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James S. Cormack.Courtesy of family

James Strathearn Cormack: Father. Proud Scot. Chocoholic. Executive. Born June 8, 1940, in Edinburgh, Scotland; died Jan. 25, 2021, in Qualicum Beach, B.C., of renal failure; aged 80.

While he was a proud Canadian, James Cormack was also a proud Scot. It seemed fitting that he died on Robbie Burns day.

James was educated at private boarding schools, Ardvreck (Scotland) and Stowe (England) where he proved to be a particularly bright student. He also earned the nickname Guzzling Jimmy due to his ferocious appetite and love for all things chocolate, something he boasted about until the day he died. Although an excellent candidate for university, James took a job working at an insurance company in England. It was the start of a long career that took him in the early days to India, back to England, and then to Canada when he took a position with the Guardian Royal Exchange.

In 1967, he landed in Toronto with Elizabeth, his first wife, and Annabelle, the first of his four children. Promotions led to several relocations around Ontario until 1979 when he joined ICBC in Vancouver. He retired as ICBC’s chief underwriting officer in 1997 leaving behind a legendary reputation due to his vision and influence in the insurance business around the globe.

Three more children were born in Canada. Lise, Noel, and Ilona (Ally). Elizabeth ran the household while James continued to build his career. James and Elizabeth divorced in the late 1980s. He would marry three more times until he was widowed in 2019.

James loved his children, but never uttered the L-word: “love.” Likely it was because of a stiff-upper-lipped upbringing and his youth spent at British boarding schools. However, that changed when he became ill.

In his final days James spoke about how he considered fatherhood his failure. In reflection, his children disagree. He wasn’t perfect, but he was their father. He was proud of them. He cared about them. He loved them. He was just very subtle about it.

When James went to live with Annabelle in the last year of his life, one of her routines was to sit with him at the end of the evening to ensure he was settled and his needs attended to. However, she always felt like something was missing. The L-word: “love.” It was time it was said. One night, Annabelle blurted out “Good night dad. Love you.” There was an awkward silence, so she quickly scooted off to bed. Annabelle kept at it for a couple of weeks and then, one night, James mumbled, “Love you too,” albeit in a sort of hushed tone with a tentative edge. Annabelle grinned and thanked him, making no fuss for fear that he may never say it again. She was jubilant. It was the first time her father had ever told her he loved her.

James moved to hospice when his health took a turn, and Annabelle and Lise spent the next three days by his side. At one point they took a small break, and as they rounded the door to leave, they heard him say, “Bye girls. I love you.” James died the next day.

While his ashes await delivery to their final destination in Scotland’s Pentland Firth, every night before bed, Annabelle has a wee visit to say, “Good night Dad. Love you” and “yes, you were a pretty good father.”

Annabelle Cormack is James’s daughter.

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