Daddy, classic car lover, karaoke master, philosopher. Born on June 13, 1963, in Buchans, Nfld.; died on Dec. 5, 2013, in Ottawa, of cancer, aged 50.
Karl Head was born being right. When he was small, his mother, Merrilyn, would say, “That’s not right, Karl,” to which he would reply, “But it could be.” The desire to be right fed a keen intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Karl could talk to anyone about any subject, be it math, physics, history or philosophy.
When Karl was 10, his family left Buchans, Nfld., moving across Canada throughout the next decade to mining communities where his father, Clarence, could find work. Karl was exceptionally close to his brothers Darrell, Guy and Greg, and sister Allison, perhaps in part because of this dislocation. He always felt a sense of belonging in Newfoundland, a sense reinforced upon a recent visit to Fogo Island where his adventurous English ancestors first settled.
He, too, loved adventure, becoming a scuba diver and skydiver, and getting the most of every moment of his travels to Australia, Europe and across Canada. Friends remember his wry sense of humour. A modest 5 foot 6, Karl described himself as “normal size” and would tell his taller friends that he also used to be over six feet, but the extra inches melted away in a hot shower.
In 2007, serendipity struck when Karl met his future wife, Kate, who was on a solo road trip to Newfoundland. Having spent the obligatory decade in Alberta’s oil and gas industry, he had returned to his home province and was working as a barkeep and karaoke master with a killer Rod Stewart impression. For their first date, they met at the Cape Bonavista lighthouse, Karl driving one of his beloved Triumph Spitfires, and they toured the “sunny side” of Bonavista Bay, from King’s Cove to Tickle Cove. After that day, they were never really apart. Karl moved across the country one more time, to join Kate in Ottawa.
A teetotalling Newfoundlander, which some might call an oxymoron, Karl’s vice-free living did not spare him from developing a rare form of head and neck cancer at age 46. He faced the unrelenting bad news with stoicism, while fighting hard to remain with his family.
Karl had earned his millwright certification after holding a wide variety of jobs, from gravedigger to squid fisherman. He was the epitome of handy. His palliative care physician recalls their first meeting when Karl said, “Give me any machine and I can fix it.” His body was the one thing he couldn’t fix.
His last summer was spent back in rural Stock Cove, Nfld., where brother Greg built him a “man cave” in his shed. Karaoke was sung, fireworks were set off for no reason. Karl spent time with his adored young son, Spencer, at the wharf he had helped to build. The wharf, damaged in a storm, was listing mightily, a metaphor for what was happening to Karl himself.
The descendant of miners, Karl extracted gold from his life and left his family with a rich legacy in Spencer. Karl believed in an afterlife loosely based on the law of conservation in physics. His family hopes he was right about that, too.
Kate Bryden is Karl’s wife and mother of Spencer, who is always right.