Sadly, no gathering of the clans

Damn this pandemic. It has made living harder for everyone----and it has made dying harder, too.

In recent months we have lost several friends—not to COVID 19 but to other causes.

All were fine people and we cherished their friendship and how they enriched our lives.

In normal times, we would have gathered to support the grieving families, share memories and help provide the dead with the sendoff they deserved. We would cry but we would also laugh about the good times.

COVID has robbed us of that ritual we have taken for granted generation after generation.

When I was young, I questioned the importance of ceremony. Flowers? Such a waste. Funerals? Sheer ritual. Grave markers? Ostentation.

Over the years, I have learned how important it is to come together to share grief, console each other and celebrate life in the various ways individuals and families choose.

This week we lost a friend who loved life and never took a day for granted. For Jay Loyst, life was a challenge from the moment he entered this world and his strength and courage made him a role model for all of us.

Born with a disability, Jay’s parents were told he would probably not live to his teens. Well, Jay and his determined and loving family defied the odds and had he lived a few more months we would have celebrated his 55th birthday.

Everyone loved Jay—from the Access Bus drivers to co-workers at Community Living and the staff and fans at Leon’s Centre. There was no more loyal Frontenacs fan than Jay. He had season tickets for the past 30 years and seldom missed a game.

Wheelchair-bound, Jay couldn’t play like the other kids. As an adult, he was denied many of the simple joys enjoyed by the rest of us. But he was grateful for the things he was able to do and for the people who made that possible.

Jay compensated for his impediments with a super-sized heart and a great sense of humour. When he laughed he roared like the mighty lion that he was.

He would have loved to see the crowd that would have turned out to celebrate his life---had it been possible.

********

And what a gathering we could have had for Bill Fitsell, newspaperman, author, hockey historian and darned fine person. He died just before Christmas.

Bill was a friend and mentor to me and a whole generation of young people who dreamed of being journalists. As a writer, editor and columnist at The Whig Standard for more than 30 years, he was also highly recognized for his books on hockey and for founding the Society for International Hockey Research.

Most of his contemporaries have already gone to that big newsroom up in the sky but there are enough of us left to put together a heck of a wake if the virus hadn’t stopped us.

Bill and others of our generation worked at The Whig when it was an award-winning and highly respected paper with a soaring circulation and topnotch team of veterans and wannabes in the newsroom. We worked hard and we played hard and we used to say that we had so much fun we should have paid the paper for letting us work there.

Many went on to make names for themselves on some of the big dailies; some stayed here to enjoy the benefits of living and working and raising families in the Kingston area.

Whig veterans would have come from near and far to help celebrate Bill’s life and remind his wife Barb (married 75 years) and five daughters how much he meant to all of us.

Ah; the great war stories that would have been told had it not been for the virus!

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There would have been standing room only had there been a public funeral for Bill Hackett, Kingston’s longest serving police officer (60 years), former Chief, and lifelong supporter of good causes in our community.

Until illness slowed him down and death claimed him in January, Bill devoted his life to keeping us safe and raising money for kids and their families.

He was an ace detective with many big cases to his credit and his stories are legendary with attention to details, pictures and anecdotes.

I remember him most for his humanity. Years and years ago, I first met Bill when I went to interview him as part of my induction to local politics. He was chief at that time and I sought his opinion on some issues related to public safety and law enforcement.

When the subject turned to Kingston Penitentiary, Bill told me he was quite familiar with many inmates and the operation of the place.

“You know, Sally,” he said, “A lot of those young fellas never had a chance…no families or at least no family that wanted them….ended up with the wrong people……and here they are.”

I later learned that Bill had a habit of phoning up his beloved wife and telling her, “water down the soup, Lois” because he was bringing home a guest for dinner and a warm bed.

When an inmate was being let out of KP and had nowhere to go, Bill would get a call, he’d pick up the guy at the main gate and the Hacketts provided a temporary place to stay.

I’ve met some guys he helped like that. I’ve also met a woman who as a young girl was being abducted by a local pervert and may not have survived had it not been for Bill’s eagle eye, quick response and courage that rescued her.

I regret that I didn’t press Bill to get started on the memoirs we talked about him writing.

So many stories….so little time.

*******

Last week, I lost another close friend who will be dearly missed. Dorothy Wardle moved from Kingston several years ago to be with her family in Victoria and regrettably left behind the Cell Sisters, a group of zany women who met while working together on a local election campaign and who continue to meet on a regular basis some three decades later.

Dorothy and I were among the original 12 members. She was a classy, unassuming woman who selflessly and loyally supported numerous good causes and was before her time in the forefront of many progressive issues.

Politics was in her blood and woe be the candidate who didn’t keep their word.

We loved her. Like the others, she deserved a good sendoff. And we deserved the opportunity to provide it.

Be gone damnable virus and its evil variants. Let us get back to the time-honoured duty of paying our respects to those we have loved and lost.

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