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Gordon R. Emslie: Cricketer. Psychologist. Tinkerer. Libertarian. Born June 30, 1940, in Aberbeen, Scotland; died Aug. 22, 2021, in Toronto, of Alzheimer’s disease; aged 81.

Gordon R. EmslieCourtesy of family

In 1963, Gordon, a 23-year-old Scotsman, was offered a lucrative teaching post at a posh English university on the condition that he accept immediately, no questions asked. Armed with three MAs – German, French and psychology – and a postgraduate diploma in psychology from the University of London, refusal seemed unthinkable. But Gordon, unable to ignore the administration’s haughtiness, quickly declined and was told he’d never teach in England. One month later he immigrated to Canada – a wildly disproportionate response to a bad interview.

That was Gordon. He loved London, but the paperwork he valued the most came from Kingston, Ont.: a rent receipt for his first apartment addressed, “Dear Mr. Scotch (sic) Boy”; the PhD in psychology from Queen’s University; an obituary clipping from 1966. The Kingston Whig-Standard erroneously announced his marriage, to Judith Rosemary Cafley, under the title: “Death and Funerals.” The absurdity of a marriage announcement printed in the obituaries perfectly signified Gordon’s sensibility and demeanour. A charming libertarian, he was quick to send up anything that hinted of classism. He mocked media coverage of the Royal Family; he decried his sister Moyra’s voice mail. British Telecom programmed it to talk in a fancy London accent, oblivious to its locale: Aberdeen.

Gordon was a born sportsman. He captained hockey and cricket teams for Robert Gordon’s College and the University of Aberdeen and extended his career in both sports with Ruthrieston H.C., the Scottish Select Team and London University; and Gordonians C.C. and Aberdeenshire C.C., respectively. He dropped down to one sport when, in Canada, he discovered hockey was played on ice. In 1965, Gordon played with the Kingston Cricket Club and met Judith at one of the many team parties. He captained the team in 1968 and often led the Ottawa Valley Cricket League in scoring.

By the early 1970s, Gordon and Judith had two sons, Ritchie and Andrew. The young family moved to Guelph, Kitchener and settled in Etobicoke, where Gordon selflessly allowed Ritchie to destroy his bamboo-lined cricket pads playing road hockey. Also selfless: driving his son to hockey practice, collapsed in pain over the steering wheel, instead of going directly to the hospital. It took Gordon weeks to recover from the kidney stone surgery.

The family took several trips to Scotland to visit Gordon’s family – perhaps to avoid picking up the phone. Gordon hated telephones. A child from a phone-less house, he was far more comfortable crafting intricate letters, dictating adventures on cassette tapes, even reciting Address to a Haggis on Burns Night.

In retirement, he was thrilled to cheer on his grandson, Luca, playing hockey and baseball. He was in constant amazement of the team spirit, athletic facilities and opportunity. His face would light up.

Gordon was a tinkerer. Old cabinet drawers, lockboxes and peanut butter jars were drilled, hinged and bolted into complex contraptions holding three generations of tools. In his workshops, wild turkey feathers were hollowed out and made into pens. Scotch bottle caps were filled with concrete and used as chess pieces. And letters were carefully burned into driftwood signs.

The latter were for the paths at the cottage, named Stonehaven. He had a panache for path making and the names he etched into the signs were more often than not in Doric, a dialect unique to the Northeast of Scotland: Ceilidh Place, Ben Doric, Bothy Brae, Union Street (a thoroughfare in Aberdeen) and Lower Union Street (in Kingston where Gordon and Judith first shared a home). There are 14 signs. At least two are missing. Every so often I find a new one and rescue it from the moss and mushrooms.

Echoing his marriage notice, the venue hosting his memorial sent an e-mail to Gordon’s widow congratulating her on their recent wedding engagement. I’m sure Gordon somehow orchestrated this.

I can hear his laugh.

Ritchie Emslie is Gordon’s son.

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