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On the morning of his last day, Ken MacDonald awoke in a hospital bed to the sight of his family surrounding him. He looked at each of us as the sun lit up the room and said, "Such a world that one could die in." Then, just as quickly, added, "I don't know what that means."

That was Ken: knowing more about life and death than most, but never taking things too seriously.

His father, Alexander MacDonald, outlived two wives and had two children from each. Ken was the sixth of eight children from his father's third wife, Annie, and grew up during the Depression in a house full of siblings and half-siblings.

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To help bring in money, Ken dropped out of high school to go to work. He did so right up until the start of the Second World War, when he joined the army. He served with the 14th Canadian Field Ambulance with stations in England, Belgium, France and Germany, and was there for the liberation of Holland. Despite the horrors he must have seen, he recounted only the good times, often with tears of laughter. "The best five years of my life," he called it.

Upon his return to Canada, Ken met the love of his life, Esther Stead, at a dance in Saint John. Before long, they were married and had two sons, Kerry and Wayne, and a daughter, Debbie.

For a few years, life was grand. Then the Korean War started, and Ken was once again posted to serve his country in peacekeeping duties. But he was sent home to watch the biggest battle of all, his daughter Debbie's fight against cancer. It was a battle she lost at the age of 4. Ken and Esther were never the same.

In time, there was the arrival of four more children, Karen, Ronald, Wendy and Stephen, and a move to Cornwall, Ont., where Ken took up a position teaching high-school drafting. He loved teaching, and he loved learning. Since he had only reached Grade 9, he was continually forced by the school board to further his education. After years of night school and summer courses, he obtained his undergraduate degree in English literature at 55.

When Ken was 62, he and Esther lost Kerry in an industrial accident. Although their grief was never fully overcome, life continued large. At 65, Ken took up piano, and played every day until the last few years of his life. He was an avid fly fisherman, an encyclopedia of jazz, a devourer of crosswords, a fierce lover of family, and always giving us a good laugh.

In the days before his death, he liked to tell visitors that the doctor advised him not to buy any green bananas. "What does that mean?" he asked with feigned confusion. Not everyone laughed. But we did. And we are sadder now for it.

Ron MacDonald is Ken's son.

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