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Andrew Arida.

Andrew Arida. Piano man. Family man. Education advocate. Giggler. Born Jan. 31, 1970, in Montreal; died Jan. 7, 2021, of glioblastoma, in Vancouver; aged 50.

When every moment is treasured for the way it teems with meaning, one’s life is not easily plotted through “important” events. Andrew Arida valued life this way. Every sunset with friends had cinematic significance. His piano playing, whether driving or delicate, always tried to conjure a stadium, and deep communication, rousing or silent, was the single best measure of a good time.

Andrew Arida was born in Montreal in 1970 but spent preteen years in Algeria when his father took work there as an engineer. His mom felt deeply for her lonely son and invented activities to entertain him – his favourite was a golf course she made by attaching nine napkins to sticks in the sand. Despite her efforts, those years were profoundly isolating. Andrew found solace in his Walkman and music became a religion. Throughout his life, it was therapy, rapture, release – and it was through music that his deepest friendships would be born, flourish and last.

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The Arida family moved back to Canada from Algeria and settled in Calgary. There, the 1980s earnestness of Live Aid, Springsteen and U2 collided with Andrew’s piano lessons. A dream was born. Air-band performances with badminton racquets turned into being in a band – writing, recording and playing gigs – rehearsing three nights a week at full volume in the basement of Andrew’s home (while his parents blasted Matlock on the TV upstairs). After practice, the band would drink coffee and smoke by the reservoir, talking into the night. “We’re gonna do it, man,” Andrew said.

In 1993, with university flame Leanna and a new degree in psychology, Andrew moved to Vancouver, taking a job as a student recruiter for the University of British Columbia. For the next 30 years, he steadily climbed the ranks of the Registrar’s office, using his trademark compassion, humanity and a robust sense of humour to end the anonymity students feel when faced with an impenetrable institution. At the same time, he held students up to the highest possible standards – his. In 2018, Andrew earned a rare Service Award of Excellence at UBC.

Over the years, the parallel pursuits of job and music became divergent roads. While his 17-year-old self fought him along the way over unrealized goals, adult Andrew came to realize his teenage self was (to quote Springsteen), just “too young to understand the blessings that compromise brings.” Andrew knew he’d found a sweet balance: He was celebrated at work and invested in his job; welcomed by bands to play gigs in Vancouver and Calgary, which he did as often as he could; cherished at home by his wife, Leanna, and his sons, Jude and Luke, whose passions Andrew made his own (so they would always have something in common).

Andrew travelled six of seven continents and was constantly updating his Best Meals Ever list (recent entry: moqueca, Brazilian fish stew). He could argue politics like a pundit, he banked sick days to watch the World Cup of soccer and was a total statistics wonk.

Last summer, Andrew went to retrieve (and scold) his son who was out longer than agreed upon. He parked the car, walked toward a silhouette he recognized, then stopped. His son was sitting with his friends at the highest point in the park, watching the sun go down over the sea, leaning into each other for warmth. Andrew saw himself with his own friends in 1984 as the sun set over the Glenmore Reservoir, talking about girls and Europe and making it in music. He waited at a distance until the sun had disappeared before approaching. His anger had vanished. All was understood.

Andrew was listening to music when he died. He was halfway through his life.

Kris Wenzel and Sharon Kahanoff are two of Andrew’s friends.

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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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