Ross Stephens was, in my mind, Barrie’s last great gentleman.
Perfectly dressed, completely immersed in all matters clothing, he could double knot a tie, tie an ascot, select the vest that complimented the suit, and help you do the same.
But Ross not only looked the gentleman… he WAS the gentleman! Whether it was in his 60 year membership in the Kiwanis Club, or in his Ward Three alderman’s chair at City Council, he maintained decorum and polite dissertation. If Ross Stephens was roaring angry about something, the only person who likely knew was his wife, Muriel.
Monday afternoon, the pews at Collier United Church were occupied by mostly elderly politicians, business owners, church leaders, Kiwanians as they gathered to say goodbye to Ross who died Sept 27. He’d worked much of the day before, said goodbye to his nephew Robert Stephens who now captains a business older than a century, went off to his Kiwanis Club meeting, went home to Muriel. On Tuesday, he didn’t wake up.
Those there to honour Ross on Monday were also congratulating him on the gentlemanly way he left this earth. No illness. No fuss. No ambulance. No tubes. No frantic catscans or mri’s. He just laid down and went. Neatly. Just like he should have, if you knew Ross.
He was 91.
In 1972 Ross was elected to represent Ward Three at Barrie City Council. Lester Everett Cooke had been elected mayor. Some of those who served on council with Ross were there to say goodbye on Monday; some went ahead of Ross. Paul Wessenger, George Harper, Jim Perri, Dave McClymont, Val Brucker, Janice Laking, Del Cole, Ed Thompson, Ross Archer, Alec Arthur.
Ross made two bids for mayor and each time settled back the following term into representing Ward Three. In political life, Ross was a gentleman.
He and Muriel enjoyed the lives of their nephews and nieces. They played a significant role in the lives of the children of their siblings, and they loved them dearly. In fact, Robert’s letter to his uncle’s memory, read at the service, thanked Ross for his years of tuition and remembered with great emotion the 1988 day when Ross handed the store keys over to Robert.
When the Stephens Store for Men building was sold, Muriel and Ross were there, packing up a century of financial records along with a basement of bits and bobs from the clothing industry. The Stephens store is now Kensington’s bar, I believe.
Ross was a man of great balance and while he worked hard, it didn’t get in the way of play. An air traffic controller for the RCAF during World War Two, Ross applied the same technical accuracy to the business end of his golf club. He made sure his nephew, Robert, had a junior membership (and a set of clubs to match) at the club, first on Sunnidale Rd and then at its St Vincent St location.
In fact, Ross and Muriel built their gracious home across from the golf course when it was on Sunnidale Rd.
When you live nearly 100 years, you experience so much! We can’t imagine the shifts in life that Ross experienced. He gently ushered nephew Robert into the clothing business, taking him on buying trips, getting him ready to take over and then being there to hold the rudder every now and then.
Ross and Muriel were definitely ‘old school.’ They married in 1953 and stayed married for 58 years. The same biblical readings that were read at their wedding were read at Ross’ service on Monday. For Ross was a man of continuity, a man of substance, a man of dignity, a gentle man.