Woodcarver, pastelist, birdwatcher, husband, great-grandfather. Born May 28, 1921, in Tolleshunt D’Arcy, England; died April 5, 2013, in White Rock, B.C., of natural causes, aged 91.
Having lived in every county in England before he turned 15 made it difficult to determine from his accent exactly where John was from. He was the youngest of nine children of Anne and George Osborne, who roamed all over England during John’s formative years in the 1920s and thirties searching for and seizing opportunities to buy bankrupt businesses. They would successfully nurture them back to health, sell them for profit, then move on.
John had a passion for flying. Through his Flying Club connections, at the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. John flew secret nighttime solo missions behind enemy lines carrying instructions from Whitehall to the resistance movement in Poland. Stories of harrowing escapes were numerous but not often repeated. John would quip, “Those were awful times – let’s talk about and live for today!”
In 1944, John married Irene, and in 1953, they immigrated to Canada with their two young sons, Christopher and Simon. The family settled in the Toronto area and John worked on the test phase and engine design for the production of the Avro Arrow fighter jet. In 1955, the family ventured north to Parry Sound, Ont., where John worked in the wooden boat building business. After five long, cold northern Ontario winters, he yearned for warmer climes, so the family moved west to the Victoria area.
Various vocations kept food on the table while their sons were growing up. In 1971, with the nest empty and his lifelong partner Irene steadfastly by his side, John took a job maintaining generators at the federal government’s fly-in remote weather stations on the west coast of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii. John wasn’t shy about referring to this part of his life as “my most favourite time to be alive!” He never tired of the natural beauty of their surroundings, the bird, animal and sea life and the raw power of Mother Nature as year-round storms ravaged the coast.
Life back in the Victoria area seemed tame after 13 years of remote living on the coast, but John settled into his retirement years enjoying trips to visit surviving family members in England and more time for his passions for woodcarving and pastel artwork. The photo albums from the eight-week vacation he and Irene took in 1985 to Hawaii, Fiji and Australia remained on the coffee table forever.
Like Irene, who predeceased him in 2005, John was raised a Christian and always had a special place in his heart for the less fortunate and downtrodden. He was a lifelong contributor to the Salvation Army and the Union Gospel Mission.
Those lucky enough to have known him were touched by his generosity of spirit, kindness and seemingly endless patience. As a father his repeated counsel was, “If you haven’t something good to say about someone, keep quiet!”
Simon Osborne is John’s son.