I love this job not just because of what I do, but because of the people I meet. Most teach me new things, make me understand the world and our community a little better, and offer wisdom which I hope to carry with me until my time is up.
Two men I knew through my work died last Friday and I will miss them both.
One of my first memories of Russell Kwakseestahla was at the grand opening of the new Museum of Campbell River, back in the 1994.
It was wonderful occasion and the place was packed with dignitaries and the local who’s who. Everyone was seated, when Russell walked in, dressed in all the regalia bestowed on him as a hereditary First Nations Chief.
I was impressed, but his arrival was met by an audible groan from several others.
Unbeknownst to me at the time was that Russell had a history of “disrupting” various events, followed by historical-themed filibusters that would put a long-winded politician to shame. While some simply dismissed Russell as “trouble,” I tried to listen closely while he spoke. While he did have a tendency to speak in riddles, he usually had a good point – a different point of view – which was valid.
I admired Russell for speaking his mind, for standing up for what he thought was right, and trying to make life better for aboriginal people.
He also had a terrific sense of humour. A couple of years ago I saw him at the hospital where he was recuperating following surgery.
He smiled as he told me of all the chiefs who had visited the previous night to pay their last respects.
“Fooled them!” he laughed.
Jim Dubois was a very different man than Russell Kwakseestahla.
At first I only knew him through the wonderful wildlife photographs he provided to Christine Scott to illustrate her Island Wild column.
He later told me of how he would spend hours and hours by Oyster Bay – often in freezing, wet weather – trying to capture a bird at the perfect time and in the perfect light.
Sometimes those vigils would come up with nothing, in spite of him shooting hundreds of images. But his diligence was often rewarded with stunning images.
I got to know Jim a little better over the years and how he survived a lung transplant operation.
During a recent interview – on him making homes for Mason bees – he hinted that his time here was short. He knew it, but the rest of us hoped it wasn’t so. I was even counting on him visiting our new home.
Despite the fact Jim didn’t have much money, he was extremely generous. When he learned I was helping to organize a fundraiser for a young man battling cancer, he donated a framed print of a blue heron. I liked it so much I bid high and “won” it.
My wife and I hung the gorgeous print and awaited his visit. But last Friday Jim’s lungs finally gave out.
He’s not coming now, but a little bit of his spirit will always be with me.