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Joe McLaughlin.Calum Tsang/Courtesy of family

Joe McLaughlin: Reader. Traveller. Father. Conversationalist. Born May 21, 1935, in Glasgow, Scotland; died May 7, 2021, in Toronto, of chronic heart disease; aged 85.

Joe McLaughlin was born in a two-room tenement house in the Gorbals, on the south side of Glasgow, the fourth child in a family of six. Growing up in the Gorbals was tough, and an older sister died of meningitis because the doctor needed money upfront. Joe always told this story with a few choice Glaswegian expletives – he never forgot how it felt to be that poor.

He had good stories, too. His Granny encouraged him to read. She gave him a list of books to find in the library and would ask about them each week over supper. Through books, Joe saw opportunities beyond Glasgow. He left school at age 15, as was common then for someone of his background, but he pursued an apprenticeship as a millwright and machinist.

Joe later applied to an instrumentation firm in London, England and moved down with a friend. When he was older, he would laugh about how he would go to illegal dice games and spend one or two nights in jail when they were busted by the vice squad.

Joe returned to Glasgow with his London earnings and met his future wife, Kathleen, at one of the many dance halls. They shared the same sense of humour and openness to adventure. In 1959, they travelled to Australia and married in Melbourne in 1960. Kathleen and Joe enjoyed the weather, had two children and would recall the gorgeous lamb roasts they ate in Australia throughout their lives. By 1964, they found it hard to be so far from home and returned to Scotland by ship.

Joe found work at a nuclear power plant and lived in Saltcoats, Scotland, and two more children were born. But Joe felt better opportunities lay outside Scotland and applied for a job in Fort McMurray, Alta., with good pay and a fast track to Canadian immigration. The family of four arrived in the winter of 1968 and lived in a trailer park set up for oil-industry workers. The isolation, cramped living conditions and limited facilities were tough on them. After six months, Joe found a job at a pulp mill in Gibson’s, B.C., and Kathleen was much happier on the Sunshine Coast.

While Kathleen and the kids enjoyed the scenery and weather in B.C., Joe took jobs in Nova Scotia and Libya. After yet another move to Whitby, Ont., he took a job in the Dominican Republic intending to move his family there but their youngest son had enough of rental homes and moving. The couple finally bought a house in Sarnia, Ont. After living there a year, their youngest daughter was born and Joe settled into work in the Chemical Valley. He walked five kilometres to work every day to save money on bus fare.

Joe enjoyed a good political argument and could be relied upon to always take the opposite view, much to Kathleen’s frustration. He was even known to switch sides if you agreed with him! But he also loved long conversations with his children and (eventually) grandchildren about their friends and hobbies.

Kathleen and Joe separated in 1987 and stayed friends, presiding over family gatherings together. In later years, when Kathleen developed dementia, he continued to visit her until she died.

On his own, Joe adapted well, learning to cook and keep house with the same efficiency and organization he brought to his jobs.

After retirement, he continued travelling. He was a master of casual chat. He’d launch into conversation with anyone, asking, “Where are you from?” – always hoping to hear about somewhere he’d been or somewhere he planned to go. Wherever he went, by 4 o’clock he would be in a pub or tavern enjoying the local beer and conversation.

In his later years, Joe wasn’t up to travelling but he continued to read voraciously. He had multiple lists of books to read and when his family dropped by he always said, “I’ve got a good book for you!”

Siobhan McLaughlin is Joe’s youngest daughter.

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