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Douglas James Crosbie.Courtesy of family

Doug James Crosbie: Raconteur. Artist. Handball player. Animal rescuer. Born July 30, 1937, in Côte-des-Neiges, Montreal; died March 12, 2023, in Lachine, Montreal, following a long, debilitating illness; aged 85.

Hilarious, introverted and brilliant, Douglas James Crosbie was a teenager in the 1950s. One night, in defiance of Montreal’s puritanical ban on performances by Elvis Presley, he set off with friends in a fall-apart car to see the singer perform in Ottawa. He would always love the music of his era and his favourite song was American Pie, a plaintive reminder.

Douglas was shy and audacious, and had a bear’s sweet tooth. He was defiant, too, and in his youth would stay out half the night, his brother Leslie says, and sneak to his basement room with Kraft peanut butter sandwiches lined up on either arm.

But Doug was disciplined: After high school, he worked full-time at Sun Life while earning a Bachelor of Commerce. His bride-to-be, Heather McGimpsey, worked there, too. They met on a ski trip and shortly afterward they went on their first date to see Psycho. The beautiful, petite blonde thought he was funny, and he liked making her laugh.

Soon after, Doug was transferred to Toronto for a year and they wrote to each other several times a day, sharing new nicknames and dreams and an unbreakable devotion. Newlywed in 1962, Doug and Heather began raising his family in an apartment in Ville D’Anjou, Montreal, while he worked full-time and studied at Sir George Williams University.

Doug ran wild with his work colleagues: His best friend, Dean Davis, still boasts about how his tough-guy pal had a frightful motorcycle accident, but still worked and passed his CPA exams while recovering. Doug’s large hands bore the ridges and masses of long-ago broken bones: There were the scars of his devotion to handball, a game he excelled at.

This great raconteur had many friends. At Expos games, he sometimes sat with Donald Sutherland, the legendary superfan. Doug could talk to anyone: to Alice Cooper; to the massive man who slept on his shoulder on a Montreal-to-Toronto train; to Jean Chrétien and to a shy next-door neighbour who showed him his unpublished poems. Doug was a good listener and a better friend.

Doug became an international tax accountant who, when he retired, moved to South America with Heather, where he found the peace and quiet he always demanded for his birthday present.

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Doug called himself 'grandpaw' to Francis, his daughter's dog.Courtesy of family

He broke this peace happily and often with loud backgammon games with his kids: Lynn and James and Mary; with multiple viewings of Die Hard, and big, booming jokes.

He was a strong and powerful man whose heart ached for little creatures. He was forever rescuing and befriending birds and cats and dogs, most of whom he called Buddy.

In his youth, Doug drew and painted. He put this talent aside, but like all true things, it was irrepressible. Over the years, he made intricate, geometrical collages with bright paper, carved heads from cork balls and made astonishing stained-glass lamps and panels. His artist’s touch was visible in the way he arranged new pears in a blue bowl and the origami flowers he made his daughter during a long hospitalization.

Doug’s last accident, a crushing fall, took him down but not out. For over eight years he suffered from blindness and dementia caused by brain trauma. He faced it with formidable bravery: While fighting his illness, he got COVID-19 and pneumonia, recovering quickly. Heather visited him every day, often twice a day, bringing treats and stories and sharing her dauntless love. Doug spoke of God and he sorrowed for everything and everyone he had lost; he laughed and sang; he reminded his family, even when he had so few words left, that they were loved.

He always told them never to speak ill of someone who is no longer here to defend themselves. But there is nothing to say.

Only that with him, the music – the joy – has died, too.

Lynn Crosbie is Douglas Crosbie’s daughter.

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