Craftsman, innovator, wristwatch repairman, great-grandfather. Born Nov. 17, 1917, in Ottawa, died March 20, 2013, in Ottawa of a ruptured aneurysm, aged 95.
Even as a child, Conrad wanted to know how things worked. His mother once said: “Conrad takes apart everything he can get his hands on. Fortunately, he always puts things back together again, and they often work better than when they were new.”
Graduating from Ottawa Technical High School with a diploma as a tool and instrument maker, Conrad soon found himself employed at the National Research Council. He was told the pay wasn’t good but the work was quite interesting. He chose interest over money.
He rapidly became the go-to expert for projects requiring a high degree of precision. His machining skills and knowledge of materials enabled him to execute difficult designs others thought impossible. His colleagues called him “the man with the golden hands.” The tools and devices he made were not only functional and precise, but beautiful – works of art.
During his 39 years at the NRC, Conrad contributed to research and innovations that touched the lives of millions. Prototype surgical tools were among his greatest contributions: an artery-splicing tool, a probe for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease were among them.
His family also benefited from his talent. His four children knew that if one of their toys or bicycles broke he would always be able to fix it. And his 11 grandchildren all received at least one toy made for them with his own hands, whether it was a rocking horse or a gigantic wooden soldier.
He loved clocks. As he was raising his family, he would repair wristwatches to make some extra money, and all his relatives knew where they could get a broken watch fixed for nothing. His home featured dozens of clocks: grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, desk clocks, wall-mounted clocks, the list goes on. Winding all them was a weekly production he observed religiously until he became too frail in his last years.
Conrad was determined to make decisions for himself rather than conform to the times. While he was on the cutting edge of the mechanical innovations of the mid-20th century, he showed no interest in the digital revolution that followed. In the early 1980s, his family bought him a Commodore Vic-20 computer. It sat on a shelf opposite his watch repair desk, ignored, except when his grandchildren played with it.
A devout Catholic, he was a man of faith. He was also deeply logical: At age 90, he concluded he was no longer sharp enough to drive, and so he stopped. Nobody had to pry the keys out of his hands.
A prized family possession is the metronome Conrad made to sit on the piano of his beloved wife of 69 years, Cécile. And like the metronome, there was a rhythm to everything he did, whether it was working on a watch or shovelling snow: steady, quiet, yet self-assured, neither too fast nor too slow. And in his careful, methodical way, he left the world working just a little bit better than when he found it.
Jules Meunier is Conrad’s son; Daniel Kitts is Conrad’s grandson.