The following words were shared on behalf of all the members of the DUCW at the memorial reception for Gord on Thursday August 8. Twenty four Club members attended the service to say farewell and thank you to our dear friend.
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Ah Gordon, you were the best mate any of us could ever hope for, especially those of us in the Down Under Club of Winnipeg.
We loved your kind and generous heart, your wit and wisdom, and your willingness to step up whenever anything needed to be done. You were our friend, mentor and sage, and despite umpteen years as a Canadian citizen, you were still a fair dinkum Aussie through and through. You loved the AFL, cricket, lamingtons, pavlova, the Australian anthem, and wearing a kangaroo embroidered baseball cap. You still even had your accent, and you loved the Down Under Club.
As co-founder of the Club and president for 49 years, you guided us from humble beginnings getting together in people’s basements over beer, wine and chips, to an active group of Aussies, Kiwis and Canucks meeting regularly at the Scandinavian Cultural Centre over beer, wine and chips.
Right from the start, you and Anne were always doing something in the Club – hosting informal get togethers, organising and attending events, and volunteering for activities.
You played a significant role in our first Folklorama pavilion, an idea that took root when you, Peter Debenham and Lucia Barron met at The Round Table on Halloween in 1992. It was a long shot since you didn’t think we had the people or capital or know how to pull it off, but the three of you decided, “If ever we’re going to do it, it’s now.” That led to six very successful pavilions, all of which you were involved with in one way or another.
In fact, you and Anne did SOOOOO much for the Club that in 2000, we awarded you both with the first Down Under Club Life Memberships. We loved Anne, too, and when she passed away in December 2006, we all mourned the loss of a gentle soul and a dear friend.
To be honest, Gord, we weren’t ready for you to leave us, partly because we clearly still need you to make sure things at the Club run the way they should.
You kept the history of the Club up to date for our website – actually the next 5-year instalment is due, so we’ll have to figure that one out for ourselves.
And who will ever forget your no-nonsense way of reminding us to pay our dues. All it took was one phone call – “What are you waiting for? Just pay it now. And while you’re at it, pay for two years instead of one so I won’t have to call you next year.”
And then there was your “unofficial” role as editor’s editor. Back when I was the editor of our newsletter, The Southern Yarn, if you found anything amiss in an issue, you quickly – and a little too enthusiastically – picked up the phone and pointed it out. I don’t think our current editor, Charlie Powell, needed as much help as I did, so thank you for that? Oh, and you might be surprised – or not – to know that the issue of the Yarn that came out right after you left was a bit of a strange one, with several pages inexplicably printed out of order and upside down. A sign, perhaps? Or as Laurie Lam from the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC) suggested, your last laugh?
For many of us in the Down Under Club, your most enduring legacy is the “getting to know” column. Starting in September 2006, you talked with and wrote up the stories of more than 150 of our members, which definitely helped us get to know each other a little better.
Of course, you weren’t really one for personal accolades or publicity, so no surprise you politely declined to write up you own “getting to know” article. And any time I suggested you write a book about your life and your many adventures, you replied, “Who would want to read it?” I dare say everyone in this room, for starters.
Well, something that might surprise you is that without your knowledge, several of us who thought very highly of you and your many contributions banded together to nominate you for the Order of Manitoba – twice. Even though we were unsuccessful, your close friend Steven Schipper from RMTC summed it up perfectly when he said, “It is a great honour requesting that Gord be acknowledged by the city he has served so humbly.”
On a more personal note, our friendship really got going with Folklorama in 1997, followed by the commemoration and unveiling of the Garden of Memories Memorial at Air Force Heritage Park two years later. There, you not only raised the Australian flag in honour of all those who trained, fought and died as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, but you appeared in two beautiful documentaries connected to the event that were filmed by our mutual friend Frank Adamson.
Working on the Yarn together, our friendship somehow endured the many, many phone calls from you in your capacity as editor’s editor. And as we got the newsletter ready for mailing – which you did more recently with Norm Griffiths – we talked about family, life and theatre.
Speaking of theatre, I want to thank you for asking me to go with you to RMTC these last ten years. Drawing me into that world and spending time with you as you shared stories about various plays and the goings on behind the scenes, changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. That you loved theatre and that wonderful company was never more evident than when I told you I was heading to Australia for seven weeks in May, and the only thing you were worried about was, “Will we miss any plays?” With me as your theatre buddy and Leon as our “driver”, as you called him, it was a time together we will never forget.
And so, on behalf of Leon and me and everyone in the Down Under Club of Winnipeg, thank you, Gord, for being our friend. Rest easy, mate. You’ve certainly earned it.
– Jenny Gates