Grandfather, hat maker, gardener, ornithologist, storyteller. Born Nov. 23, 1927, in Toronto, died Nov. 24, 2012, in Belleville, Ont., of heart failure, aged 85.
Born in Toronto, Bob was the youngest of three children. From a very young age, he had an interest in wildlife, specifically ornithology. His first-edition copy of Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of North America was well-worn by the time he was 10, and he spent many afternoons at the Royal Ontario Museum pursuing this hobby.
Upon graduating from Royal Roads Academy in 1946, he was an inch shorter than he had been when he left Toronto: A gymnastics mishap had resulted in several agonizing months in a body cast. When they finally extricated him from the plaster, the doctors decided to fuse two vertebrae.
Bob’s interest in natural history extended to bats. One summer, he took his mother and his future wife, Muriel, on a scientific expedition to a mine near Craigmont, Ont. Being slightly mischievous and knowing the subject matter would not be greeted with enthusiasm, he did not disclose the purpose of the trip in advance. Decades later, Muriel was still vexed that she had to sit in the back seat all the way back to Toronto with a pail full of “those awful creatures.”
She married him anyway, and they moved to Belleville in 1949 to set up a new manufacturing facility for the hat business his father had started in Toronto in 1915.
Bob and Muriel had five children, along with several Labradors and two Siamese cats. He was a gifted storyteller, and anyone who knew Bob could sense a story coming on when his eyes started to twinkle and the corners of his mouth turned up at the sides. He travelled often for work and pleasure, trekking around parts of Asia, Mexico and Europe, shopping for interesting souvenirs and trying the local delicacies. Bob even water skied in a kimono. When quizzed about this anecdote, he explained that “it would not have been appropriate to wear anything else to water ski in Japan.”
After retirement, Bob honed his green thumb, growing remarkable roses and fussing over the lawn. Every spring, he anticipated the start-up of the municipal yard waste depot. On opening day, despite objections from both his cardiologist and his wife, he would load garbage cans of clippings on to the leather upholstery of his car and haul them away. Retirement also gave Bob the opportunity to teach his grandchildren to golf and take them birding.
The past few years were difficult for Bob as he watched Muriel’s decline due to Alzheimer’s. After receiving a pacemaker, he was told by his cardiologist not to drive for a week. Bob interpreted this to mean he wasn’t to drive his car but his lawn tractor was still “fair game.” He started driving his tractor the two kilometres to the nursing home for their daily visits.
Bob had a wonderful birthday party and went to sleep that night, never to wake up. He would have enjoyed the assembly of family and friends for his funeral: It was a wonderful opportunity to retell old stories.
Mary-Catherine Lanning is Bob’s granddaughter.