Husband, grandfather, fearless adventurer, green thumb. Born Nov. 19, 1936, in Niha, Lebanon, died July 3, 2013, in Toronto of Alzheimer’s disease, aged 76.
Born in a small community in Lebanon, the sixth of 10 children in his family, Nawaf had a small-village heart but a big-city entrepreneurial spirit.
At age 14, he showed his resourcefulness when he bartered a load of vegetables for a decrepit moped, which he fixed up and used to get to agriculture school 10 kilometres from his home. He eventually became a forest ranger in the mountains.
Nawaf met his wife and best friend, Jeanette, through a school friend who happened to be Jeanette’s brother. He would go over to his friend’s house, and while they played backgammon he would have his eye on Jeanette, and she on him. It was love from afar until one day Nawaf stealthily persuaded his friend to leave the room and seized a moment with his future wife. That moment turned into 44 years.
Nawaf’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to sell clothing, dabble in real estate and start a fish farm – all successes. But this was Lebanon during a civil war, and highs were met with lows. The family home was robbed three times, and the fish farm was occupied and poisoned by the Syrian army. Nawaf was also carjacked with a gun to his head while his two young sons were with him. They were dropped in the middle of nowhere, and he was told to say goodbye to his sons. When one of the boys ran and hugged his leg, the criminals told Nawaf he was lucky and let them go.
Refuge became a priority, and when Nawaf was 50, he and Jeanette moved to Canada for a better life with their four children. Learning a new language, immersing himself in a new culture and leaving his Lebanese government job to work in Canada in golf-course maintenance highlighted his strength, selflessness, determination and sacrifice for his children.
To understand his new home, Nawaf rode subways and buses to the ends of their routes and back. Within two months, he knew the city well. He was an adventurer, and loved discovery. He always pushed his kids to go out and explore. Family road trips were a given.
He loved dance and music, and always enjoyed a good laugh, a game of backgammon, and discussions on current affairs.
Nawaf did not let hardships get him down. It’s no wonder that Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy became a favourite song. He always found a way to see the good in life and to enjoy at least a moment or two in his day, whether it was with family or outside tending his vegetable garden.
Though Alzheimer’s took his memory, mobility and communication from him, his family and friends will cherish their adventures and conversations with him for a lifetime.
Marie Goldwater is Nawaf’s daughter.