I saw him on the other side of the intersection. It was a chilly day last December in Edmonton. There wasn’t much snow on the ground but there was enough to make it difficult for him to move through it. It would not be taken kindly to rush across the intersection to help him, although it was becoming obvious that with his 76 years, he had slowed down. Not one to complain much, he had casually mentioned some arthritis and a steady pain in both hands, carpal tunnel he said.
He struggled, he persevered, he progressed; slowly making his way across the intersection. Old school, we didn’t hug or even shake hands; instead we joshed, me about being a delicate Vancouver flower struggling in the arctic chill of below zero, he about how much he hated the ice on the roads and the lack of snow clearing on the sidewalks.
We slowly navigated our way to our favourite lunch spot, a vegetarian restaurant on Whyte Avenue, an unlikely favourite for two Alberta boys raised on meat and potatoes, a common sense response to old age and delicate stomachs. He’d actually upped his game and was now going gluten-free; no bread, no pasta, the man was insane!
Finishing our coffee, we casually, warily circled the inevitable; how are we feeling these days? Then, mutually satisfied we’d make it another day, we paid and left, on to our next adventure to a downtown movie – we both shared a deep fascination with the magic of movies, the escapism of it all.
“The bus stop is just around the corner” he said.
“Let me help this time,” I replied. “You’ve been pushing that wheelchair for 60 years, maybe you can let me push a bit now.” It was always a touchy subject, to help or not to help with the pushing.
That was our last big adventure, a vegan lunch, a movie downtown, a cold wait for the bus, an evening that culminated in NFL Monday Night Football and a fragrant, steaming bowl of pho from his favourite Vietnamese hole-in the wall – Friends and Neighbours – what a perfect name for a restaurant.
Going to Edmonton to see my brother Marvin was always a special event in my life.
Life is full of surprises, the past two years of the pandemic had brought us closer than ever before, more frequent visits, regular phone chats lasting an hour at least, till one of us signalled sign off with the not-so-secret code, “well, I’ve run out of words for today.”
The weather turned cold the next day, the first of many chilling arctic fronts had arrived. I scurried home to Vancouver, wondering how people survived.
Two months later, I returned. Marvin was in hospital, something had afflicted him with a rasping cough and a perilous decline in strength and energy. He’d lost the strength to lift himself from bed to chair, to get safely from chair to bed. By the time I arrived, the mounting but confusing array of results of medical probings had not comforted us. More and more, the bits and bites of news dashed any hopes of a return to normalcy; the news became grim, consistently and pervasively grim.
We met the doctors on Friday. Stage four, nothing to be done; the palliative care team was his only option. We talked of many things when they all left; some important, some the remains of the day. Words mattered, especially then; he needed to know that he was loved and valued, that his life had been filled with meaning, that we all admired him, cherished him and, again, loved him. Michael, his son, and I shared his time for the next few days, talking with him till he told us he’d ‘run out of words for today’.
He passed away on March 8th, just four days short of his 77th birthday, Michael by his side.
That last short visit was a micro-example of the man I had known all my life.
He was a stoic, of the best kind. He had to be, at the age of sixteen, injured in a freak car accident and confined to a wheelchair after an extra-ordinarily long rehab, he chose to accept his new life and get on with it rather that rage against fate, the gods, God or anyone else he could focus his anger on. He chose to accept and be optimistic, to manage those parts of his life where he had control, where he could choose. Years later, as Executive Director of the Canadian Paraplegic Association in Calgary he learned that he could only help those who had chosen to be positive, who had not succumbed to rage and self-pity. He had chosen wisely – at sixteen. His stoicism guided and informed his life; he never let his limitations define him or limit him.
Marvin created a career for himself; he moved to Edmonton in 1977 to become Executive Director of Chimo, providing interim care for at risk youth and as a long standing board member of the Boyle Street Education Center, a unique public charter school offering an educational haven for urban street youth. He served other agencies in the youth care and education fields for over 40 years; he seemed to have a particular affinity with, and understanding of, those people who, faced with challenges not of their making, sought to rise above them.
He was also quietly but fiercely independent. Resolute. Persistent. Unflinching and unflagging. In 1970, nine years after his accident, he and I signed up for the newly launched Master’s program in Public Affairs at Carleton University. We pooled our resources, meagre, and drove his car to Ottawa. We never missed a class in a year of unprecedented snowfall; we showed up, he would have it no other way. It was one of the few times when he allowed me to help push. He kept that independence for another 50 years, we all learned to ask politely if we could help him navigate a crosswalk or a curb-cut.
He loved hole-in-the-wall restaurants, was known by most of the places within a short wheel of his home and took hot and spicy as a challenge. Sushi was top of his list but anything Asian seemed to tickle his taste buds.
He loved movies. I found out that he loved books and, courtesy of the pandemic which gave us time to explore such weighty topics, we nattered like a couple of preteens about books we liked and why. He wrote a movie script once with a friend, it was remarkable, he had a keen eye for the human condition and admired good writing. I will some day read the Kafka and Dostoyevsky he extolled, but not for a while. He never shined it up and put it on the mantle but he had a keen intelligence and abundant curiosity.
He was most proud of his son, Michael. Michael grew up with Marvin in Edmonton, some might say they grew up together though fathering seemed to come naturally to him. Every chat we had required a long update on our kids, always proudly positive and with a sense of wonder at our good fortune. One of Marvin’s happiest days was to be father-of-the-groom at Michael’s wedding in Halifax.
He took care of himself; he had to, to survive all those years. He was disciplined, consistent and careful of his health.
Finally, I’m learning that he loved a good party, never the centre of attention but always the anchor and usually there till the end. He pretended to be a hermit but had more friends than most of us could wish for; all he needed was some quiet time to recharge. He had several friends who dated back 60 plus years to his home town, Taber. He shared life and regular meals for decades in Edmonton with John, one of those Taber buddies; he regularly rode shotgun while John did a Meals on Wheels route.
It took grit and courage to get up and go out the door to meet the day, but he did and he greeted his friends with a smile and a direct, friendly look, some said a twinkle, in his eye.
He was honest, frugal, grounded. Why have a chair in his apartment? He didn’t need it, if I came for a visit, we borrowed one from the common room of Abby Road, his coop apartment.
Tender Mercies are small acts of kindness that make the lives of the recipients glow. They are given with no strings, no presumption that they will be returned. They are given out of love. Marvin spread those Tender Mercies like confetti at a wedding.
He was a good man.
A wonderful tribute to an amazing brother. Uncle Marvin is missed, thank you for these words. ❤️
A wonderful remembrance, Bob. Thank you for sharing. Marvin WAS a good man. He will be missed.
On Sat, Mar 19, 2022 at 12:08 PM bobfoulkesadventures wrote:
> bfoulkesadventures posted: ” I saw him on the other side of the > intersection. It was a chilly day last December in Edmonton. There wasn’t > much snow on the ground but there was enough to make it difficult for him > to move through it. It would not be taken kindly to rush across the int” >
What a beautiful and inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful story, Bob.
That’s how I knew Marvin. And that’s how I will remember, Marvin. HE was one of the GOOD ONES.❤️
Sorry for your loss Bob. I enjoyed the lovely portrait of your brother that you painted. He sounds like a truly wonderful man who will be sorely missed by those who knew him. Take care of yourself and hang on to those great memories your brother left you with. Molly
Thank you for sharing this amazing tribute to your brother. Your memories really convey such a close and loving relationship. Our deepest sympathies for your loss. Thinking of you. Jane & Maurice
Thank you for sharing your tribute to your brother.
Obviously a special guy.
We are sorry for your loss.
Bob and Linnea email@example.com
He was all that and more. The best big brother in the world. You knew that he had your back no matter what was happening. I shall sorely miss our monthly conversations, his ready wit and humor. Our last conversation centered around Alexa and her struggles with her cancer and her attitude towards impending death. He was one of a kind .
I am sorry for your loose Bob. What an amazing tribute to your brother and friend. He sounds like he was an amazing person and such a wonderful teacher, and I can see those teachings have rubbed off on you. Thinking of you during these diffacut times and thankful to have you as my freind and mentor. Take good care of yourself.
These are wonderful words Bob and they describe Marvin perfectly. So many amazing memories. He was a gem and i will always be grateful for his support as a “boss” and a dear friend. Love and Light Marvin….as you journey onward.
Thank you for this loving portrait of Marvin. I knew Marvin from our times as board members of the Boyle Street Education Centre. He was kind, thoughtful, practical all with a twinkle in his eye. He also knew how to have fun. My life is richer for knowing him. May his spirit continue to soar.
Thank you for this tribute. I have worked with over 100 trustees in my career as a superintendent. Marvin was amongst the very best- evenhanded, fair, and had a sense of humour. We worked together for twenty plus years and over that period, we never had a harsh word or an argument. Marvin often shared his reflections on the best course of action to solve particular issues with me. He was an ideal trustee and made BSEC a better place to be. RIP, Marvin.
A wonderful tribute to a man with special and remarkably strong attributes, applied to a life that was far from easy. Knowing you, Bob, you will have found occasion to tell him in person what you said here, comforting him while easing his journey out of this world. My sincere condolences with your loss of such a close friend/brother.
Bob, please accept my deepest sympathies for your loss. Thank you so much for your insightful and loving tribute to Marvin. I was honoured to call him a good friend of more than 40 years. For the past decade or so, we only managed to get together a couple of times a year, almost always for Sunday brunch at the High Level Diner, usually with our mutual friend John Overall. But there was a time when Marvin and I got together more often. You’re right, he loved a good party and never left early. We both enjoyed the blues, and for many years made regular outings to catch the live band at Blues on Whyte in the Commercial Hotel. Marvin was wonderful companion: quick-witted and deeply intelligent, playful, empathetic and generous. He was a great man whose legacy is enormous. I will miss him.
Thanks so much Bob for your beautiful tribute to your brother Marvin. He was and will remain to be a guiding light for me and many others I am sure. His gentle wisdom taught me to take each challenge thoughtfully and with grace. I will always have fond memories of Marvin’s owning the dance floor at my wedding. He taught me many many lessons about life and choices. Condolences to Marvin’s family and those many friends. Always remembered.
Such a deep and meaningful tribute describes your very special brother. We were in school together and I still remember the day of his accident. Marvin had a quiet inner strength which served him well. Thank you for sharing these very personal thoughts which brought tears to my eyes. My deepest condolences to you, his son and all family and friends whose lives Marvin touched.