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Lives Lived: Olav Johnsen, 67 Add to ...

Feisty but loving husband, father, grandfather, rural African administrator, army lieutenant, human resources manager, practical nurse. Born July 3, 1945, in Sorø, Denmark, died May 27, 2013, in Victoria of cancer, aged 67.

Olav was a very direct person, but never to the point of being disrespectful. He demanded that children in his presence shake his hand with a firm grip and look into his eyes and to “stand up straight and dig in your heels.” He was well-respected and loved by many children his in life, some of whom were his grandkids.

Born in Denmark, Olav moved with his family at a young age to a small town in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). In Mutorashanga, he could be found playing and hiking in the surrounding mountains with the local kids. He went on to board at Prince Edward School where, as a Dane, he was despised by the predominantly British scholars. He learned to “punch” his way up to the point where they left him alone and eventually became his friends.

After an attempt at the University of Natal in South Africa, he joined the internal affairs department in the government of white-ruled Rhodesia, where he became an administrator of a tribal trustland and oversaw the development of schools and hospitals from the ground up. He learned and spoke the African language Shona and considered himself a true African.

In 1969, he met and married Susan Butterfield, and together they had a daughter, Cara, and a son, Finn. Moving into the private sector, Olav ended up in human resources for a mining company. At the same time, he brought his rough-and-ready cheerfulness to his mandatory military service as a lieutenant in the Rhodesian Army. In 1979, the family immigrated to Canada. Olav embraced his new country, saying that he loved the cold because it made him feel alive (although he denied he said this when he moved to balmy Victoria later in life).

Olav and his family lived in a number of places through his journey in Canada: Thetis Island and Chemainus, B.C.; Calgary; Nelson, B.C., and ultimately Victoria. As a Canadian, he worked in many capacities: as a human resources manager, snow blower, wood cutter, beer drinker, hockey dad and embracer of the country’s more liberal, socially open culture.

Later in life, he retrained as a licensed practical nurse, saying that he wanted to get out of the cutthroat business world and into the business of helping people. He couldn’t have chosen a better profession. He loved his job and the satisfaction derived from helping his patients.

After being diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live, Olav took the opportunity to travel with his beloved wife. Their destinations included Europe, Mexico, Newfoundland, Australia and Hawaii, among others, and Olav lived another four years, never complaining, always cheerful.

His favourite activity was drinking a dark roast coffee, “black and sweet,” at Oso Negro in Nelson, watching life go by. Life will miss him.

Finn Johnsen is Olav’s son.

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