Sunday, August 10, 2008

Barb Angel's Eulogy for Dad

Paul's Eulogy

I am here today, on behalf of myself and my family, to share with you what it was like to have Paul for a close friend. We met Paul and Donna and their daughters Erin and Nicki, completely by accident (blind luck or fate?). In the spring of 1970, after travelling and working overseas for four years, our family moved into our first house in Winnipeg. We thought we were settling down to a comfortable bourgeois existence in a respectable neighbourhood. Much to our surprise, when we looked out into the neighbouring backyard, we saw the 26 foot hull of a wooden sailboat -- under construction. We soon learned that this was a little project that Paul, then a young economics professor at U. of M., had brought from Vancouver, just in case there were decent sailing waters about! Over the next few years, our family got quite involved in helping prepare the "Nis'ku" for her launch – Jeannette remembers following Paul around like a little puppy dog, picking up nails and fetching tools. Mike joined Paul and another friend on Nis'ku's maiden voyage down the Red River and into the waters of Lake Winnipeg. In subsequent years, all of us, including Eric and Colin, enjoyed many adventures sailing with Paul.
Well, we thought living next to a shipyard was a pretty unique experience, but the surprises didn't end there – there were no fences between our yards and since our back porches were about ten feet apart, we began to have many opportunities to get to know this exceptional family better. We discovered that Paul had many other interests and passions, including brewing his own beer, which he was eager to introduce to Mike, and that he was a handyman extraordinaire, who despite having a lifelong black cloud over his head regarding plumbing emergencies, could pretty well fix anything. Paul exuded enthusiasm and confidence, and even more importantly, made other people feel like they could develop some practical skills too! This had a profound influence on our children, who remember him as someone who didn't just talk about the things he would like to do, but just went ahead and did them!
Over the course of that first summer we shared many meals, friends and parties, always filled with music. Their household was a magnet for people who loved folk music, and shared a passion for political discussion. Paul played several instruments, but my most vivid memory is of his breakneck banjo introduction to Darlin' Corey, an Appalachian song about a backwoods moonshine maker! It just made you want to get up and dance, or start the revolution – do something radical, anyhow!
Paul's interest in folk music drew us into a circle of people who founded the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and later the West End Cultural Centre. He was a dedicated volunteer and board member of both those organizations. Later, when I was teaching Canadian history, he used to come and sing folksongs for my classes to illustrate some of the key events and issues in Canadian labour history. When the Manitoba Opera Association called for volunteers to form the chorus, Paul got involved in what became a lifelong passion – opera. He loved singing, and was passionate about his likes and dislikes – we used to have marvellous set-tos about the relative merits of English vs Welsh choral music, which Puccini opera was his greatest work, who was the greatest tenor, etc.
What really baffled us was how Paul managed to combine so many interests along with a full-time teaching and research career. Perhaps the answer lies in this little anecdote that Mike remembers from the early seventies. We occasionally used to go next door to watch episodes of the "Onedin Line," a wonderful British television series about a west country sea captain who founded a shipping line early in the 19th century. During commercials Paul used to jot down notes for a textbook on Canadian economics he was writing for his classes. He never wasted any time, and when he turned his attention to a task, his concentration was phenomenal. This ability to put his heart and soul into everything he undertook was inspiring. You have only to look at the garden and landscaping, including the fencing and the patio, that Paul and Donna designed and built for their house in Vernon, to appreciate his energy and creative abilities, which did not lessen in retirement.
You can imagine our joy when we found out that Paul and Donna had decided to retire to Vernon. Over the last five years, we've shared many meals, a lot of cross-country skiing, golfing, and sailing, and much music together. And always wonderful conversation – animated discussions about social justice, religion, politics, and the common good. When you were talking with Paul, it was never a polite, superficial exchange – inevitably, you found yourself embroiled in a vigorous, hard-hitting, and passionate debate. As a mutual friend put it, Paul defied stereotypes – a university professor who was not elitist, but a down to earth practical man; a folk musician who loved opera and singing in choirs. He was full of inconsistencies which were delightful and maddening. He didn't hide behind the trappings or conventions of whatever role he took on. He was unpretentious, unassuming, approachable, engaged and present. But what we remember above all is his great capacity for friendship – through Paul we experienced a vision of how life could be lived fully and with commitment; not at the expense of others, but in the hope of making a better world here and now, in this place, and with a deep conviction that everyone could and should take part in this great project.

No comments: