Husband, great-grandfather, teacher, historian, first-class carpenter. Born May 2, 1917, in Lansdowne, Ont., died May 5, 2013, in Kingston after a fall, aged 96.
Bolt grew up on a farm in Leeds County during the Depression. The son of a teacher and a dairy farmer, he had deep local roots and often described himself as an “old farm boy” despite the many paths he travelled in his 96 years.
As the first of his family to attend university, Bolt was proud to be a Queen’s graduate. When he took up crocheting after retirement, he presented his first grandchild with a hand-crocheted poncho in the Queen’s colours.
He met his cherished Kathleen, a fellow Queen’s grad and teacher at Stouffville High School in 1945. Their marriage and shared loyalty to Queen’s lasted 56 years until Kathleen’s death in 2003. The J. Bolton and Kathleen Slack Scholarship is their legacy to their alma mater.
A passion for learning and teaching fuelled Bolt’s 42-year career in education, beginning in a one-room schoolhouse at Poole’s Resort on the St. Lawrence River and ending as director of the Frontenac County School Board.
A quick wit and a voracious appetite for knowledge kept Bolt feeling young. He loved the company of young people, and was always open to new ideas. Arranging a dinner for his granddaughter and her university friends, he inquired, “Are you eating meat these days?” To her response of “Yes, Grandpa, I’m eating meat, just not much red meat,” he quipped: “Fine, then. Whatever we’re having we’ll marinate it in bleach.”
Bolt could spend hours in hardware stores, usually with a child at his side to listen and learn. His workshops were places of wonder. He’d often emerge, redolent with sawdust and grease, with a proud child behind him bursting with the story of how something had been fixed or built.
Bolt jumped at any opportunity to drive a willing passenger around the back roads of Leeds County, recounting family lore and relying on a dashboard-mounted spinning compass to guide his way. Proud of his Loyalist heritage and a historian to the core, he left no plaque unread, no battlefield unexplained and few cedar fences or family gravestones unphotographed.
His intrepid spirit and curiosity made Bolt the ideal travel companion. While in Ireland in his 87th year, he set off across a peat bog intent on discovering the meaning of a cairn high on a hill. Neither a lost shoe nor a sprained ankle would keep him from his goal.
At 88, while on vacation with two younger generations in Cuba, he remarked one morning that he would like to try parasailing. That afternoon, his family watched from the beach as a high-flying Bolt reminded us yet again that you are only as old as you feel.
With an independent streak entrenched by the Depression, Bolt was gracious yet insistent in declining help. It was this self-sufficiency, some might say stubbornness, that led him to drag a grapefruit tree he’d nurtured from a seed outside for its annual pruning this spring. A fall, a deep sleep and a quiet goodbye followed.
As with any good teacher, Bolt’s lessons live on. Work hard. Do right by others. Set high standards for yourself. Be curious, gracious, kind and humble. Laugh often and live well.
Janey Bates is Bolt’s daughter; Heather and Ian Bates are Bolt’s grandchildren.