel-chested, gravel-voiced runner who would run by in a race, pause, ask a few questions, socialize a bit, and then run on. Weeks later, in another race, the same guy would come up to you again and amaze you by remembering your name and the small personal details you had shared with him. He would chat for a bit and then carry on racing - leaving you feeling slightly bigger for having been remembered and slightly smaller for not yourself remembering so well. There was no matching Gun's interest in people.
For many people, too, Gun was the fellow running down the highway with his two dogs. Rain or shine, mud or frost, Gun would grind out the miles with the two Irish setters, Streussel and Sean, loping happily beside him. He, alone or with friends, would take "the boys" on 20 mile runs, and if "the boys" weren't along, neighbours 10 miles away would call Gun and ask where the dogs were. They didn't know him, but Gun - sweaty, tired and so often dressed in longjohns with shorts and red down vest - together with the setters he loved, was an important part of their lives. Streussel's death, and his replacement by Spook, the bumptious Black lab, was a major event for many.
Anybody who knew Gun knew him as a competitor, a man who would push himself beyond normal limits. He thrived on the toughest courses - the Basil Parker Cross Country, Shawnigan Lake Half Marathon, Seaside Marathon; Birch Bay Marathon. Gun ran over 36 marathons and countless road races and there isn't one of those races that didn't generate another Gunner Shaw story. Just ask Jack Taunton about the numerous times they fought it out, mile after mile; about the number of Canadian championships in which Jack thought he finally had Gun's number, only to have Gun come up on him in the last few miles, push him along, and then instead of striding by, match his pace so that they would cross the line together. He was, indeed, a competitor.
The running stories are legion, but there were many other sides to Gun's legend. Running wasn't even his favourite sport. His first love, and the sport where he earned his nickname, was basketball. He could work all night at the press, go on a 20 mile training run in the morning, and then happily spend the afternoon shooting hoop. It didn't have to be an organized game. One on one with his brother David, or a half court pickup game was enough for Gun. He was always shooting, always gunning.
Above all, Gun was a friend. He was a friend who would stop at nothing to do a favour or a kindness. He would go 20 miles out of his way to help you fix your car, bring you a box of apples, or share a beer and a chat. His life was made up of small acts of thoughtfulness. He was a man who never bragged about his own - considerable - accomplishments but who was always eager to boast about the doings of his family and friends.
Except for his family, nothing was more important to Bruce than friendship. Family and friends came first. Nothing else mattered. Not work. Not running. Not basketball. Not even time mattered where friends were concerned. How many of us have been woken up at 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning to hear Gun's loving growl: " 'Mother,' 'Jake,' 'Stud,' 'Tom,' 'Frog'. What the hell you up to?" "What do you think I'm up to Gun? I'm sleeping." It didn't matter to Gun - 3 am or 3 pm, you were a friend and that's all that counted.
He had a gift for friendships and for nicknames. That was part of the legend. He renamed, rebaptized, so many people: Alfred the Rat, Mother Marshall, Say Hey McKay, the Wimp, Stud Palfrey. The nicknames, no matter how bizarre, were always well chosen. Alex Marshall, "Mother" to all of us now, likes to tell a story about getting on a bus with the Esquimalt Oldies basketball team. He'd never met any of the team, but he'd heard Gun talk about them, and as they all crowded onto the bus he knew he was able to identify over half of them from nicknames alone. The nicknames were always apt, always kindly in intent and they always stuck. I'll be "Frog" until my dying day, and proud to be so. Thanks Gun, you loving, lovable bastard.
His friendship was never a narrow selfish thing. Gun was a man with a sense of service, a sense of community. He was a man who worked hard and who took pride in the accomplishments of others. Talk to the men at Victoria Press where he worked. They'll tell how hard he worked, what a great mate he was, and they'll joke about his three or four lockers of smelly running gear.
They'll also tell you how seriously he took his union responsibilities and of how tirelessly he would work for the United Way campaign. Ask his fellow runners and his friends how he was always ready to befriend and encourage a novice runner. Ask Mother Marshall or Robin Pearson how Gun was joint founder of Victoria's biggest running club, the Prairie Inn Hash House Harriers. With his rough exterior and his big heart he was a focal point for so many friends, for so many community activities. It wasn't always easy for him, but it was part of his legend that he never complained.
If friends and community were important to Gun, his family was even more so. He was a proud man and a large part of his pride rested in his father, his brother David ("Sherman" to Gun because of his stomach), his twin sisters Lynne and Josie, and their husbands, and his nephews and nieces. Naturally, he was proudest of his wife, Catherine, and of four-year-old Natalie. It was a measure of his pride and his love that Gun was one of those rare men who delights in going out on his own to buy his wife or daughter a dress. When Natalie turns six, she'll be able to wear a dress her father bought her.
The wonderful thing about Gun was that he loved his family, not as an extension of himself, but as individuals. He took pride in Catherine's French and in her Swiss background. His favourite trophy was one he'd won in Switzerland; on his truck - the truck he always kept so meticulously clean - he'd stuck a big CH decal, CH for Canton Helvetican. He took pleasure in these things because it gave Catherine pleasure. Watching her grow up, and seeing her happiness in his hugs, meant everything to him.
Simple events were always celebrations with Gun. Going for a run. Reading the paper. Eating lasagna. Drinking tea with honey. Cleaning his truck. Dumping garbage. Resoling his running shoes. Going shopping. Playing basketball. Going for a beer. He touched everything with his vitality, his gift for loving. New Year's this year was typical. It was a small gathering of close friends. Gun, as usual, was late. It didn't matter. When he arrived, he had hug and a kiss for everyone and he swept us all along with his ebullience. Champagne and hot tubs were part of Gunner's style, and he kept us going strong until two in the morning. At that point someone, most probably Gun himself, realized that we might be keeping the neighbours up. No problem. Gun had the solution: ask the neighbours over. Dressed only in Fruit of the Looms, Gun wandered off into the night to invite them. They must have wondered about the half-pissed, half-naked stranger, but after half an hour of chatting Gun had made two more friends.
Gun would have enjoyed the run a few of his many friends took with his dogs at Beaver Lake the day of his memorial service. He would have loved the simple service in St. Paul's, the small Esquimalt church where he and Catherine were married just over nine years ago. With its history, its memorials to ships and sailors lost, its English solidity and peace, it was a fitting place to say good-bye to Gun. It was fitting, too, that the church was decorated in daffodils, as it had been for his wedding.
There were so many things Gun would have liked about the service. He would have been pleased and touched at the sight of the more than 400 friends who turned up - so many friends that some 200 had to stand outside the church. He would have been pleased by, and he would have laughed at, the bouquet at the back of the church. A lavish, elaborate arrangement of Birds of Paradise, it was centered by chrysanthemums shaped into a large gun. A last good-bye to Gun from the Esquimalt Youngsters baseball team, it was the least they could do for a guy they'd once acquired from the Oldies in trade for a baseball bat.
Gun would have enjoyed, too, the sight of the choir with their blue collars and white gowns; though knowing him, he would have laughed and, with good natured irreverence, have wondered why they weren't wearing Prairie Inn T-shirts. Yes, Gun would have enjoyed all of it. Most of all he would have loved and taken pride in the dignified way his nephew Danny delivered a short, emotional eulogy. And Gun being Gun, after the service he would have been the first to join some 50 or so friends who raised a glass in his memory at the Tudor Arms.
In the church, someone wondered why there were so many firemen present. The reason was typical of Gun. Number One Firehall is next to the press, and Gun on his lunchtime runs started coaching a fireman friend who was training for his first marathon. It wasn't long before two, three, four and more firemen would go running regularly with Bruce. It never bothered him that his own training suffered in running a pace two or three minutes a mile slower than normal. He was helping people, helping friends, and to him that was more important than winning races.
Winning races was important though. His basement is full of trophies and memorabilia - bowling trophies, golf trophies, basketball trophies, and, of course, running trophies. Among the trophies is a huge trophy for finishing first in the 1978 Schlitz Seattle Marathon. Mother Marshall can tell too how Gun fought off heat, cramps, and diarrhea to win that one. How he finished that run with exhaustion etched on his face, pride in his face, and shit streaming down the inside of his leg. It wasn't easy being a legend.
Another trophy from the same year is a third place finish in the Schlitz Light National Marathon Championships. Gun went down to Tampa, Florida, for that one and in usual Gun fashion gave it everything he had. He beat some of the world's best runners that day, runners who, if races are won strictly on ability, should have thrashed Gun. They didn't. Heart counts for a lot in running and Gun always had more than his share of that. He went out, nailed down a pace, and held it the way only he could. He was always a fighter.
So many memories. With Gun's death, all of us have lost a big part of ourselves. Though the loss is greater for some than for others, for all it is an irreplaceable one. There's no replacing Gun's strength, his courage, his pride. There's no replacing his vitality, his sense of fun, his deep laugh. There's no replacing his interest in people, his incredible thoughtfulness, his kindness. There's no substitute for his love.
There's no replacing any of that. All we can do is cherish the legend. All we can do is value and honour the legacy Gun left us. We can enjoy our work, our ball games, or running, and our lives in the knowledge that Gun changed us, that we live more intensely because of him. He'll be with us on our runs. We can share our memories and laugh over Gunner stories. We can try to emulate his kindness and his thoughtfulness to other runners, to people who need help. We can support Catherine, Natalie and the family with our friendship and our love.
When Catherine told Natalie about Gunner's death, she told Nat that Daddy had gone to be with Streussel. Natalie took the news calmly, thought about it for a while, and then, with the devastating charm and logic of a four-year-old, said, "I guess that means I've only got you for hugs now, Mom." What answer can you make to a statement like that? All we can do is cry a little and try to give Catherine and Natalie a few of the hugs that Gun gave us.
For those wanting to make financial contributions to Gun's memory, two memorial funds have been started. The Prairie Inn Harriers have established the Gunner Shaw Memorial Fund with the intent of establishing an athletic scholarship in Gun's name at UVic. Some of the funds will be used to buy a memorial trophy. Anyone wishing to contribute can do so by sending a cheque or money order to Gunner Shaw Memorial Fund, Bank of Nova Scotia. The Esquimalt Oldies, Gunner's slo-pitch team, have established a trust fund for Gunner's four-year-old daughter Natalie. Contributions for her should go to Northwest Trust.
Gun may have died, but the memories he left us won't. Legends never die. Good-bye, Gun old friend, and God bless.
The 25th Gunner Shaw Memorial Race! Hard to believe it's over 25 years since Gunner died. Sitting on the ferry from Tsawassen, the ferry full of cell phone toting, lap top packing citizens of 2009, I let my mind jog back over some muddy trails of the past. A string of emails from Duff Waddell, Jack Taunton, Roger Brownsey, and Frank Stebner has churned loose memories of long ago runs and races: of Basil Parkers, James Cunninghams, Shawnigan Lake Half Marathons, Sri Chimnoys, Khatsilano road races, Haney to Harrisons, and Skagway to Whitehorse Runs, to name only a few. Wonderful races, even if memory stumbles over, or past many of the details.
The here and now, though, is intense. Partly, it's because I'm even running. Something else I owe Gun. If he hadn't introduced me to Jack Taunton so many years ago, my knees might still feel as if they were packed with ground glass. Gun made so many connections, started so many friendships, and if it weren't for Jack's Olympic obligations, he too would be here today. I'll just have to run for him, as well as for myself and Gun.
Partly, it's because I'm running Lions Gate for the first time. After running Prairie Inn for years, then not running for some fifteen years, then running unattached for the last three, it's a little strange to be running for a team I've always competed against. Friendships with Duff and Jack will have to find a new, more collegial footing.
Partly, it's because wife Margo and son Sam are also running, and this is the first time Sam has a strong chance of finishing ahead of me. He's been beating me quite handily in training, and even though he's favouring an injured foot I'm hoping for a real battle with him.
Mostly, though, it's because this run is for Gun, and red bearded, gravel voiced and barrel chested, ever generous, he's very close to me on many of these mental paths. Always a legend, never a plaster saint, he'd be 64 and still running today if his alcohol demons and the VW Beatle stopping tree hadn't ganged up to kill him. Hard not to feel sad. Hard not to feel angry.
Early morning Victoria has got far more homeless people than I remember, and despite the renovations of the downtown area and the new buildings going up, it seems shabby and slightly seamy. There's too much traffic and too much urban sprawl. I take the 6 Mile Inn approach to Thetis Lake and am impressed and dismayed by the massive new four storey condo complexes and the overflow parking lots. Supposedly, one thing we sore-kneed, crotchety relics have trouble with is change. Certainly true as far as urban sprawl is concerned.
We look around the parking lot for the garish, slightly goofy, Road Runner singlets of my new team. Not spotting any, Margo, Sam and I walk up over the small roadway hill and down to the lakeside. The rain is coming down so hard it isn't easy to tell beach and lake apart, except along the beach are several large white tents with dozens of damp, chilly volunteers sorting through race numbers, handing out t-shirts, and preparing post race cookies, oranges, and ever so precious hot chocolate and soup. There's a small, soggy army at work here, and General Bobby Reid has been meticulous in his planning. Armed with gumboots and a megaphone, he clearly revels in the rain as he dispatches last minute problems. Grinning, I think of John Edwards once describing Alex Marshall as looking like a duck hunter without his gun. Bobby, too, fits the bill.
Rain and beach mud haven't dampened anyone's enthusiasm. Quite the contrary. Excited clumps of runners cluster around portable heaters, getting gear in order, swapping stories, and psyching themselves up. Margo hits a Port-a-Potty and Sam and I wander around like lost calves, bellowing "Any Lion's Gaters here? Any Lion's Gaters here?" Lion's Gaters are elusive beasts, but after five squelching minutes of bawling out, the Porta-a-Potty comes to our rescue as well. From the queue Linda Wong and Newton identify themselves with warm smiles and first contact is made with our new pack.
Singlets donned and race numbers pinned on, Sam and I head out for a quick warm up and orientation. Knowledge of the race finish and the brutal last couple of hills is worth the risk to his sore foot. We shuffle slowly, but my three layers of gear and my brown woolly touque keep me reasonably warm. Not a hope of dry, though. When we get to the hills, I also get steamed up at the trail conditions. Gone are the jagged, ankle turning rocks and foot bruising boulders. Jack Farrell and John Mackay have evidently avenged themselves for past injuries. Travesty!. Thetis is now wheelchair accessible, assuming any wheel chair could be winched up the slopes.
Several hundred runners are milling around the paved starting area. Bobby is already using the megaphone to squawk instructions over the din. I quickly duck into the trees to join dozens of others who are watering Gary oaks. Back in the pack Sam and I approach Mark Williams, one of our new team mates, to ask him about his pace intentions. Honestly he answers, "Forty minutes." Foolishly, I decide we'll try to run with him.
Instructions over, Bobby unleashes the stampede, and off we thunder in a rush of adrenaline and rain. Much of the next 44 minutes is a primal blur of mud, body and trees. Pace is nothing; footing everything. I blow up at three kilometres, pass a hobbling Sam at six, blow up again at seven, and battle away with Jim Swaddling over the last kilometre. Despite tripping over a submerged obstacle with meters to go, I finish just ahead of Jim, but my minor smugness is severely rearranged during the awards ceremony, when I find out Jim is a healthy six years older than I am. Talk about tough.
No matter. An incredible race. An incredible ordeal. The skid road ponds have never been as deep. The trails never as muddy. No wonder Sam is so mud spattered as he limps across the finish line. No wonder Margo is chortling, gasping and beaming from ear to ear as she thrashes her way through the water at the finish. No wonder these hundreds of people are so loud and so happy. We're all little kids again, playing in the rain. Some of us literally are little kids. When overall race winner Jason Loutit accepts his medal, he's got his two year old son perched wetly on his shoulders. Another neat moment.
Adrenaline charged, we trade stories with fellow competitors. Sam was gamely trying to hold off footsteps on a narrow part of the trail when he heard a thump, a grunt, and no more footsteps. Margo, like me, got passed going up "Big Gunner," got mad and going up "Big Bugger" passed all three who passed her. Even better, when the race results came out, she discovered all three were in her category. Frank Stebner, out to take photographs and encourage team mates, got himself lost. Several stories of mishaps and injuries including one, hopefully apocryphal or confused, of a snapping limb. Some people just can't tell the difference between a snapping branch and a snapping ulna.
As I chat and as I listen, I'm looking for faces from the past, faces belonging to Alex "Mother" Marshal. Jack Farrell. John MacKay. Vlad "the mad Czech" Pomaizl. Steve "Barman" Barr. John Thipthorpe. Mike Creary. Mike Ellis. Garth Ball. Paul Bowler. Dick "Stud" Palfrey, Chris "G P" Garrett-Petts. Gun's nephew Danny. His brother Dave. His sisters Josie and Lynn. His wife Catherine. His daughter Natalie, now twenty-nine or so and not four. None to be seen, or at least none to be recognized. Poor eyesight compounds with poor memory, as the steady rain has forced me to take off my glasses. Also so many of the faces, like my own, must have changed considerably. Some, too, have almost certainly disappeared.
Alive or dead, though, they, like Gun, have left a wonderful legacy. The crowd here is proof of that. People like Bobby and his volunteers have built this race and others like it into arenas in which we can feel fully engaged and alive and in which we can meaningfully measure and explore deeper parts of ourselves. This is not, like the Olympics, an event only for the elite, only for spectators. For runners and for volunteers, women, men and children, this is an inclusive event, an uplifting event, a community event.
Thinking of Gunner and this event, of feeling alive and of participating, and thinking too of the street people, of the urban sprawl and of the misguided (I suspect that even Jack, if he weren't such a loyal and proud team player, would use this adjective), the misguided energy of the Olympics, I wonder if more of Gun's legacy couldn't be channelled to build a better world. So much has been accomplished in the last twenty five years. Why not more? Think of all that could be accomplished if there were a Gunner Shaw Day on which runners and volunteers would combine to hand out hot soup and warm clothing. Think of how much better a province and society we would have if all the Olympic millions and all the Olympic energy were harnessed to build accommodations and to create support services for the poor and the mentally ill. Impossible dreams? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, twenty five or more years ago, even Gun couldn't have imagined a club or an event as powerful as today's. Alex Marshall, Bobby Reid and the Harriers have done him proud.
for Theresa Bond
You mourned and were crazy
especially when your husband died
within months of the crash
but you did it then
just as you promised,
you found a new man
(or he found you)
someone who cheered for your side
for a change,
and you began again
putting it all together.
The neighbours sniffed
and disapproved and wouldn't
speak to That Man in your house
but he made you laugh
and you started eating again.
(You even got tits, he said)
When I saw the pictures of you
one year later
I didn't recognize you
laughing and happy
They promised the two of you
a job together
for a Western style hotel.
My energy, your brains, he said.
Just three months back home
to clear up loose ends, time
to get married, then back
to China for two years
with all the pieces
It could have been
Two days now,
Eternal seconds and as sloppy,
Since you told me of your dying,
A big tumour,
Everything in twos,
A fecal mound
In the center of your chest,
Liver and other organs
For the unassuming requiem of your vocal chords,
Lamed, uncoupled and
Two twos are four, but
What will we be
When your oh so evident death
Diminished by one?
A child trying to dam
A stream with sand,
I play at words,
Try to stop the fierce flow of grief.
Kept alive, over long months and longer miles,
By letters and the telephone,
Our friendship did not depend
Of and for the North
(Now there’s an epitaph!)
Your passion and vitality
Warmed me in my bumbling South,
As now the sight of your living body
Marked in black ink like a butcher’s model,
Here the loin and there the brisket,
Crosshatched with the laser’s raw, red lines,
Chills me with the certainty of my loss.
Join your tears to mine
When you read this
And, in the brave art of your dying,
Carve out a corner,
A small depression
To hold my future, solitary tears.
In these tears
We’ll mingled be
A funny pronoun trinity,
I and you and we.
Even Donne’s craft
Couldn’t build the necessary dam,
Damn! Damn! Damn!
Salt water never saved the soil.
Before your death
A fare well