Saying Goodbye

I’m thinking about the loss Barrie residents experienced at the end of July when two people who’d lived here a long time gave up their earthly addresses.

There were completely unrelated; very likely they never met. A generation apart in age, these two died a day apart from each other and were buried in the same cemetery.

Bill Malcomson and Judy Antcliffe-Shipton-Clissold. Because most of Judy’s life and impact in Barrie was as Judy Shipton, I’m going to refer to her with that name. And these are just a few reasons why we should pause a minute and give thought to both of these people.

When Bill Malcomson was a little boy, his father operated an insurance brokerage in downtown Barrie, and carried much of the town’s insurance needs, including those of the Town (and later City) of Barrie. Bill was a much envied little fellow. The family home at 9 Penetang Street curled with charming gingerbread and in the back barn (which still stands) was Bill’s little pony and sulky to match. Bill’s love affair with horses began on unpaved streets at the outskirts of Barrie (that’s what 9 Penetang Street was 80 years ago) and later moved along Highway 93 to Crown Hill where Bill and Ethel Malcomson developed one of the most handsome farmsteads in Oro Township.

Small. Tough. Bill Malcomson scared people off at first with a gruffness that fell away when he was around animals. And the big barn at the Highway 93 farm certainly reflected his childhood love of the horse drawn carriage. Bill spent considerable energy buying and restoring antique carriages… the barn was full of them. And Bill was full of them. A tour with Bill through that barn, and then his stables past feeble ponies and horses that Bill continued to care for, was a tour through a different man than the public persona. Kind. Gentle. Interesting. Small. Tough.

Thirty-five years after Bill Malcomson was born, a new crop of elementary schools found their way onto newly developing Barrie streets… schools to serve the education needs of the vast numbers of youngsters born to returning soldiers, sailors and airmen and their young wives after World War Two. One of those schools, Oakley Park, was built to house the voices and energy of children in the subdivisions built on Newton, Oakley Park, Davidson, and Gunn streets. It was here that Judy Shipton played her magic.

Judy taught grades seven and eight… tough ages to teach. She had a sympathy and an energy that kids identified with and she used her skill to weave understanding of the past as an important part of planning for the future. While Judy had no firsthand knowledge of war, she was keenly aware of two things: the young people in her charge would have been close to conscription a generation earlier. And, those who fought during both World Wars, deserve to be publicly thanked by those enjoying a strong democracy today.

Judy Shipton made that happen.

While other teachers are often content with in-school assemblies on November 11, Judy’s students each year walked from Oakley Park to the Memorial downtown. They went as a class and as a class they walked along the sidewalk and laid a hand-made wreath and stood before the memorial in complete silence. And as they backed slowly away from the memorial, heads bowed, a slow, steady applause would begin to build. Veterans on the parade route, old fellows numb from the cold with medals lined along on their coats, would applaud these youngsters. Was this not why they fought?

This November, as I stand at the cenotaph where I’ve stood now since moving to Barrie 30 years ago, I’ll think of Bill Malcomson whose family insurance office was just down the street but whose real passion breathed into horses in Oro Township. And as 11 am strikes. I’ll think in the silence of Judy Shipton and her remarkable ability to recognize and ensure a generation’s gifts won’t be forgotten.