Great-grandfather, town planner, watercolorist, ballroom dancer, cyclist. Born Oct. 7, 1919, in Manchester, England; died May 24, 2013, in Niagara Falls, Ont., of illnesses due to old age, at 93.
Days before he died, Alec Greaves had five heart attacks in seven hours. After the third one, the ICU head nurse asked for a review of his orders, which did not include a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR). I agreed to ask him if, given his precarious situation, he wanted to change that, knowing he would likely refuse. I was right. His vigorous “No” was heard at the nursing desk.
Alec was a survivor. An avowed “non-conformist” Methodist and a conscientious objector, he opted to volunteer in advance of the Second World War in order to secure a non-combat role.
On D-Day, he was dumped from an invading vessel into the waters of the English Channel with a 40-pound pack on his back. A non-swimmer, Alec watched as a friend, an expert swimmer, was pulled under by his pack and drowned. Alec somehow made it to shore and survived seven years in the British Army’s Medical Corps, taking nightly risks to find food for his unit and to reconnoiter in enemy territory. “Doing a recce” became his standard phrase when surveying a situation, and he developed a lasting love of tough, cracker-like food items that resembled Army-issue hardtack.
In 1956, Alec and his wife, Rene Price, whom he had met as a teenager at a Methodist youth group, immigrated to Canada with their two young children, Ian and Lorraine. He went on to become a town planner in Ottawa, Hamilton and, by 1964, Niagara, and worked as a consultant on low-income housing developments. He believed in getting more people more access to affordable housing, green space, shoreline, views, walking trails, parks, public radio and free culture.
Alec was a rebel. Not one to follow the rules, he set up camp on a traffic circle of the New York State Thruway on the way to a family camping holiday in the Adirondacks in 1957. Being English and new to North America, he felt that camping on public space was justified and should be available to all. New York State troopers disagreed, and my brother and I were squashed in the back seat of a Morris Minor with four half-full air mattresses, balancing hot pans of bacon and eggs on our laps, as we left the traffic circle under police escort at 8 a.m.
With world travel, watercolour painting and teaching art, Alec’s retirement was full and active. His circle of devoted family and friends was no more evident than at his 90th birthday party, which he singlehandedly organized, hosting 70 guests at a dinner and dance overlooking Niagara Falls. It was a heady night, with wonderful tributes.
But within three months, while in Florida to teach an art class, Alec fell and acquired a brain injury that many would have succumbed to in the first 24 hours. A neurosurgeon asked his family for a DNR, but knowing Alec, we refused. He survived that too, and went on to give us the privilege of loving and caring for him for another three and a half years, surviving until the end.
Lorraine Greaves is Alec’s daughter.
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