Fifty-seven is too young to die. And when you’re taken away on the verge of retirement after decades of selfless service, it’s all the harder for others to accept.
In everything that I’ve read about the death of Tim Jones, paramedic and iconic head of the North Shore search and rescue team, it’s been the many references to the free time he hoped to soon have with his wife, Lindsay, that has made his death from an apparent heart attack seem all the more cruel and unfair.
Mr. Jones, it was noted, was looking forward to leaving his stressful career with the B.C. Ambulance Service and stepping back from his volunteer life with North Shore search and rescue so he could spend more time with the woman he’s admitted on many occasions gave up so much in the name of his singular passion for helping others. Who knows how many lives Ms. Jones helped save indirectly thanks to her unwavering support of her husband’s extraordinary, selfless pursuit.
Almost as heartbreaking was the picture posted on Facebook by Mr. Jones’s son Curtis, whom his father lured into the volunteer search and rescue world a decade earlier. It shows the two of them in a helicopter en route to a rescue at Pitt Lake. “Me and the old man saving lives,” it said. “Gonna miss you dad.”
One day the Jones family will be able to put this cruel loss in gentle perspective. Yes, 57 is far too young to leave this world. But what a 57 years it was, especially the second half of it when Tim Jones got up every day to do what he loved, to live his passion and help people in the process. Others may live longer lives, but few will live fuller ones.
I would never pretend to say I knew Tim Jones well, but we did speak on a few occasions.
The reflections of those who knew him much better seem in keeping with the man I talked to, one who was no-nonsense, all-business, someone toughened by all that he’d seen in the course of his day job as a paramedic and his volunteer rescue ventures. He was smart and an unrelenting pragmatist.
He persuaded me on an issue that I was sure I was right about – fining people who had to be rescued while skiing or hiking in restricted areas. I didn’t believe it was fair that people who had so defiantly ignored signs of trouble should get a free pass when it came to covering the cost of their rescue, which almost always was in the thousands of dollars.
While Mr. Jones certainly shared my frustration with the “meatheads” who made these decisions, often repeatedly, he feared that levying fines or telling people they’d have to reimburse the search forces for their costs would only persuade some to hesitate in seeking help, a decision that could be fatal. Given that he knew far more about the psychology of those who did such things, I acquiesced to his wisdom.
You can tell by the visceral reaction to his death how much Tim Jones meant to people. Darrell Mussatto, the mayor of the City of North Vancouver who knew Mr. Jones for 30 years and was trained as a paramedic by him, can’t talk about the loss of his dear friend without breaking down. He’s not the only one.
They will gather at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver on Saturday to celebrate Tim Jones’ life. I’m not sure it will be big enough to hold all of those who want to say a final goodbye. Mr. Jones took part in 1,600 rescues during his time with the volunteer organization he built into one of the finest in the world. There are people walking the streets today only because of the sacrifices he and his amazing team made.
While many of us were sleeping, or hunkered down in front of a fire, or sitting down with our families to a roast beef dinner, Tim Jones was often hanging from a helicopter or traipsing through snow-covered woods, his face and hands near frozen, looking for some poor, scared lost soul. And most of the time he and his teammates found him.
It takes a remarkable person to do that. Tim Jones was a volunteer who didn’t just do the work, he made the work.
Someone once said that a man with calloused hands is a man with a soft heart. That was Tim Jones. And he will be sorely missed.
To his grief-stricken family, a community sends its condolences. To his heart-broken fellow volunteers – carry on, make him proud. There is no greater way to show him how much he meant to you.
Follow me on Twitter: @garymasonglobe