His golfing partners were thrilled when Makonnen (Mak) Kassa showed up at the Stratford Country Club in Stratford, Ont., for the start of the 2008 season. When they had last seen him a few months earlier in the hospice of a Kitchener hospital, Mak was so weakened by lymphoma that no one expected him to live much longer. No one, that is, except Mak.
His family and friends had him around for an extra two years, which Evelyn, his wife of 26 years, called "a tremendous blessing."
Mak's passions were his family and golf, but as a youth in Ethiopia he was a skilled soccer player. Mak recalled being presented with a medal by Emperor Haile Selassie after leading his team to a championship. "Your father must be very proud of you," the emperor told him. Both his father and grandfather served the emperor, his father as a senior civil servant and his grandfather as an imperial bodyguard who, Mak remembered, toted a machine gun on a mule.
Mak left Ethiopia in 1963 to study in Sweden. Because of political unrest in his homeland, he never returned. He immigrated to Canada in 1967, worked his way through the University of Waterloo and embarked on a career at the university as a hardware expert in the information systems and technology department. He married Evelyn Schnarr in 1984, and daughter Sarah was born in Kitchener. Mak also enjoyed a close relationship with his son Samuel from a previous marriage. His daughter from that marriage, Hana, died in an automobile accident in 1988 at 23, devastating Mak and the family.
Following his retirement from the university after 23 years, Mak's passion for golf flowered. He joined the Stratford club and three days a week would make the 40-minute drive from Kitchener to compete with his buddies. He was enthusiastic and competent but as with all golfers, the golf ball didn't always go where he intended. In his baggy shorts, Mak would stare in disbelief and mutter, "Oh no!" as the ball disappeared into the woods. It was the best he could do at expressing exasperation. Profanity was not part of his vocabulary. But Mak's chagrin was always short-lived. Mostly, his companions remember his broad smile and infectious laugh.
In addition to the lymphoma, Mak battled diabetes and a heart condition that often left him flagging on the golf course. But he never complained and never once failed to complete a round. In Mak's world, you finished what you started. He finished his last round in the fall of 2009.
Mak's circle of admirers extended well beyond his loving family. He was proof that golf can still be a gentleman's game.
Allan Dickie, Ray Stanton, David Hirschorn, Dick Sneddon and Mike Ryan were Mak's golfing partners.