My Dad knew very little about his birth family beyond the fact that he was born in the humblest of circumstances in a mining town in a poor industrial area in England. He was the seventh of eight children, his two oldest siblings having died in a fire. Dad and his five sisters were placed in an orphanage when he was three and Dad spent eleven years in a Bernardo residence. Residential care reached its height in the 1930s, with 8,000 British children living in nearly 200 homes across the country. Life is the homes was run on strictly disciplined lines and children were instilled with a sense of responsibility and self-sufficiency. Children were expected to rise early and spend their waking hours cleaning their rooms, planting gardens and carrying out maintenance work.  All aspects of life were tightly controlled, family contacts were not permitted and they were not allowed to see their birth or family records.

Many, like my father, and his sister Jane were sent overseas to places like Australia and Canada where they worked as labours on farms or as domestic help, but were never adopted by the host family.  Dad arrived in Canada in 1939 at the age of 14 and was taken in by a farm family near Cornwall.  John McRae and his three sisters never married but took in a number of these children.  By the time he was 18 Dad had travelled to the west in search of adventure and work and then eventually to Toronto.  It was there, while living in rooms in a church that provided an outreach to youth on the streets that Dad met Mom. It was also through the pastor of this church that Dad was introduced to the Lord. They married in 1948 and moved to Denfield to be near my Mom’s family.

The next decade saw the birth of their seven children.  Money was scarce and for a number of years Dad provided for us by working the night shift at the Ontario Hospital and during the day working with a neighbour, building barns. Our home was pretty basic but we always had plenty of food and lots of visitors to share it with.  It was not unusual for Dad to bring home total strangers from work or church to join us for a meal – often to Mom’s horror, as she would have to scramble to come up with enough food – only to have them become lifelong family friends.

Over the 34 years that he worked at the Psychiatric Hospital Dad was given ever increasing responsibility and eventually gained the status of Registered Psychiatric Nurse. I had the privilege of starting my own nursing career in a hospital where my dad was highly respected and to hear many stories of the lives he touched there. On one occasion we were struggled to restrain a patient who was thrashing wildly about in the middle of a psychiatric episode. Without her consciously being aware of it, she lashed out and struck me across the face. Suddenly this woman – who was of a substantial size and difficult to manage with five staff – found herself bodily bustled to her room single-handedly by my father who had seen her hit me. The following day, in a more rational frame of mind, she asked what had happened. When she discovered she had hit me the previous day, she was mortified that she had struck his daughter. That was the kind of respect that my father generated from staff and patients alike.

As long as I can remember Dad took his faith in God seriously and served faithfully in every church we attended. We virtually never missed a Sunday at church even though the sixteen mile drive to London was often a challenge especially given the fact that cars were always in need of repair and the sixteenth concession was the last road to be ploughed in winter. He instilled that kind of faithfulness in me as well, and my ministry today reflects the kind of devotion to God and the duty of serving others that I learn from my father’s example.

Dad also was thrilled to be a father and especially a grandfather. Everyone of his grandchildren sitting here today knows without a shadow of a doubt that my father loved them with all his heart, and would do anything he could for them. His greatest joy was to have his grandchildren visit him. His faith in God allowed him to trust that God would look after his grandchildren no matter what the circumstances of their lives, and he had the amazing ability to see the good in each of them, and encourage them to just be themselves and let God take care of the outcome. I know that if he could speak in the last week when so many came by to visit, he would have asked how they were and spent his time talking about them rather than himself. When I asked Adam, who visited Dad three times in his last week, why he was coming, he replied that Grandma and Grandpa had always been there for him, and he wanted to be there for him.

Dad has always been there for all of us. Never once have I heard him talk about how difficult his life was or excuse himself from some obligation because he had been poorly treated as a child. Never has he allowed self-pity to rule his heart or cloud his judgement. When Mom became ill he served her faithfully all the hours of the day, so much so that he was on a first name basis with everyone in her nursing home. His life was characterized by kindness, and his heart was ruled by his love for Christ. Although the circumstances of his death have been a heartbreak for all of us, we know that he is with his Saviour who he loved, and his wife with whom he shared his life. Although there may be many people who influence our lives, each of us only have one father who gave us life. I will be eternally grateful for the father that God gave me.