“Always leave something on the table for the next person!”
This philosophy, compounded hundredfold, sums up Cyril Arthur Elston’s approach to life. And life in Barrie is fuller, richer, better, steeped in benevolence because Cy Elston chose to make his world a better, better place.
On July 8, a huge tent stretched across the Elston backyard near Minesing. New rockery flower beds (design and built by Cy and his family), 60 feet of them, welcomed the cars that stretched along the driveway. The bar was open, coupled with pleasant servers gesturing to tables laden with fruits, cheeses, meats… the bounty of the earth. Friends arrived not to say goodbye to this remarkable man who has lived in our midst for most of his 92 years. Friends arrived to laugh, share remembrances, feel awe at the all-seeing, all-doing generosity that was typical of Cy Elston.
Terry Codling tells just one story but it can be multiplied for its nature… Administrator of Grove Park Home, Terry looked up one day to see this elf-like character in jeans, a plaid shirt, red suspenders and a tilley hat standing before him. “I like to give things to places that are doing good work,” said the elf. Terry had no idea who this was nor what he was thinking to give. A toaster? A lawnmower? Hard to tell.
Terry answered vaguely: “well, we have many needs at Grove Park Home.” “What’s your current big need?” asks the elf. Hmmmm, thinks Terry. How big? “Well, we’re thinking about starting a fundraising campaign to replace the windows in residents’ rooms in our original wing. The windows are very old now and we want energy efficient windows that older folks can open easily.”
“Show me,” says Cy. So, Terry takes Cy on a tour. “What kind of windows? How much will they cost? Who’s installing them?” he asks. Terry is a study in restraint: “well, we’re just starting the fundraising; we have no idea how it will go. Those are decisions for later.”
Cy doesn’t have the word ‘later’ in his vocabulary. “I’m sending a contractor over and he’ll have a look at what you need and show you some window types and give you a price. Then you call me. I’ll pay the bill. But be sure you pay the contractor on time!”
Cy went on to explore every window in the place and ended up paying the bill to replace lounge windows as well. Anonymously.
Same thing with the brand new Hospice building on Penetanguishene Rd. He and his wife Sally investigated the rooms where people would be spending their final days. “How many rooms?” he asked campaign member Dr. Rick Irvin. “What sorts of furnishings?” Cy and Sally furnished every single resident room. Anonymously.
What Cy did in Barrie for years was done quickly, decisively, and anonymously.
John Cockburn (Cy’s lawyer and friend), speaking at his ‘going out’ party noted the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” “That’s true, but Cy wasn’t available then!” Tributes from friends, Arch Brown, Harold Rigg, wife Sally, Derek Walton and Cockburn summed up an individual who woke up with his boots on and hit the ground running.
Cy had a voracious enthusiasm. At age 92 he still read three newspapers a day; he still investigated businesses and charities who could use a hand. He still oversaw the remarkable property that he and Sally tended so lovingly. He still climbed up on his tractor, or ATV, and oversaw the building of gardens that remain delightful.
Jack Wallwin, longtime friend, says Cy was a ‘man’s man’… that means he loved fishing, hunting, living in the bush. “But when he entered a room, he went first to the ladies… full of interest and compliments, long before joining his friends.”
Engineer Peter Smith, says Cy enjoyed being politically incorrect; he did business on a handshake and he was unswervingly honest. When he moved to Barrie after a career with Union Carbide, he started a liquid gas business and began to invest in real estate. He joined a few other businessmen and together they built much needed warehousing and business locations in what was then the south of Barrie… Burton AVE and Essa Rd! He held mortgages. He was astute.
“Cy always said in any business deal, there’s got to be something in it for everybody or it won’t work.” Smith continues: “If he heard someone was in trouble in business, he’d step in. If a tenant couldn’t make their rent or equipment payments, he’d make it work for them. If he wasn’t the landlord, he’d give them a loan.”
July 8 Cy’s good friends, Jack Wallwin, Ernie Irvine, Arch Brown, Reg Driscoll, Charlie Young, Peter Smith, Lloyd Lawrence, Harold Rigg, John Cockburn were there in body or in spirit. They were there to reflect on what drove their friend to make sure he left more on the table than he ever took from it. While he didn’t label himself a Christian man, he lived his life in unparalleled goodness, driven by a basic appreciation of people.
We are so fortunate in this community to have had the influence and principles of a man like Cy Elston. What footsteps to follow!