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lives lived

Brian Fawcett: Writer. Father. Rebel. Prankster. Born May 13, 1944, in Prince George, B.C.; died Feb. 27, 2022, in Toronto, of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; aged 77.

Brian Fawcett.Courtesy of family

The rules at Toronto Western hospital were clear: family members only, and no alcohol in the room. But Brian Fawcett had never been very good at following rules, and so on the last day of his life, even as he was losing the last round of a three-year fight he’d had with a terminal lung condition, he decided to break them one last time. He snuck his best friend in under the guise of being his “half-brother” – a stretch given that said friend was a 5-foot-4 Calabrian and he was a white-haired 6-foot-1 guy from northern British Columbia – and had him smuggle in a bottle of Stag’s Leap Petite Sirah. Sure, he got busted for the wine, but they let the friend stay anyway.

Breaking rules was one of Brian Fawcett’s favourite pastimes, second only perhaps to creating them, and over the course of his 77 years, he made a habit of being deliberately and conspicuously insolent toward almost any form of authority he could find. That placed some obvious limitations on his own father’s grand plans for him in the family business, which sold ice cream and soft drinks in northern British Columbia, but it served him well in his career as a poet, writer and public intellectual.

He spent years working as a community organizer and urban planner in Vancouver, taught English in a maximum-security prison and had a brief stint as a Western correspondent for The Globe and Mail from June, 1990, to June, 1991. (That thing about being insolent toward authority may have contributed to its duration.)

Breaking rules was one of Brian Fawcett’s favourite pastimes, second only perhaps to creating them.Courtesy of family

But books were his real life’s work, and he published more than 25 of them, including a number of books of poetry and one highly underrated gardening book. His best-known work includes Cambodia: A Book for People Who Find Television Too Slow, in 1986, which foretold the rise of globalization and its impact on culture and identity, and Virtual Clearcut: Or, The Way Things Are in My Hometown, in 2003, which described the destructive effect of the resource extraction industry on communities. Human Happiness, an examination of the complexities of marriage and family that was published in 2011 and shortlisted for the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, might prove to be his most enduring contribution.

Brian would insist that his biggest legacy is his three children (Jesse, Max and Hartlea) and his three grandchildren (Matisse, Fraser and Everett). It wasn’t always easy to have a parent who took up so much of the metaphorical room, but Brian always made it clear that his love for his family was unconditional and unqualified. No matter how much they messed up or how far astray they might have gotten, his children were always welcome at home.

Brian kept both his wicked sense of humour and moral clarity to the end, which he shared with his partner Fran Piccaluga, and he died with the same courage and honesty that defined his life. His determination to keep working and writing until the last possible moment was proof that, as his own favourite writer Primo Levi once said: “The aims of life are the best defense against death.”

When asked if he had any regrets, the only one Brian could think of was that he couldn’t spend more time with his family. “I’ve lived in the sweet spot of history,” he said. He wasn’t wrong. But the way he lived his life, and the joy that he found in its simplest pleasures, made it so much sweeter. As one of his friends said, “Fawcett always knew how to have fun.”

Max Fawcett is Brian’s son.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to tgam.ca/livesguide