Husband, father, friend. Born Sept. 28, 1937, in London, Ont. Died Sept. 12, 2011, in Dunrobin, Ont., of multiple myeloma, aged 73.
When people asked John Macdonald how he spelled his name, he would quip with a wide smile, “Not like the hamburger, just like Sir John A.”
Indeed, had John, like his namesake, ever been inclined to run for office, he would have been elected in a landslide. That smile, his down-to-earth understanding of the complex and the simple, his common sense and genuine nature inspired all who knew him. John could always see his path. He lived life on his own terms, but with an abiding sense of fairness, honesty and concern for others.
John was the middle of three children of Gwen and James Macdonald. He spent his early years on the farm in Kerwood, Ont., before moving with his family to London, Ont.
The devoted husband of Gisèle and loving father of Matthew and Stephanie, John was a meat-and-potatoes sort of man. He ate more slowly than anyone at the table; eating was just an excuse for talking, storytelling and celebrating family and friends. To be a friend of John’s was to be a family member – he could always be counted on. During the 1998 ice storm, with his own home on a generator, John drove for hours to Gatineau Park in Quebec to deliver firewood to a friend.
John approached his 42-year career with the same sense of dedication and purpose. He began and ended it as an employee of Metropolitan Life Insurance. Promoted to the Canadian head office in Ottawa in 1967, he was the first at Met Life to implement a strategy to recruit women for field investigations. There were opportunities for him in the New York head office, but John’s choice was to stay where he was – at home. He ended his career there in 1998 as director of human resources.
John worked with Gisèle to improve every square centimetre of their acreage in Dunrobin, Ont. Whether he was mowing it on his vintage, work-in-progress tractor, laying tile and interlock paths across it, or installing a fence post to keep curious neighbourhood cows from straying in, John relished his time and place.
In his retirement, he spent many hours painstakingly tiling anything he could put ceramic on. He loved the exactitude of line and measure and his work was art.
At the end of August, after three months of increasing pain, John was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Family and friends who had not seen him recently were shocked to get a telephone call from Gisèle telling them that John was dying and he wanted to see them. When they came, his voice was as strong and sure as ever. He shared memories, spoke dispassionately of his illness and described this time in his life as a “window of opportunity.”
John saw himself as an ordinary man who did what any average guy would do – wait his turn, put the needs of others first, hold the door open, never raise his voice and know when the jig is up. He was extraordinary though, and will be missed by all who knew him.
Jim and Janna Fox are John’s friends.