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Thomas 'Luke' Lukaszek.

Courtesy of family

Thomas “Luke” Lukaszek: Traveller. Mime. Hiker. Teacher. Born Oct. 25, 1947, in Flint, Mich.; died July 7, 2020, in Vancouver, of respiratory failure; aged 72.

Luke was a world traveller and adventurer, a mime and a clown. He loved to entertain and tell others about the history, culture and politics of many countries around the world. His slant on the planet, that he inhabited with curiosity, was entirely his own.

His parents named him Thomas but his friends called him Luke. He thought the name had cachet so “Luke” he became. He graduated from the University of Detroit in 1970 with a degree in English and joined the exodus of young travellers with a trip to Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. The world quickly became his graduate classroom.

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Luke got his draft notice from the U.S. Army in 1971, but he did not believe in the Vietnam war and crossed the border to Windsor, Ont., and then drove his Volkswagen Bug across Canada to join friends on a farm near Vancouver. Luke lived in Canada for the rest of his life, becoming a landed immigrant in 1973 and a citizen in 1991.

In 1973, Luke’s brother Paul was also living in British Columbia and they drove to Banff to hike in the Rockies. Luke developed a passion for mountain hiking that the two shared for the next 45 years. In 1975 Luke went East to study drama at Queen’s University and mime in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. He returned to Vancouver and built a career as a mime performer. Luke took mime and clown work whenever he could. He never married nor had children, but he connected with kids of all ages because of his light-hearted persona and childlike capacity for wonder. A gig at an international arts festival in Mexico renewed his zest for travel.

On New Year’s Day, 1985, Luke landed in Bangkok and spent a year in Thailand, Malaysia, India and Nepal. When he returned to Vancouver, he performed at Expo ’86. When his mime partner moved to Montreal, Luke set off again, travelling on the cheap for two years in Southeast Asia. He rented hiking gear in Kathmandu and started walking, and made it to the Everest base camp without a trekking company or guide. He then hiked the Annapurna Circuit route in 18 days. His only complaint? Not being able to enjoy a cigarette at high altitude because matches wouldn’t light. He was a lifelong smoker, perhaps not his wisest life choice.

Luke made the rugged overland trip from Pakistan to Kashgar, in western China by bus. After travelling across China, he was low on funds and took a job teaching English in Japan. When he returned to Vancouver he enrolled in an ESL teaching program and from 1990 until his retirement in 2012, he taught at several Vancouver ESL schools. He also taught in Asian countries and explored the world between teaching stints.

He was teaching in Myanmar when the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami struck Asia. Worried family and friends could not contact him for days because he was exploring the remote Burmese highlands during winter school-break.

Luke travelled light, rarely leaving Vancouver with more than a day pack. When he retired, he spent part of his winters in Latin America. But this year he got stuck in Colombia by pandemic border closures and spent 12 weeks in lockdown before he could return to Canada. On the last day of his self-isolation, his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – the legacy of smoking – took a turn for the worse. After so many years on the road, he died in his Vancouver apartment. In September, Paul hiked into the Rockies to return some of Luke’s ashes to the alpine area he so loved.

Paul Lukaszek is Luke’s brother.

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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

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