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John Sieber Campsie

Writer, editor, publisher, husband, father. Born on April 9, 1921, in Valletta, Malta; died on Feb. 8, 2014, in Toronto, of natural causes, aged 92.

There is both a blessing and a curse to being born on a beautiful island in the Mediterranean such as Malta, as John was. On one hand, you have memories of golden days and shimmering seas to carry you through life. On the other hand, if your life is not filled with golden days and shimmering seas, you may remember your childhood with a twinge of regret.

John was born in the manse of the Scots Church in Valletta, where his father was the minister. His father also served as a chaplain to the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet in the 1920s. But eventually that posting came to an end and the family returned to England, and a grey and gloomy place it must have seemed to John.

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He had just finished school (Mill Hill, near London) and started at Oxford University when the Second World War broke out. He joined the Royal Air Force, and found that he loved to fly. The golden days and shimmering horizons were just up there above the clouds.

He was sent to Saskatchewan to complete his RAF training and did so well that they kept him for a further year as an instructor in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. John, like most young men, would have preferred to go and fight, but the decision likely saved his life.

He returned to Great Britain in 1944 to join the Fleet Air Arm. At the end of the war, he was on a ship in the Clyde, about to be sent to the Pacific. But Japan's surrender prompted the ship to turn around, and John and the rest of the crew were demobilized. He never saw the Far East.

Back at Oxford, there was a return to golden days and shimmering rivers and he enjoyed his studies. But after a brief stint working for the British Foreign Office (which he hated), he lit out for Canada. He worked his way across the country, doing everything from teaching Latin in a boys' school to watching for fires in B.C. forests. But most important, he met Rosemary Orchardson in Vancouver.

After their wedding in England in 1950, they settled in North Berwick, Scotland, for a year, but John wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in philosophy and they moved to Toronto, assuming it would be a short-term sojourn. Instead, it became their home for the rest of their lives.

John went to work for a publishing company (later he became director of publications at the Royal Ontario Museum), and he and Rosemary raised two daughters, Alison and Philippa. He built them a small house in the garden, just the size for children, using a book from the library and professional building materials. Their little playhouse was probably sturdier than the main house.

Every so often, the lure of golden days and shimmering seas would beckon, and he would take the family to Malta, or Italy, or France, or Greece – somewhere within sight of the Mediterranean (although there were also many visits to family in Scotland and England). He gave his family something precious – memories of beautiful places to carry them through life.

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Philippa Campsie and Alison Glennie are John's daughters.

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