Dairy farmer, deacon, gardener, storyteller, husband, family patriarch. Born April 11, 1923, in Lindsay, Ont. Died Sept. 15, 2011, in Newmarket, Ont., of heart failure, aged 88.
Bill Callaghan developed a love of nature while growing up on the Callaghan dairy farm outside Lindsay, Ont. He could name every plant, tree, animal and rock on the property where he was raised, the eldest of six children of Thomas and Mary Callaghan.
Although Bill called Toronto home for most of his adult life, trips back to the farm were a return to his roots, a gathering of family and a demonstration of the circle of life.
Family factored largely in Bill’s life. Although he answered a call early on to join the Catholic priesthood, Bill heard a louder calling when he met Molly Mulligan. They married in 1950 and grew a family of 10 children: Judy, Cathie, Mike, Patty, Larry, Rose, Tom, Joe, Bob and Chris.
Bill had a way of discovering nature in everyday life, yet he made it seem extraordinary. For decades, he tended to his famed fruit and vegetable garden, which fed family and friends year-round.
He knew where every fishing hole was from here to Timbuktu. No fish ever seemed to get away, yet fishing was more for him – it was a microcosm of life. Bill was constantly casting out for those in need and reeling in the ones he could save.
He worked as superintendent of non-teaching personnel for many years with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
Bible Bill, as he became known after being ordained a deacon with the Catholic Church in 1980, would describe his role as being able to “hatch, match and dispatch.” Bill added his special touch to many family baptisms, marriages and burials. He acted as chaplain at Holy Cross Cemetery in Thornhill, Ont., and buried more than 3,600 people, donating any pay he received for his work.
To his children, Bill was a great storyteller – the first time around. But who could blame a man with 10 children, 35 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren for forgetting to whom he had told a tale? He was constantly boasting to friends about his family’s achievements, sometimes stretching their accomplishments for the benefit of a good story.
In truth, Bill’s achievements were the stuff of storytelling. When Bill and Molly went to work with first-nations communities across the country in the 1990s, the people of Sandy Lake in Northern Ontario gave him an Oji-Cree name that translated as “tireless old man.” They couldn’t believe what he could accomplish in a day, from community counselling to sowing crops in a harsh northern climate.
Even up to the end, Bill’s mind and hands were continually working. When doctors and nursing staff finally managed to get him to sleep, his hands were still moving putting imaginary hooks on fishing line. Today, his family continue to cast their lines out into the world, thanks to him.
By Mike and Chris Callaghan, Bill’s sons.