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Lives Lived: William Stanley Cummings, 97

Irish raconteur, Canada Post'er, teacher, mentor. Born July 4, 1915, in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, died Dec. 11, 2012, in Vancouver of heart failure, aged 97.

Stan, as he preferred to be called, claimed his middle name came from the famous American reporter who tracked down Dr. David Livingstone in Africa.

Like his namesake, Stan was a seeker. For him, the adventure of discovery formed a large part of his 97 years.

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He moved to the New World at the age of 7 when his Irish parents emigrated to Western Canada in 1922 with four boys in tow. He matured into a young man who excelled in mathematics, taking first prize in high school.

But these were Depression times and work was hard to find, so he began a career as a sorting clerk on a railway mail car. He worked the Canadian National line between Edmonton and Winnipeg, preparing for mail pickups and drops "on the fly" in the many small towns he had memorized in order of their appearance, and could still recite.

After marriage to his teenage sweetheart Rae in 1938, war took him into service as a radio technician. His last stint was in Penhold, Alta., close enough to visit his growing family in Edmonton.

Stan rose steadily in Canada Post over a 40-year career, with positions throughout the western provinces. As district director, he oversaw the relocation of mail distribution from Calgary's city centre to larger facilities near the airport – a model copied by other regions. Later, his position as postal inspector in British Columbia took him to many isolated places, not always anything to do with mail.

He met the famous Ralph Edwards of Lonesome Lake with his home-built floatplane on a dock in Bella Coola, and assisted on a medical services ship with the spaying of a cat. He arranged for an elderly woman who lived on a slowly sinking log-boom house (she had to wear hip waders) to get new logs placed underneath. These stories were the source of many great table talks.

After retiring early, at 59, in Vancouver, Stan plunged into new ventures. Using carpentry skills honed in his workshop, he made Rae her prized French Provincial dining room suite, son Bryan his soapbox derby racer, and daughters Maureen and Sheila their grandfather clocks.

He worked unstintingly for others, especially for faith-based institutions such as Regent (theological) College and Granville Chapel in Vancouver. In the latter, he played piano and organ, also self-taught skills, helped with Sunday preaching and, later, taught English to new Canadians. He said he would retire from this second career at 90, but he didn't, and was admired by students and friends for his wit, wisdom and energy.

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After Rae died, Stan made trips to Russia and Israel, always slaking his thirst for knowledge. His last enthusiasm was for flight – birds, that is – and a fascination with the feathers that are so intricately formed. He never doubted that a Grand Designer had a hand in all this.

By 82, being single was taking its toll on his happiness, so he popped the question to his equally vigorous friend Ruth Oliver, who became a marriage partner for 15 further years of remarkable quality.

The end of his life came mercifully quickly, as a heart that had been so giving for so many years just couldn't sustain more work. He died "wise and full of years."

Bryan Cummings is Stan's son.

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