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Courtesy of the family

David Joseph (Doug) Hartford: Grandfather. Traveller. Linesman. Friend. Born Dec. 18, 1937 in Northumberland County, Ont.; died Jan. 26, 2019 in Toronto, of medical fragility arising from a car crash; aged 81.

Doug was born on the kitchen table, seventh of 13 children. His mother and siblings ran the hardscrabble farm, snatching moments of joy in the poverty exacerbated by his father’s tuberculosis, spitefulness and poor decision-making. On Doug’s 16th birthday, his father withdrew him from school and contracted him out to a neighbouring farm. A teacher asked that Doug be allowed to finish the school year. The answer was no. But a Grade 10 diploma arrived by mail, the teacher determined Doug had “completed” an independent study unit.

The following year Doug took a job driving an Ontario family to their winter home in Fort Myers. In 1955 Florida, he witnessed poverty, segregation and many insults to human dignity while working in his so-called integrated neighbourhood. He also learned that his beloved mother had died of untreated asthma in pre-Medicare Ontario. These events helped set the moral compass by which he would live the rest of his life.

In the spring of 1956 he found work in Toronto and met Dorothy. Their first date was a walk on the Toronto boardwalk. They married the next year, saved for a house and then planned for the pregnancy that would constitute grounds for her dismissal from a Crown corporation in 1963. They declined maternity benefit as a point of honour.

By 1958 he was becoming a hydro linesman in Toronto, and later transferred to Bowmanville, Ont., where he continued to find happiness and friendships forged in problem solving for the community. Doug had less patience for the growing bureaucracy that he felt limited one’s opportunity to do good. A cruel process had “cured” him of left-handedness in childhood so Doug wrote journals, lists and thoughtful letters to parliamentarians using his right hand, but always used his left for his signature.

Doug loved newspapers, library books and talk radio. He loved symphony concerts, dancing and digging in his garden to capture the kiss of summer in Mason jars. He loved to wash the floor, preferably with a young child riding horsey on his back.

Doug enrolled in Spanish classes, and would practice with grandchildren Alexandra and Ben. Most years, he and Dorothy spent a few weeks exploring some corner of the world. Passionate about cycling, they spent at least one day riding in most of their destinations. They travelled extensively, including Turkey, Egypt, South Africa and frequently to Victoria, to visit their younger daughter, Linda. In retirement, Doug and Dorothy enjoyed their winters in Mexico.

When a distracted driver smashed into the back of Doug’s polished little truck a block from home, his physical condition and strength of character enabled remarkable comebacks to acute medical events. But a few months after discharge Doug suddenly faced a life expectancy of a few months. Denied access to medically assisted death, he spent one week in palliative care enjoying visits with friends and family. Then, with the fortitude that had defined his life, he clenched his teeth and left us in a single day, holding our hands firmly, the dignity of self-determination in every ragged breath.

Doug Hartford believed in human kindness and laughed easily. He was intelligently loyal to people and ideas. He led by example.

Denise Hartford is Doug’s older daughter.

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