My Dad, a Beacher through and through, passed away March 20 just before his 78th birthday.
‘Rick’ was born in the Toronto East General Hospital and grew up on lower Balsam, close to the lake. Apparently his mother couldn’t decide on an appropriate name for her only son, nor did she feel there was a rush, so his uncle nicknamed him Rick. Eventually his mother named him Donald Gordon in honour of the ‘Hero of Khartoum’!
They all lived with his grandparents, the Loosemores; and so on the first day of school he arrived at Balmy Beach P.S. and told them his name was Ricky Loosemore. Meanwhile his mother had registered him as Donald Gordon Ottaway and a conundrum was born!
Evidently, he felt that one hour of school was enough for anyone, so when his mother arrived home after shopping that morning, he was sitting on the house steps waiting for her. Little did he know that there would be many more years of study at Balmy Beach, Malvern, University of Toronto and York University.
At 6’6” he was a natural at basketball and played for the Malvern team and then on to various city leagues. Like many Beachers, he enjoyed the events at the Balmy Beach Club, and it was there at a dance that he met his future wife, Dorothy, who was herself a Beacher born and raised on Wineva Avenue. They were married on a snowy night in February in Kew Beach United Church.
As time went on they raised me and my two brothers, Larry and Steve, several dogs, a rabbit, a number of gerbils, mice, and any school pets that needed to be boarded.
I have fond memories of the lessons dad taught us that are unique to the Beach. For example, when going for a walk on the boardwalk, always walk into the wind first so when you get tired and turn around, the wind is at your back. It’s always colder near the lake so wear a hat and mitts even if all of the other kids aren’t. Be wary around pigeons and seagulls!
He taught us how to skip stones on the water. Being a kid (and a girl) I never got past three ‘skips’ on a stone – nowhere near the 15 plus that could he do. I later learned that his throwing arm was so good that the ‘Ottaway Pass’ was coined to describe a missile of a football thrown down the field to his teammates in the end zone. He loved football and played on the Balmy Beach team at Pantry Park and other city fields. The Toronto Argonauts tried to draft him after he finished at Malvern but he chose instead to enter Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto where he was a star basketball player, a sport he continued for many years after he graduated.
After University, his first job was at Massey Ferguson; perfect for someone who liked machines and liked to build things. But he also had a remarkable talent for business and so from Massey Ferguson, he quickly rose to executive levels at many companies with titles that included President, CEO and member of the Board of Directors. He was even asked to sit on OBAC (Ontario Business Advisory Council) with other CEO’s of Ontario’s largest corporations, to advise the Premier on strategic issues.
When I was three-years-old, my family moved to Don Mills. It was a more affordable area but it wasn’t the Beach. After 10 years, my family moved back to the lake and settled into a home on Pine Crescent.
Not long after, my mother decided to enter politics and ran for School Trustee. Because she was running as an independent there was no party support, only friends and family to help. For several hours each night we would canvas different areas handing out brochures and hoping to convince people to vote for my mother.
It was decided that my dad, with his height, was too intimidating a figure to go door to door so his job was to put up election signs. Each night after we finished canvassing, we would hand him a list of sign locations. He would then gather a trunk full of signs, wooden stakes and his big mallet and proceed to drive around the neighbourhood pounding in signs (there’s that throwing arm again). We later learned that it was even more intimidating to have a big, tall man show up at your door after 9 p.m. with a mallet asking where you’d like the sign placed. My mother’s signs were always in the best locations and she won the election four times, only retiring when my dad hung up his mallet.
My dad was the most resourceful person I have ever known. Nothing was too complicated to figure out, or to challenging to attempt. Indeed all sorts of people came to him for advice. He had a collection of sayings, that later came to be known as ‘Rick’s Rules’. Some of them include:
1. Wait to worry. Ninety per cent of the things you worry about never happen.
2. In any contract always leave yourself an out, just in case things don’t work the way they are supposed to.
In his later years, his love of sports led him to be Chairman of the Board of Governors at Ted Reeve Arena, a position he held for 20 years. As a businessman he was very aware of protecting the taxpayer’s money and since the Ted Reeve Arena was originally built with funds from the community, collected door to door with matching funds from the city, he endeavored to run it as efficiently as possible with good value for the money spent.
As a father and sportsman, he was determined to create access to Ted Reeve’s facilities for as many children and community people as possible. This led to the creation of an additional building with a second ice rink. The Board was always scrounging to find funds to complete the Earl Robinson room, to give access to the community for meetings etc. I understand that after he retired, the City finished the facility which has become a great asset to the area.
My dad’s emotional and physical fortitude were really put to the test when it came to his health. For the last 40 years of his life he lived with severe psoriatic arthritis which became increasingly debilitating as time went on. About 10 years ago he developed multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer. For both conditions he tolerated years of drugs and treatments with courage, dignity and humour. As the cancer progressed he would often invoke one of his rules (like ‘wait to worry’) to help our family deal with the inevitable. Between his inner strength and his love of laughing, he lived much longer than anyone thought he would.
He was a great dad, and is missed terribly by me and my family. He would have been surprised and humbled to know that the flag at Ted Reeve Arena flew at half-mast when he passed away.