Scientist, rancher, husband, father, “zaddik.” Born Dec. 14, 1930, in Montreal, died Oct. 30, 2012, in Richmond, B.C., of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, aged 81.
Dick never knew how to be anything but authentic. He didn’t take short-cuts, and he was the kind of guy who used his turn signals in a parking lot.
From his deep love for his wife and family to his practice of progressive Catholicism, he lived his life being the best he could be every day.
Dick grew up in Montreal with his summers spent on the shores of Lake Memphremagog. It was there, in the fields of southern Quebec, that he was introduced to farming, often lending a hand hauling the local milk cart.
In the latter years of high school, he took a summer ranch job in the Okanagan Valley. There, he met Elly. It was 1948: a boy, a girl, a country road, two bicycles and a box of Cracker Jack. By the end of that meeting they were an item, and they married five years later.
Professionally, Dick became an internationally recognized plant pathologist whose home base was Agriculture Canada’s Vancouver Research Station.
However, it was in the fields of the world’s developing nations that he made his mark, dedicating himself to strengthening the work of local scientists so they could improve their region’s harvests. Many farmers and their families owe their livelihood to the work of Dick and his colleagues.
He was a scientist’s scientist. Professional accolades were bountiful, but Dick avoided the spotlight. Once, in the 1980s, he was chairman of a global meeting of plant pathologists in Montreal, a role that earned him the rights to a deeply discounted suite in the finest downtown hotel. He preferred, instead, to stay in the McGill University dormitories so he could more closely associate with his colleagues.
Dick was perpetually curious. During family road trips, he would often pull the car over and wander through fields in search of an elusive plant virus. Family dinners were regularly interrupted when he would leave the table and fetch an encyclopedia to better inform our conversations.
His love for the outdoors took him and his family on summer camping trips throughout the Pacific Northwest, replete with campfires, s’mores and little notes stuck inside tree trunks for his kids to find the following year.
He left the mud from wilderness trips on the station wagon until the Vancouver rain washed it away.
Dick was generous with time and spirit. He campaigned door-to-door for local charities and was often sought out for personal guidance. He was welcomed into homes and lives because he cared.
In a eulogy, one of Dick’s scientific colleagues described him using the Hebrew word “zaddik” – a term that denotes a rare, sometimes legendary, individual who cares greatly for those who are deprived. A zaddik will travel to faraway places to seek out needy human beings and help them solve their problems.
Dick’s care for the needy showed through his work and his life. He would be quietly honoured to have been called a zaddik.
Jim Hamilton is Dick’s son.