A Great Man

This morning Bryce Sharsel Skinner left us peacefully, surrounded by family.  Though one is never glad to lose a love one, I couldn’t help but smile because all I can picture is Grandpa making it to heaven in time to have breakfast with Grandma.  I believe they are probably sitting across from one another in loving silence, just happy to be together again after their short time apart.

For a brief time I had 2 Bryce Skinners in my life.  One of them played a huge role in shaping the man that I have become, the other has ushered me into the wonderful world of fatherhood and I have no doubts that I will be drawing on my memories of ‘Old Bryce’ as I do my best to shape ‘Young Bryce’.

I was blessed to get to spend over 32 years of my life with Grandpa Skinner.  My memories start sleeping in the little room off their bedroom and Grandpa tickling my toes to wake me up in the morning.  My favourite memory from recent past happened a couple months ago when for a short while, Grandpa shook of the chains of dementia and we played catch with a bouncy ball at Strathmere Lodge.  In between those bookends was a lifetime of good advice and the provision of a living example of how to be a good man.

I actually said my goodbyes to Grandpa about a week ago; Jess, Young Bryce, and I went for one last visit because we knew his time was short.  Since that visit, I have spent much of my time reflecting on what Grandpa saw throughout his lifetime and the lasting positive impact he and the other members of the Greatest Generation have had on our world.

Grandpa provided a foundation for many of my core beliefs and there is one piece of advice that I wrestle with often.  During one of our regular Tuesday lunches that we would have when I worked in Mitchell he told me, “Stewart, good men stand up and speak up, and we need more good men.” That phrase on its own seems pretty easy to follow but when you couple it with how Grandpa lived, it made it a bit harder to understand.  In my lifetime, Grandpa was not one for grandstanding or being the centre of attention.  Others have told me that Grandpa had a knack for knowing when to stand up and when to speak.  He did not speak often, but if he did, people stopped and listened.  I have painted vivid pictures in my own mind of what Grandpa may have been like as a younger man and I think I only need to look to my own father to see a reflection of what Grandpa was talking about.  When I was a teenager, I would watch my Dad with awe as he spoke with passion about the pig industry and moving it forward as Chair of Ontario Pork.  Something tells me that if I had a time machine and I could go back to 1950s and 60s, I would see an almost identical picture of Grandpa.  I believe that my Dad, like Grandpa, did not seek out leadership positions out of a lust for power but by an intense desire to serve, whether it was the church, agriculture, or community.

Grandpa and Grandma also worked together to instill in me a love of history and the importance of family.  In the nineties, a relative recorded Grandma and Grandpa talking about Skinner history and my Grandma had a wonderful quote when asked why it was important to understand our family’s history, “If you don’t know where you’ve been, how do you know where you are going?”  Without a doubt, my favourite memories will always come from sitting and listening to Grandma and Grandpa share stories of previous generations of our family.  They had a marvelous ability to tell a story in tandem, each augmenting the other when a detail was missed or a perhaps too much creative license was being taken.  Grandpa’s love of history went far beyond family history, local history, steam power, political history…I am very blessed to have had a person like him to show me just how important history is.

I am going to miss Grandpa, there is a part of my soul that comes straight from that man, and I will endeavour to be like him when I can.  Like Grandpa, I love to tell a good story and hopefully someday my children and grandchildren will sit around my table and listen to stories about the time my Grandpa Bryce finished cutting his hay early and decided to knock off early and he and his friends jumped into a car, headed to London for a night of dancing or the time he and his threshing mates threatened to walk off the job after 3 days of being fed nothing but fried baloney for every meal by a bachelor farmer.

There will be tears today and in the days ahead, but the tears will dry and we will be left with our memories of one of the finest men to tread this earth, love you Grandpa.

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