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lives lived

Randy Burghardt.Courtesy of family

Randy Burghardt: Binner. Handyman. Cyclist. Friend. Born Nov. 25, 1964, in Alberta; died March 29, 2021, in Vancouver, cause of death unknown; aged 56.

Randall Kenneth Burghardt was the grand name given to our friend when he was born. We only learned these facts when the man we knew simply as Randy asked our help in navigating the medical system when he required cataract surgery.

We first met him in 2008 when our company moved to the edge of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Randy noticed that our renovations were creating a lot of garbage. He offered to help fill the disposal bins in exchange for a bit of cash. We let him know that there would be more work if he came back the next day. That night he climbed the back fence and slept on the property so he wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity. Randy showed up the next day and for the next 13 years. He contributed greatly to the ethos of the office and became a valued co-worker, an indispensable handyman and part of our community at work and in our homes. “I’m an architect now!” he told his friends.

Randy had worked in construction prior to living on the street. He considered himself a jack of all trades but was particularly adept at laying tile. A workplace accident had caused him to lose his employment and home. He didn’t talk about the accident much except to laugh and say that he really shouldn’t be on ladders.

Fragments of Randy’s story emerged over the years. He was born in Alberta, though he never said exactly where. His dad worked all week on the oil rigs, leaving on Monday morning and returning Friday night. One winter’s day Randy showed up at school with no shoes on his feet. This resulted in him being sent to live with his grandparents in Manitoba. Blaming the teachers for butting in, he insisted he could have looked after himself, his annoyance still evident years later as he told the story.

Randy was resourceful. He collected what others saw as garbage, shaking his head at what they threw away. In his spare time, he searched the alleys for items he could repurpose and redirect to the people in his life: a music box for a baby on the way, a rocking horse for another, a bag of yarn for a knitter, an old golf bag, flowerpots, tools, clocks and toasters. The term “Randy Candy” was coined for the hundreds of gifts he bestowed upon us. Sweeping up after a day’s work, Randy would sort the nails and screws, placing them in jars for future use. Scraps of wood, leaky garden hoses and broken office chairs were all saved for projects yet to come or in case he crossed paths with someone in need. Everything had value.

Randy took pride in his strength, his physique and his work ethic. Although he grumbled and groaned through some jobs, he was often at the office before anyone else and was happiest when there was lots to do. He liked weeding gardens and loved walking our dog, Ruby, whose scruffy beard resembled his own.

After finding housing, Randy continued to park his shopping cart behind the office (“just in case”) and started riding a bike to work. His daily crosstown commute helped Carscadden Architects win numerous Bike to Work Week awards.

People often said how good it was of us to let Randy into our lives. In fact, it was exactly the reverse. By allowing us to know him, Randall Kenneth Burghardt gave us much more than Randy Candy, he left an indelible mark on our offices, our homes and in our hearts. Randy was right. Everything – and everyone – has value.

Karen Coflin is Randy’s friend.

To submit a Lives Lived: lives@globeandmail.com

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 online to tgam.ca/livesguide