Cavalryman, colonel, traveller, proud Canadian. Born Nov. 16, 1939, in St. Thomas, Ont.; died Jan. 21, 2012, in Collingwood, Ont., of cancer, at the age of 72.
Ian McNabb grew up in St. Thomas, Ont., with his three sisters and mother Madeline. He was inspired by languages and travel, and at a young age decided this was to be his life.
Graduating from the Regular Officer Training Program at the University of Western Ontario, Ian joined the Canadian Armed Forces.
His military career led to postings across Canada, in England, Germany, Cyprus, Mexico and Central America.
Ian rose to commanding officer of the armoured regiment Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians). After 35 years of distinguished service, he retired a colonel.
Ian then joined the International Committee of the Red Cross and worked throughout South America, teaching the Geneva Conventions and developing models of international co-operation.
His life was a quest for global understanding. He visited nearly 100 countries, and lived in more than 10. He had an innate sense of direction, a keen cultural appreciation, and took everything in stride. He navigated out of dark side streets in many a city, cracked jokes after being taking hostage by South American drug-runners, negotiated with Colombian guerrillas and remained unflappable after nearly perishing in a cave during the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.
Despite a lifetime abroad, Canada remained his first love, and the nickname “Mr. Canada” followed him throughout his travels. He often recited national history to anyone who asked, explaining exactly why Canada was the best country on Earth.
On foreign streets, he would chase strangers for blocks if he saw the flash of a Canadian flag, welcoming them and immediately linking them with the local expat community.
He liked good times, and Ian made sure everyone was having one. His Canada Day celebrations are remembered around the globe. In Hong Kong, his Canadian Happy Hours remain a legendary event at the Chamber of Commerce, where he served as director.
Ian was the proud father of Chris and Sean. His granddaughters Meghan and Lauren, with the rest of his family, looked up to him as a role model and endless source of fascinating stories.
Planning to officially retire, Ian purchased an open-ended ticket to circle the globe in 2000. With only a backpack, he was determined to explore until he couldn’t any more.
Plans do go awry, and shortly after, Ian met a travelling partner and soulmate in his future wife, Barbara. Together they set off on a whirlwind 10-year tour; living and working in Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi, and spending free moments visiting every other place imaginable.
They finally returned to Canada in 2011, settling in Collingwood, Ont.
Diagnosed with cancer in late 2011, Ian was an invincible optimist, insisting to the end that he had never seen a bad day in his life.