Businessman, people person, patriarch. Born on Sept. 11, 1921, in New Westminster, B.C.; died on April 14, 2016, in Maple Ridge, B.C., of a head injury sustained in a fall, aged 94.
Ken was a planner, and liked to be in charge. Efficient and organized, he charted a fine life for himself and his family. At the end of his life, he was independent, happy and still living according to his plan.
Of course, not everything went as scheduled. The Second World War interrupted his university studies. He enlisted in the RCAF as a navigator and ended up flying missions off Canada’s East Coast. It was at the officer’s mess in Sydney, N.S., that he met his future wife, Audrey Churchill, also an RCAF member.
After the war Ken earned his commerce degree from the University of British Columbia, married Audrey, and joined William M. Mercer Ltd. as its fourth employee, designing pension plans. For two decades he worked in Vancouver, while he and Audrey raised their four children (John, Trish, Peter and Colleen) in nearby New Westminster. By 1969, Ken had become president of Mercer and moved the head office to Toronto. His pension planning experience allowed him to retire comfortably at 58.
While serving with the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation and visiting family and friends, Ken and Audrey travelled widely in Europe, Australia, India, Nepal. Audrey was diagnosed with MS in 1967 and she and Ken were active volunteers for the Canadian and international MS societies, Audrey working with patient services committees and Ken on finance and fundraising committees.
Undaunted by new technology, Ken became adept at using computers and the Internet. He embraced e-mail and iTunes, filed his taxes and managed investments online, maintained an electronic version of his family tree, and created many, many lists.
Later he used the Web to research retirement residences, ensuring a seamless transition to the next phase of his plan, first at the Bradgate Arms in Toronto with Audrey before her passing in 2008, and later at a residence in Langley, B.C., where he was joined by his friend Phyllis Marie Pierce. The widow of one of Ken’s closest Mercer colleagues, she had her own apartment at Langley Gardens and was Ken’s constant companion there until her death in 2014.
Ken loved a party. While nothing pleased him more than hosting family and friends, he relished opportunities to include outsiders. As a young executive, he often travelled to Mercer’s expanding global network of offices. Occasionally, he surprised Audrey by inviting for dinner interesting people he had just met on the plane. At his many parties, he was the consummate host – making introductions, stimulating conversation, flirting with the ladies, always with a twinkle in his eye and gin-on-ice in hand.
Despite his social nature, Ken preferred not to waste words: letters were succinct; telephone calls were short and to the point. He delighted in printing out e-mails from one of his grandsons, using a red pen to strike out what he deemed were unnecessary words or phrases. Overt displays of affection were never his forte, despite his genuine warmth and easy chuckles. Frustrated by years of birthday cards and letters that were signed simply “Ken,” one granddaughter presented him with a rubber stamp that read “Love, Grandpa.”
At 94, he was as he had been throughout his life: a strong and generous spirit, devoted to his family and alert to changes in the wider world.
Trish Macgowan is Ken’s daughter; Rob Macgowan is his grandson.
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