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Lives Lived: Anthony (Tom) Vanderelst, 72

Husband, father, teacher, traveller. Born Jan. 15, 1942 in The Hague, Netherlands; died July 11, 2013, in Hamilton, Ont., of cancer, aged 72.

Tom was born in The Hague in 1942, the oldest of two boys, to Ton and Lies Vanderelst. His mother, a voracious reader, had settled on Anthony for his name from a book she was reading. Given the Dutch penchant for nicknames, however, Anthony soon morphed into Tom, the name he used his entire life.

Contrary to the stereotype of the dour Dutch, Tom inherited a wonderful sense of humour. Beneath his modest persona was a flair for fun that often emerged when he travelled – whether "conversing" with a flock of ducks in Belgium (they returned his quacks) or joking with Roma along the roadside in Romania (and donating his shirt).

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Tom loved to travel, and his adventures started a little earlier than most. At the age of eight he persuaded his six-year-old brother, Wil, to peddle on step-scooters almost the entire 16 kilometres from Rotterdam to Delft, before a concerned motorist returned them to their worried parents. That itch to travel was aided by a life-changing trip in 1952, when the family moved to Hamilton, Ont., as part of a massive wave of Dutch immigrants hoping for better opportunities.

At 18, Tom joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada reserve, sailing one summer in a frigate from the Great Lakes to Halifax. He joked that he could have had a movie career: While stationed in Halifax, he was offered a part as an extra in Mutiny on the Bounty, which starred Marlon Brandon and for which a replica of the Bounty was being built in Lunenburg. But the lure of possible "stardom" took second place to the importance of education.

After graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University in 1968 with a history degree and receiving his teaching certificate, Tom began a 32-year career as a high-school teacher in Mississauga, Ont. Witnessing him teach was like watching a performance – gone was his usual quiet self as he became a dynamic, loquacious actor, sharing his enthusiasm for history, geography and economics, which in less-skilled hands could be boring to young students. This talent was especially important in a period when he taught "special ed" to students who needed extra support to be successful in school.

Along with travel and teaching, Tom loved tennis and met his wife, Colleen, at the local tennis club, marrying in 1973. Even during his illness, he avidly followed the tennis world rankings. His love of the sport was transmitted to his children, Mark and Rebecca, each of whom obtained tennis scholarships to university.

In retirement, he was an active volunteer, spending countless hours in maintaining the 160-year-old MacNab Street Presbyterian Church in Hamilton.

Tom was diagnosed with cancer in January, 2011. True to form he never complained. His first priority was not to upset Colleen and his children, explaining his condition with an embarrassed little laugh as if to apologize for any inconvenience.

And that was the true measure of the man. Quiet about himself, subtle about his own emotions and thoughts while genuinely caring about his family and friends. Tom died suddenly, four days after his 40th wedding anniversary.

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Wilfried Vanderelst is Tom's brother.

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