Husband, father, son, brother, friend, dog lover, Canadian Foreign Service officer, appreciator of life. Born Feb. 17, 1959, in London, Ont. Died Nov. 21, 2011, in Ottawa, Ont. of sudden cardiac arrest, aged 52.
“Life is good,” Michael Rooney liked to say.
Despite a daunting medical history that he rarely spoke of, this gentle and generous man lived his own life as intensely as his heart would permit, and brightened a lot of others along the way.
Roon, as he was known, loved but could never play sports, and instead developed an encyclopedic knowledge, especially of baseball and hockey. He loved electronics and became a wizard with each new device that appeared.
He enjoyed early morning walks in Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Park with his dog Dunloe, and a late evening glass of wine. He read politics, practised his guitar, and applied a magic touch to the barbecue, and in the kitchen with his wife Jane. He almost never missed a hockey game if one of his boys was playing. He often disappeared for hours on shopping expeditions, eventually reappearing with surprises for Jane or one or another of their children, David, Sarah and Johnathan. And occasionally, he would campaign for a two- or three-day outing farther afield, including if possible a baseball game at Fenway or another of the famous ball parks.
Michael also collected friends, by the hundreds, in Canada and other parts of the world. Neighbours, relatives, colleagues, doctors, they all responded to his unusual blend of qualities: warmth, openness, decency, his gentle but sometimes devastating wit, and above all by his zest for life.
After graduating in economics from McMaster University in 1983, Michael went on to a 25-year career with the Canadian government, in Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Postings to Canadian consulates in Detroit and Boston were followed by a wide variety of assignments back in Ottawa, including director of Jean Chrétien’s Team Canada trade mission to Russia, and most recently as director of Canada-U.S. Transboundary Affairs. He worked hard, despised pomposity and respected deadlines and getting it right. He often served as a mentor to more junior members of staff.
Michael died in his sleep, suddenly and without warning. He had been regarded as a kind of medical miracle, but in the end it was as though his heart, struggling since birth, eventually had to give up. His medical condition was known as transposition of the great arteries. It necessitated open-heart surgery, ultimately on four occasions.
The first, at 4, was performed in Houston by heart surgeon Denton Cooley; the second, at 9, in Toronto by renowned Canadian surgeon William Mustard; the third, at 20, at the Mayo Clinic and the fourth, at 34, at the Massachusetts General in Boston, where Michael was a patient for three months while working at the consulate.
Back in Canada in 1996, Michael developed a close relationship with the doctors at the Ottawa Heart Institute, where Jane has established an endowment in his name.
Always conscious of his vulnerability, Michael chose his own burial site, just a few hundred yards from home. His spirit can now look directly down the street and keep an eye on the family he loved so much.
Gordon Minnes is Michael’s father-in-law.
Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly identified William Mustard. This version has been corrected.