Husband, father, grandfather, veteran, engineer, Mr. Fix-it. Born Feb. 11, 1924, in Essa Township, Ont. Died Sept. 27, 2011, in Ottawa of cardiac arrest, aged 87.
When Gareth Winston (Flew) Flewelling first joined his beloved Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942, he expected to become a pilot. But, as he explained later, “I was too good at math.” So instead, the RCAF sent him to navigator school, where his precision was valued.
He spent most of the war as a navigator in Halifax bombers, dropping spies behind enemy lines in Europe. Sometimes the parachuting spies would reconsider their mission during the flight, but Flew said that, one way or another, they all left the plane.
Flew’s father, Cecil, was a member of the RCAF from its inauguration in 1924, the year Flew was born. Like most military brats, Flew moved every few years with his family.
Returning from the Second World War, Flew came to Ottawa where he met Margaret on a blind date. Margaret was engaged to another man and only went on the double date as a favour to a friend. Despite her engagement and the fact that Flew spilled beer on her dress on that first date, they married in 1946 and were together for 65 years.
Flew instilled a strong sense of self-sufficiency in his two children, Jane and David. This attitude was a result of his upbringing during the Depression. His mother, Minnie, developed Huntington’s disease when he was young. The oldest of three boys, he had to grow up fast.
After graduating from mechanical engineering at McGill University, Flew rejoined the RCAF, retiring in 1975 as a wing commander. He served at nine RCAF bases across Canada, from Goose Bay, Nfld., to Cold Lake, Alta., as well as two postings in the United States. In 1964, he earned his MBA at Purdue University. Unable to sit still for very long, Flew puttered around the house every weekend, tending to one task after another. He stopped only briefly to sit down at the kitchen table, pull out his ever-present to-do list, cross off the things he had just finished but always add more. His wife often reminded him to write “Kiss Margaret” on his list.
He had a subtle sense of humour. During one of his recent stays in hospital, a nurse concerned about his weight asked, “What’s the least that you’ve weighed?” “Six-and-a-half pounds,” was his answer.
When he was younger, he would astonish neighbourhood kids with his ability to ride a bicycle backward by sitting on the handlebars. He spent many hours mastering the unicycle. His grandsons still talk about his somersaulting over the back of the couch to sit down, even well into his 70s.
Flew fought many recent health battles and his last year was particularly difficult. But he never complained. The Latin motto of the RCAF is “ Per ardua ad astra” – “Through adversity to the stars.” Flew is now among the stars.
By David Flewelling, Gareth’s son.