Catch the wind, Mansel!

“You can use almost any measure when speaking of success. Some measure by the size of their house or the net worth of their portfolio. However, the measure of real success is one you cannot spend… it’s the way your child describes you when talking to a friend.”

With these words, the Children’s Aid Society thanked Mansel and Pat Powell for making their Golden Wedding Anniversary celebrations an event that benefitted children. The Powell’s own adult children organized a fabulous affair, with 200 friends bringing good wishes and cheer to their parents. But when you’ve been married half a century, good wishes are all you need. The Powells made sure the less fortunate benefitted from the gift giving that marked their long life together.

That life together ended on July 6 when colon cancer claimed Mansel’s earthly life. Three days before his death, his family took him from his bed at Royal Victoria Hospital to the English gardens of his backyard, so lovingly designed and tended by his wife, Pat. It was his last visit home.

The day of Mansel Powell’s funeral, the flags at Bemis were at half mast. The entire plant was closed for the day. And Trinity Anglican Church was full, full of the people touched by this man’s life… folks from the Legion, fellow sailors from the Yacht Club, colleagues past and present from the Bemis (formerly Moldex) plant, people who worked with Manse on the Public Library campaign, neighbours, and friends.

So how does this happen? A kid born during the Depression, moved to London by his very independent mother, relocated to the country during the Blitz, a compulsory stint in the Royal Air Force, arriving in Canada in 1950 with his new bride and $80.

What is the core of this man who built the life so celebrated earlier this month?

Mansel Powell was quiet. He’d see a need and fill it. Without fanfare, or expectation. The letters arriving in the Powell mailbox are telling of stories and service, kindness and reward that Pat Powell never knew about.

A history buff, especially war history, Mansel was frequently called on by the daughter of a co-worker, needing help for this or that school assignment. Mansell would pour over history books, sticking notes in pages and send off the volumes to the student. And when she’d call to thank him, he always had the same question: “what mark did ‘we’ get?”

“We were both Blitz Children, children living in London during World War Two,” recalls his wife Pat. “As Blitz children we were sent to live with families in the country. Our schooling was sadly affected and when we arrived in Canada, we moved to Barrie to be near the farm that Mansel’s mother had bought.”

Mansel started immediately to attend night school, to sign up for correspondence courses, to look for work. Alvin Robinson gave this young Welsh native his first job and he never regretted it. With more education under his belt, Manse moved to General Electric on Bradford St where he worked as a set-up man. More courses, more education and Bill Caldwell saw the potential and hired Manse for his growing company on Victoria St.–Moldex.

As Moldex grew, plans for the new Bayview Dr plant came into being and Manse became plant manager. He held that position until Bill Caldwell sold the operation to Bemis, and in fact, Manse continued the Barrie operation until his retirement in 1993, a total of 33 years. Dick Bemis was quick to respond when he heard of Mansel’s death. It seems a short few years ago since the plant sent Manse off to retirement with a huge party at Snow Valley.

Mansel’s passions? Family. History. Work. Sailing. Fundraising. Keeping in touch with RAF friends. He did nothing by half measure, and his last sailboat, Afternoon Delight, was a 25 foot CNC yacht whose Spinnaker was the Welsh Dragon. Manse took his vacation in 1976 to work the Olympic sailing events in Kingston. For several years he coordinated Remembrance Day speakers at public and high schools around the region; he was committed to helping kids understand what the generations before had fought for.

Mansel loved Ireland; he loved Irish people with their humour and their way with words. “Ah, but the Welsh can sing!” he’d toss out after his compliment.

He supported his kids in everything they did, even learning how to swim along with his daughter Janis so he could attend Neptunes swim meets. He’d do the 5 am swim with his kids and wife Pat would do the 6 pm coaching sessions. Family. Family. Sailing. Swimming. Skating at the yacht club in the winter.

Andrew Haughton was godson to Manse and Pat Powell. When he bid the formal goodbye last week, he commented on the influence Manse had in his life. He expressed gratitude for the fatherly support he received after the untimely death of his own father. And he noted that his own son, L’il Manse, has big shoes to fill.

When asked to speak, as he often was, this quiet man with friendly eyes and solid determination, usually offered what is an appropriate epitaph for him.

“May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your field;
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.”

Indeed. Thanks, Mansel.