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Lives Lived: Kenneth David Heath, 100 Add to ...

Family man, businessman, golfer, gin and tonic fan. Born April 28, 1912 in Windsor, Ont., died Jan. 15, 2013, in Windsor of pneumonia, aged 100.

At the beginning of each semester, Ken’s son David tells his students that he knows someone who has experienced most of what is written in their Canadian history textbooks.

Ken lived more than 100 years. The events of his life shaped him into a disciplined man passionate for knowledge, devoted to family and work, and with a belief that an optimistic outlook leads to the best outcomes.

Ken graduated in 1934 from Queen’s University and started a career with Chrysler. He started in the mail room, alongside other university graduates: It was the Depression and jobs were few. He used to chuckle when their supervisor, a Cockney with a Grade 8 education, began each day saying, “Now, my learned colleagues, we will sort the mail.”

After he was promoted to a sales job, Ken learned that he had an employee number – 49. He kept that number for the rest of his working life.

Having spent his childhood summers at the family cottage on the shore of Lake Erie, Ken naturally had a love of water. In 1941, he began active duty in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Around the same time, a local fortune teller revealed to beautiful Ruth Hind that she was going to marry a man by the water and he would be wearing a white suit. Ken and Ruth met soon after, at a dance hall, with Ken wearing his Navy whites. He had his eye on another girl, but she was taken, so he asked Ruth to dance. He always called that the luckiest moment of his life – the start of a 68-year romance.

Not long after, Ken was deployed to a minesweeper surveying the North Atlantic. He was instantly recognized for his good seamanship and perseverance in long and arduous patrols, and swiftly rose to lieutenant-commander. Years later, one of his crew told him that all the seamen hoped to be on Ken’s ship – not simply because of his reputation as a cool and capable leader, but because they knew he would get them home safely.

In 1945, he resumed his job at Chrysler. Three decades later, at his retirement party, he turned to the company president and said: “I guess I’ll never get a contract now.” He had worked his entire career without a formal contract.

It was only in the last few years that he told us he had met both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. When asked why he had never shared this before, he said, “I didn’t care much for them, so I didn’t want to waste my time talking about them.” Ken was more impressed by getting to know his colleagues’ family and friends around the dinner table.

As a grandfather of five, Ken evolved a softer, gentler side. He loved spending time with all of his grandchildren, teaching them golf or following their different activities. As they moved away, he wanted to keep in contact, so he took computer courses at age 88. He was pleasantly surprised when the college waived his tuition fees.

On June 12, 2010, his beloved Ruth passed away. The family was concerned about how Ken would fare on his own. Sensing this, he told his daughter: “Martha, don’t worry. I have been through many difficult things in my life, and I will get through this.”

Ken passed away on Jan. 15. His family and friends know Ruthie had been waiting for him, and probably said, “What took you so long Ken? How about a gin and tonic?”

Cameron Stauch is Ken’s grandson.

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