Veteran, gardener, economist, smart aleck. Born on April 5, 1920, in Prince Albert, Sask.; died on May 8, 2014, in Vancouver, of cardiac problems, aged 94.
Alfred Emerton Blake always used his middle name as his first, a tradition that was passed down to his eldest daughter and one of his granddaughters. He went by A.E., Emerton, Em, and sometimes, in his own words, "the best-looking Blake."
Em was the fourth of seven children of immigrant parents, Agnes Frew of Darvel, Scotland, and Sydney Blake of London, England. A proud prairie boy, Em enlisted in the Canadian Army in May, 1940, and was sent to Scotland in November, 1941. His war service included being part of the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944. Three of his brothers and his only sister also served for Canada in the global conflict.
Em was discharged in May, 1945, and returned home to Saskatchewan. He earned two degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, in economics in 1950 and commerce in 1951. Although always an enthusiastic reader, studying wasn't his cup of tea. Later he would sympathize with his grandchildren when they complained about homework or having to choose a career. He would tell them not to worry, saying, "I still don't know what I want to be."
While at a university, he came home from a dance late one night and woke his mother to tell her he had met the woman he was going to marry. "That is wonderful, son," his mother said. "What is her name?" He didn't know.
Her name was Rosalie Morrow, and they wed in 1946. Their family would grow to four children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and their 66-year union spanned 15 apartments and nine houses, in six cities and four provinces, finally settling in Vancouver.
Rosalie died of Alzheimer's disease on her 90th birthday, in 2012. Em cared for her on his own at their home until her final years; it was difficult for him to witness her loss of memory but, as he noted, it meant that she always laughed at his jokes as if she were hearing them for the first time.
Em's career as an economist was spent with the federal government in cities across the country, working at the Department of Agriculture; Revenue Canada, Taxation; and Industry, Trade and Commerce. From 1966 to 1978 he was a commerce officer for the latter department, a role that took him around the world. In 1980, he started his own consulting firm which, as he explained to the grandkids, "advised companies on how to get the most amount of money back from the government." He retired in 1984.
The Em I knew had always been retired. He read newspapers voraciously, wrote angry letters to politicians and journalists, and loved his family fiercely. He was an enthusiastic gardener and when his body and living accommodations no longer allowed him to tend a patch of green, he kept orchids. His favourite colour was "sky-blue pink" and he liked his whisky Canadian. He always ended his telephone conversations with, "You know who loves you." Well Em, you know who will always love you.
Sasha Gora is Em's granddaughter.