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Donald Oakley

October 16, 1935 - February 4, 2018


“I've had a great life.” These were the words he spoke as we sat and embraced each other after hearing the news that his time on earth would be coming to an end. But that was my dad, forever the realist, forever the optimist. He was born October 16, 1935, in a quaint little two bedroom house in Middlechurch. Growing up was consumed with playing sports, especially baseball and hockey, with his brother and his friends. He met the love of his life when he was eighteen years old. His brother was running late and asked dad if he could go pick up Jeannine for him. So off dad went to pick her up. Mom knew the moment she saw dad that she was going to marry him. They were married two years later in 1955 and were married for forty-seven years until her passing in 2003. To my knowledge he never dated anyone after she died. I would encourage him to find a nice lady friend but his response was always the same, “I had the love of my life. The best person that I could ever hope to spend a life with, anyone else would never compare.”

Don had two children: his son, Kevin and his daughter, Louise. My brother was born with significant deficits and while the unknown of having a child with a disability scared my parents, it also made them stronger as a couple. Dad always said that having Kevin “softened” him as a person and taught him the value in caring for others and as a result, both of my parents went on to be avid volunteers for St. Amant Centre in the 1960s, helping them to raise funds for the center. Kevin passed away in 1976. It was the first time I saw my dad cry.

My folks loved to travel. Early in their marriage they did a road trip from Winnipeg to Mexico. They also enjoyed trips to Hawaii, the Bahamas, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, and of course, many of these trips involved golf. To say that my dad loved to golf is an understatement. He took up the sport when he was eighteen but really got into it in his late twenties. I asked my dad why he loved to golf. He gave me his standard shrugging of the shoulders and said “I just really liked it.” So he joined the Canoe Club in the 60s and of course in true Don fashion was on the Canoe Club board of governors for several years and became the Commodore in 1976. Our family were members of the Canoe Club for many years. When the 1993 Centennial year was upon us, my parents volunteered as the Co-chair person's for the hundredth anniversary committee, putting in many hours planning, organizing and executing the week long gala, ultimately doing the Canoe club proud. Dad then joined Southwood in 1996 and was a member for twenty-one years. He played his last game of golf in August at the age of eighty-two. Great friendships, countless rounds of golf, a lot of laughs (and beers) brought my dad great joy. He had three holes in one over the course of his golf life and at the peak of his game achieved an eight handicap. He spent several years volunteering with golf Manitoba.

In 1953, Dad started working at the CN. He started as a porter in the express depot and over the years worked his way up the ranks retiring in 1991 at the age of fifty-six as a grade 14 shift supervisor. In an excerpt from his retirement luncheon toast, "Don is an easy-going and good natured guy… Who also has a booming loud voice that can be heard way out to the bus stop!” On the menu that day was the Don "Hole in One" steak sandwich a la Oakley. Dad did love a good steak sandwich!

Dad settled into retirement seamlessly. It gave him more time to golf and hang out with mom. Many winters were spent travelling to Canyon Lakes, Texas where they would meet up with their fellow Canadian and American snowbirds. After mom passed, dad couldn't bring himself to go to Canyon Lakes anymore. Instead, he would travel down south with his buddies for a one month golf vacation every winter. And then, when his daughter moved to the other side of the planet, he would take the twenty-four hour plus flights to spend the better part of the winter on a tropical island with her. Dad settled great into island life and I'm so grateful that my island family got to know him. We spent many weekends playing the different courses and naturally my golf game improved as I had my own private coach.

My dad was an extremely intelligent man. You could ask him a question on virtually any topic and he would have an answer for you. He was well-versed in politics, current events, world news, sports, etc. But what always blew my mind was his ability to recall events, facts, details of things that happened in the past. I would often teasingly refer to him as Cliff Clavin because of his vast knowledge of useless information. He would never remember your name, but he would remember where you were born, what you did for a living, where you went to school or who won the 1979 Grey Cup. My dad was proud to be Canadian. He loved this city. He could often be overheard saying “I live in the best country in the world, we are so lucky to live here.” And he would defend his city/country to anyone who dared to put it down.  He was passionate about his sports teams; the Jets, the Bombers, and his two favourite NFL teams: the Patriots and the Vikings. The man loved his sports and I will certainly miss hearing a loud bellowing "Baby!" every time the Jets scored.

My dad was a man of integrity who had a generous spirit and was a kind and loving father. He led by example. This beautiful man taught me to live life to the fullest, to challenge myself, and to continue learning. That the hardships in life make us better people and being optimistic can get you through a lot of rough patches. Ours was a family of love and I wish there was a bigger word than love to express how I feel about this man. When you love someone, time is never enough. I will miss our dinners, Dad, sharing a bottle of red and discussing this crazy ride called life. I will miss your daily “G’day, g’day” greetings, and your “What can you do?” or “There you go.” responses to the conundrums of life. The foundation of love that you have provided will continue to bring me strength throughout the rest of my journey. Thank you for being my dad, thank you for being my dad, thank you for being my dad. I love you.

P.S. The little red fox came around today.

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the amazing people who cared for Dad on 3 East at Riverview. From the healthcare aides, to the staff who serve the meals, the nurses and the doctors: you all treated me and my dad with kindness, compassion and respect, and for that I am truly thankful.

Dad passed on February 4th, 2018. A memorial gathering will be held at a later date.

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