Gentleman, engineer’s engineer, devoted family man and friend. Born March 1, 1939, on the Isle of Wight, England; died April 1, 2013, in Toronto of complications from cancer-related surgery, aged 74.
Brian Rolfe’s humble approach to life was shaped by his modest beginnings. One of four children of Arthur and Marjorie Rolfe, he was born just before the start of the Second World War. As such, he and his siblings knew all about rations – food, clothing and, hardest of all, sweets. They could make a piece of chocolate last a week. As kids, he and his older brother would collect bits of bombs and shells along the seashore as souvenirs.
Growing up on a farm with no power or indoor facilities, and having to walk or cycle everywhere, had a lasting impact on Brian’s life. He built a rustic cottage (mainly with hand tools) in Dorset, Ont., in 1966, and hiked the entire Bruce Trail from Niagara to Tobermory, Ont., over the span of three years with his wife, Margaret.
Brian’s first job in England was as an apprentice electrician at the age of 15. He and his boss travelled from job to job on their bicycles, with coils of cable and bags of tools hung on the handlebars. This led to the completion of his studies in electrical engineering on scholarship at Kingston Technical College, further apprenticeship at General Electric Co. in Coventry, and a prized job in Canada.
In the 49 years to follow, Brian worked for Ferranti-Packard, Litton Systems, Ontario Hydro and Atomic Energy of Canada. He was a senior engineer, and chaired the Canadian Standards Association. As an expert in his field, in 2011 he earned an award in recognition of his work on safety standards in the nuclear industry. He attempted retirement several times, only to return as a consultant to the very end.
Brian and Margaret immigrated to Toronto in January, 1964, days after they were married and in the midst of a Canadian winter. The snow struck a chord with Brian. He soon bought downhill skis for cross-country trails, then discovered that ski gear was sport specific. Nevertheless, he mastered cross-country skiing, became president of a ski club, participated in many races and taught his young family to ski. On his last winter trip to the Rockies, he skied in freezing temperatures, smiling all the way.
Over the years, Brian came to appreciate the finer things in life, especially a good red wine and meaningful conversation. He always had the best interest at heart for his children, Michael and Helen, except for the odd impossible request, like not to get sand in the car on beach holidays.
Brian challenged his four grandchildren with math problems that only an engineer could contrive. He enjoyed sketching, an interest he inherited from his father and passed on. A mild-mannered adventurer, he embraced nature. Like a true Brit, he loved his garden and the theatre. Although he maintained his English accent, he became quite the Canadian.
In his final days, Brian instilled peace of mind among his family members, ensuring they would take to heart the Rolfe motto: Post nubila, phoebus. After clouds, sunshine.
Helen Rolfe is Brian’s daughter.