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The Globe and Mail

Adrian Sinnige was a mild-mannered, bespectacled, social work superhero

Adrian Sinnige: Family man. Chess player. Polyglot. Welfare field worker. Born June 16, 1927, in Amsterdam; died Dec. 30, 2017, in St. Catharines, Ont., of aspiration pneumonia; aged 90.

"Don't tell your mother. I rolled my scooter in a ditch today. Some passers-by helped me back up." My father was retired when he told me this but I already admired his ability to fall down, get back up and just keep going.

As a young man riding his bicycle through the Dutch and Belgian countryside, Adrian could not hurtle down the hills and around corners quite as well as his friends. Sometimes, he would look up at the stars and lose his balance. No matter. In his 40s he learned that he had a rare neurological disease, degenerative and incurable. No treatment available. Hereditary (recessive) degeneration of the cerebellum is so astronomically rare it is not named after a researcher like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. There were no researchers. Just a gradual, steady loss of balance and co-ordination. It robbed him of his ability to ride bikes, to write, to walk and eventually, to talk. Fortunately, the decline was very slow. There was still time for work and family, to play chess, to go camping, and to teach his three children to ride bikes – the whole suburban dream.

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Born in Amsterdam in 1927, Adrian, as a teenager, hid from the Nazis to avoid being sent to their work camps. After the war, he was encouraged to move to Canada by Canadian immigration officials on a recruiting mission to the Netherlands. With a social-work diploma and the ability to speak four languages (five if you include his local dialect), he was just what they were looking for. He cashed out his small pension, bought a one-way ticket on a boat bound for Canada and arrived here in 1954. Once in Canada, the social-work profession rejected his credentials. After several years of struggle, working as a bookkeeper where he could, Adrian landed a job as a field worker with the Ontario Department of Public Welfare. Not precisely a Social Worker, but close. He loved it. With a steady job secured, Adrian married his sweetheart, Nel, also from the Netherlands, and they bought a little bungalow in St. Catharines, Ont.

As a field worker, he would visit people in need in their homes, assess their finances and counsel them on what benefits they were or weren't eligible for. He was on the road throughout Ontario's Niagara Region almost every day. He visited every nursing home in the area and in the course of his work, he noticed a strange thing: mysterious withdrawals from the personal accounts of the residents at one home. He reported his concerns and in due course it was determined that one of the nursing home administrators was stealing from the residents. The culprit was charged, tried and sent to jail. Dad never spoke of his role in this. It was my mother who gave it away many years later. When pressed, he confirmed the story was true. I think of my Dad as a mild-mannered, bespectacled, social work superhero. His secret superpower: bookkeeping.

Adrianus Willibrordus Sinnige lived to the age of 90, and died peacefully with his beloved wife of 56 years at his side. He was a good man. He lived a good life. Now he can rest.

Diana Sinnige is Adrian's daughter.

Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to

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