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Lives Lived: James Roderic (Roddie) Blair, 97

James Roderic (Roddie) Blair

Veteran, farmer, carpenter, teacher. Born on Nov. 24, 1915, in Moose Creek, Ont.; died on Nov. 7, 2013 in Aurora, Ont., of an apparent heart attack, aged 97.

Roddie Blair was born in a log cabin on a family farm in Moose Creek, Ont., the third of eight children born to James Blair and Mary McLennan. He left high school in 1932 without graduating. Money was scarce and he took a job as a labourer on the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

When war broke out in 1939, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was seconded to the RAF in England as a wireless air gunner. Given that the average crew member of a Hudson bomber survived only a few weeks in combat, Roddie didn't expect to live long.

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But in 1943 he signed on for a second tour of duty. That year, his crew sank a U-boat in the Mediterranean. And at a party in London, he met Peggy Britt, the widow of an Australian pilot shot down a few months earlier. London was being bombed and she was desperate to get out with her baby son. Roddie married her the very next day so that she and four-month-old Keith could move to Canada. To his surprise, when the war ended in 1945 he had not only survived, but also had a pregnant wife and toddler to care for.

They moved to the small town of Avonmore, Ont., where Roddie tried his hand at dairy farming. But it was tough; in 1950, he was unable meet a loan payment and the bank repossessed his farm. He re-enlisted in the RCAF, trained as a carpenter and was stationed at various posts across Canada and with NATO in Europe.

In his 50s, Roddie retired from the air force and went back to school as a mature student, completing a bachelor's degree in education at Simon Fraser University in 1969. He taught school on First Nations reserves in northern British Columbia until he retired a second time in the early 1970s.

In the early 1990s, after Peggy was moved to a care-giving institution, he returned to Moose Creek to live year-round at the family farm and be closer to his siblings and two of his four children who were living in Ontario. The farm, which had been in the Blair family since the early 1800s, was his greatest joy. He built a new house around the original cabin. He knew exactly where in the old barn the swallows would come to nest, and watched the pond anxiously every year, waiting for the ducks to return home.

In 2000, after a lifetime struggle with schizophrenia, Peggy died of Alzheimer's disease. Shortly after, Roddie reconnected with his high-school sweetheart, Martha, and they began spending all their time together. He regretted that the war had interrupted his courtship of "the first woman to slap his face," as he put it. When they were teens, he had taken her out in the horse-and-cutter and got stuck in a mud rut; she had to walk home and her clothes were ruined. They enjoyed each other's company even after she entered a nursing home; she passed away several years later.

Roddie was planning his 98th birthday party when he died. He had lived life to the absolute fullest. He took up painting in his eighties, and even had an exhibition. Death didn't frighten him. He felt there was no point worrying about the inevitable – he joked that it was life, not death, that ought to scare the hell out of us. But he was fading and tired of being bedridden in his final months. He was ready to go.

Peggy Blair is Roddie's daughter.

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