You might say that Joan New is a Type A personality. Give her a list and the finish line was about all she saw. When Joan New, from Stroud, married Dennis Decarie from “Vatican Hill” [nickname for the residential area around St Mary’s Church] in Barrie, her first lesson was that the list was going to take a long time to complete. Why? Because Dennis liked people. He liked to get to know them and he’d remember those connections long after others forgot.
Dennis Decarie. As a young child, he hung around the downtown Zellers. His dad, Tony, was store manager and Dennis found early work at Zellers.
Dennis Decarie died suddenly last month. But in between birth and death was a life filled with tremendous achievement. Dennis was of that era where teachers went to Normal School after Grade 13 and then right into a classroom. For Dennis it was into a brand new school in a brand new neighbourhood in Allandale. Peacock, Thorncrest, Carol Rd., Marshall St., Bayview Dr… new homes popped up and with them a unique open concept school, built in a circle and administered through teaching pods. This was early 1970’s and Dennis was the first male teacher in the school. When Joan New joined the staff a few years later, their courtship began, and because Barrie was a town of 25,000 people, keeping their secret was impossible. The kids all knew about Miss New and Mr. Decarie!
It’s like a Simcoe County geography lesson to follow Dennis’ teaching career… from Allandale he went on to Portage View School, a then unique school with an entire division of intellectually handicapped children who interacted with the other side of the school with great success… long before integration occurred. From Portage View to Stayner to Forest Hill where Dennis was vice principal. His first principalship was in Cookstown. And then he transferred to Bradford. His secretary there, Barbara White, also served as his pallbearer last month.
From each of those schools come children that Dennis connected with, coached, cared about and taught. And with them came their families, their siblings… his reach into people was deep and the lineups at both funeral home and funeral were real testimony to Dennis’ working life.
His most important role, though, was Family Man. He was a devoted father to two daughters and absolutely loved to take them shopping for clothes. Dennis enjoyed shopping for clothes himself, so it was a happy trio that headed out for an outfit for one event or another. Like most Dads, Dennis was very proud of his girls, who have risen to meet that pride in full measure.
Dennis was a Community Man as well. United Way, Out of the Cold. Gilda’s Club. Everywhere Dennis volunteered, he matched up with an associate from a school and pulled off all kinds of impressive fundraisers.
Dennis was Sports Man. He coached school teams, but he also loved to golf and ski. He played baseball. He helped with the race team at Osler. He played on the original Saints Hockey Team. He played shinny on Amelia St with his childhood buddies Paul Hargreaves, Jim McCann, Phil Walker, Terry Saso, Paul Crossland, Pete Desormeaux.
Dennis was also Putter Man. Nothing to do with golf, here. Dennis liked to putter. He’d putter away in his tool shed at the cottage; he’d putter away in the back yard at home. He enjoyed his own company. He was a private person; yet he knew everybody!
Sidelined by lymphoma in 2001, Dennis became Wellness Man. He fought. He took advantage of everything medicine had to offer him and a few years later was sidelined by a heart attacked caused partly by cancer therapy. Dennis fought again. Most recently, he’d been diagnosed with a return of cancer and because of his heart condition, he was on experimental treatment. A lymph node in his upper bowel was growing and he went back to Emerg at RVH a couple of times last month each time returning home quickly. When he returned in late September, he was whisked into critical care. Joan could tell by the doctor’s face that his condition was serious. He lasted only an hour. Joan had expected to bring him home.
If Joan was surprised by Dennis’ death, it’s likely that Dennis was not surprised. In this he was Caring Man. The weekend before his death, he and Joan went up to their beloved cottage in Sundridge. He was unable to do much, but walked along beside Joan, showing her how to unhook the water and drain the pipes, how to install the shutters, how to close down every system in preparation for winter. They put away the kayaks they loved so much. Looking back, Joan realizes that Dennis was preparing her to be able to take over.
And so, when we look at the time between birth and death, for Dennis Decarie what does it all mean? It means literally thousands of students who benefitted from his measured calmness. It means hundreds of hours studying late at night on the weekends to come up to new educational requirements for the job he already had. It means a love of coaching kids to push their bodies in sport and to trust what they can do. It means a true commitment to friends. It means unparalleled love of his daughters, Taylor Leigh and Caitlin. It means that sturdy, quiet, eternal support of the woman with whom he built his life. It means Family. People. Children. Humour. It means those old fashioned gentleman values that stand out starkly against today’s forced familiarity. It means Style. Dennis Decarie had incredible style.
Our world is richer because Tony and Florence Decarie blessed it with their son.