Husband, father, musician, soccer aficionado, poet, daring greatly personified. Born on Nov. 27, 1928, in Portsmouth, England, died on Jan. 3, 2013, in Oakville, Ont., from complications from surgery, aged 83.
Roy, as he was known on this side of the pond, was the youngest child of three born to Gladys and Albert Hills, a submarine chief stoker in the Royal Navy. Les, as he was known on the other side of the pond, was able to play music by ear. From an early age he played the accordion, spending weekends in local cinemas, taking requests to “earn a few bob,” showing early signs of his “daring greatly.” He was never far from a keyboard, taking requests.
Roy’s life was profoundly changed by the loss of his father, a crew member on the HMS Thetis, which went down during sea trials on June 1, 1939, killing 99 of 103 men onboard. The Second World War came immediately afterward, and at the age of 12, Roy was sent to live with relatives in the countryside to avoid the bombing raids on Portsmouth, a key British naval base. He always managed to “escape,” walking and stowing away on buses for 40 kilometres to get back to his family, the emergence of his “daring greatly.”
Roy then left school to work in the Portsmouth dockyards to help support his family. Surviving several near misses from German air raids, he went on to serve in the British Army as part of the occupying forces in Berlin. He later served in the Korean War, before immigrating to Toronto in the late 1950s. These adventures were the subject of many stories Roy would later tell, speaking for surprisingly long periods of time, with minimal, if any pauses.
In 1960, on his way back to Canada after a visit home, he met Ann Viger on board the SS Homeric, and after two hours, promptly proposed. He moved from Toronto to Montreal to be with Ann, however, being Anglican and foreign rendered him completely unacceptable to her Catholic conservative parents. He swept her away to Vancouver (for maximum geographic effect) to avoid her disapproving parents, again daring greatly.
They returned to Montreal in 1963 and went on to have four kids within five years, she a nurse, he a middle manager, living a Wonder Years existence in a suburb of Montreal.
Roy was a devoted, hands-on dad, who taught his kids to stand up for what was right and not be afraid of anyone, no matter how “big” they were. He told them that they could be whatever they wanted to be, as long as they were happy – these daring greatly lessons taking place at family dinners in a bungalow that was too small for his large brood.
He built rooms (without building permits) so that his growing kids could have their own bedrooms, taking up large parts of the unfinished basement, where he played indoor hockey and soccer with his kids – and every kid in the neighbourhood. (The lack of permits, and associated inspections, resulted in the family home burning down from faulty wiring in the late 1990s, long after they had moved to Oakville.) For 11 years, he was the face of the Pointe Claire Amateur Soccer Association, serving as coach, referee, referee-in-chief and then president.
He adored his wife, Ann, to the day he passed, living a 53-year romance that belonged in movies. He wrote rhyming poems for everyone’s birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and passings. This is an unrhyming poem to a great life lived.
Linda Hills is Roy’s daughter.