This memorial website was created in memory of our loved one, George Roberts, 80 years old, born on June 1, 1937, and passed away on November 4, 2017. We will remember him forever.
Posted by Elizabeth Barrowman on March 3, 2019
We miss you. We miss your wisdom and your humour We miss your "Robert's streak," and your kindness. We miss you. 
All our love,
The Barrowman Family
Grant, Elizabeth, Sophia, Madeline and Louis

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Posted by Elizabeth Barrowman on March 3, 2019
We miss you. We miss your wisdom and your humour We miss your "Robert's streak," and your kindness. We miss you. 
All our love,
The Barrowman Family
Grant, Elizabeth, Sophia, Madeline and Louis
Recent stories

Faye's Eulogy - Nov 9, 2017

Shared by Faye Roberts on March 1, 2019

Good morning,

Where to begin?  Let’s start with some housekeeping.  I want to recognize that we’re joined by the miracle of technology by George and Lorna’s niece and her family in New Zealand today. He would be pleased to know Elizabeth, Grant, Maddie, Sophie and Louis were able to tune in today – one of his fondest times was when George and Lorna visited them in New Zealand as part of the post-retirement tour of Down Under.  Kudos to them for rising at a punishing hour to join us! 

We’re going to laugh and spoiler alert – we’re going to do some crying.  Let’s talk a bit about the laughing part.  George enjoyed a good laugh and many of you have emailed or called and talked about how he always had such a good sense of humour.  Which is all true.  Most of you will be familiar with George’s joke emails he would forward to people - always marked High priority.  While we’re on the subject did anyone ever receive an email from George that was not marked High Priority??  We’re going to talk about many of the aspects of George’s full and rich life and it’s fitting we have some laughter as we proceed. 

I want to warn you that some of the humour is going to be at George’s expense.  That’s just the way I am wired as I suspect most of you know. If George was here, it would be at this moment that he would start to worry about just what I might say at the front of the room.  Frankly I liked to keep him on his toes a little.

Some of you may know that George was famous for his plans.  Everything from the smallest increment of time to spans of 5, 10, 15 or 25 years, George had a plan for it.  And I have to be honest, I was planning to be away on a long-planned vacation with my husband Peter this week.  We were supposed to leave on Sunday morning but as it turns out, George had other plans for us and they didn’t involve being on a sunny beach. Although it didn’t go down like this, I have a picture of him in my mind when he realized we were planning to go on vacation, on Saturday night, leaning forward and saying, “Lorna hold my beer and watch this.” 

I should mention that in addition to being a planner, George was also famously practical and frugal. This story of the deferred holiday supports this as well because if George had passed away even a few hours later, we wouldn’t have been able to use the flights at a later time and honestly, that waste would have been offensive to George.

George’s love of plans of all shapes and sizes in my opinion arose from his desire to shape the world around him as he saw fit.  The man’s force of will was larger and more powerful than anyone I have otherwise encountered.  And this started early.  There’s a great story (from well before my time) back when George was a little kid. He apparently had asked his mother for a cookie and for some reason she turned him down.  So he held his breath until he eventually passed out.  That takes commitment.  After I heard the story, I tried it out but couldn’t hold my breath nearly that long.  Maybe it’s a myth but I can see George doing this - if anyone could, it’s George.

As he grew and learned, George’s skills for shaping the world around him and sustaining control of his own situation also expanded and grew – Now is likely a good time to talk about both education and hard work as these really were George’s preferred methods of engaging with and structuring his world.

George was a firm believer in the power of education.  He was an excellent student and had tons of raw horsepower in this regard.  Couple this with George’s ability to set a plan and then tirelessly execute against the plan and you have a recipe for a star student and high achiever.   He really hit his stride at the University of Guelph where he studied soil science and economics.  The university was a place of great importance for George – he always said that his time at university didn’t teach him everything he needed to know but it did teach him how to learn and that was the key to everything.  He was forever doing research and gathering information about the projects he faced.   Need to solve a crop problem?  Take soil samples and figure out how to amend the soil or choose a more appropriate crop. Need to build a greenhouse?  Get a few books, talk to a few people and presto – good to go.

Perhaps of the highest import from his time at the university was that this was the place where George met Lorna – his lifelong partner.  We had the opportunity to celebrate George and Lorna’s 55th wedding anniversary this year. George never missed an opportunity to talk about the fact that he couldn’t have asked for a better partner in life than Lorna.  And I think that he always was grateful to the university for giving him the opportunity to meet her and find her.  He often told me that asking Lorna to marry him was the best decision he ever made. I like to think of him ‘doing his research’ which consisted of calling over to Mac Hall and asking Lorna to go out for coffee with him.  I also like that the first time he asked her out on a proper date, she declined because she already had plans.  But give him his credit, he kept asking.  That makes me smile.

One of George’s famous sayings was ‘you gotta work with your partner’ and I can tell you that Lorna and George demonstrated one of the world’s greatest partnerships.  As a child, the two of them were so aligned and coordinated that it was impossible to slide even a piece of paper between them on anything.  I remember when I was very young, asking my Dad if I could go visit a friend or something and he used to tell me “Go ask your mother and tell her I said N-O”. That worked til we learned our alphabet.

Talking about his time at the university always brought a glow to George – it was like you were entering a special golden zone.  For us kids, these stories of the hijinks that George got up to at university seemed impossibly far-fetched.  For us it was hard enough to imagine him as a young person.  To think he ever was part of some scheme to put a bull in the President’s office or booby trap some hapless fellow student’s room was completely incongruous to the person we experienced every day.

I know it was one of George’s proudest days when we were able to join him and Lorna as they were inducted into the Order of the Ontario Agricultural College a few years back. It was a great honour of which he was rightfully proud.

I think George wanted everyone to have the power that higher education gave him in his life and it showed in his contributions to setting up scholarships in George and Lorna’s name to help to train the next generation of farmers and others who needed financial support to make the leap to university.   As a result of their generosity a scholarship is awarded every year to a rural student that will attend the university of Guelph. 

And now is probably a good time to talk about George’s generosity of spirit.  One of the things that Lorna has said to me since George passed away is that he would do anything for someone.  And this is true.  I have strong memories of George rushing to help families where their home or barn had burned down, stopping to help people stranded roadside, extending a hand or a meal to someone in need.  He also was quietly generous in other ways which was often a pleasant surprise given his famous frugality.  He was never flashy but his gifts were genuinely thoughtful, kind and often completely ‘George-like’.  When my business partner and I started our business we had a brunch for our families to celebrate the launch of this new chapter and when I went to pay the bill at the end of the meal, George had already beaten me to it.

Another great example that ties together George’s commitment to education and his generosity of spirit is the Educational Trust that George and Lorna have established for his grandchildren and grand -nieces and nephews.  He and Lorna saw this as a way of transferring resources to the next generation at a time when they would need fund.  Again, it’s uniquely George-like in its composition.  The kids can access the funds AFTER they secure their post secondary diploma or degree.  I just ran across a note that George made about their decision to set up the trust. There’s a lot of ‘guidance’ for the trustees – I can’t lie about that – but there’s also a message at the end that once the kids receive their funds, it’s up to them how they use them.  Retiring student debt is first priority but he mentions how he hopes some with graduate without any debt and if so, George offers suggestions about how these trust funds could be used by the kids:  a downpayment on a property, setting up an investment account, starting a business. The note ends with “Not to buy a race horse”

So where are we?  We’ve talked about education.  We’ve talked about his generosity of time and treasure, we’ve touched on George’s love of travel and you’re maybe starting to get the idea that George did things his way and on his own terms.  Let’s keep going.  We need to talk about work in more detail and we still need to talk about food.

Work.  I have to start by saying that George’s capacity to work was endless.  He literally never seemed to stop and even when the body was still, that incredible mind was turning and turning.  Can you imagine the problems he solved while driving the cultivator for hours on end? I have a strong memory from when I was very small of having the chance to go with Dad on the tractor or for the morning somewhere and off we go.  We’re on the deck and George is putting on and lacing up his workboots and in a flash his boots are on and he’s standing up and walking across the lawn – he’s halfway to the drive shed and I am still working away at putting on my rubber boots – probably on the wrong feet and have to run to catch up to him.  It was always like that – we always had to run to catch up to him because he was always the first one hard at it and the last one to drop tools at the end of the day.

And I think today we might call George a polymath or a renaissance man or a modern day MacGyver or something because his skills and abilities ran from the sublime to the ridiculous.  The pump’s not working – take it apart and fix it on the spot.  Car won’t start?  Lift the hood and get that thing going.  Need to plant cantaloupe through plastic mulch?  By the afternoon, he’d have a prototype attachment for the tractor ready for beta testing that he’d built from wire and spare wheels and god knows what.  Faucet’s not working?  Plug not working?  Need a room drywalled?  Need a truck loaded for maximum carrying and safe conveyance?  Want to renovate the cottage?  Want to add a 2 story deck to the back of a house?  Want to build a treehouse which had a large tree trunk running up through the interior and out the top for aesthetic effect?  No problem.  Well actually, we had to argue about the tree going through the treehouse for a while because it was ‘totally impractical and a LOT more work’ but I knew he could do it and he did.

But not only these things that were hands-on skills, he was widely read and interested in the big questions as well:  politics, public policy, geopolitics and later in life, he was interested in health care.  He loved nothing more than a good discussion where we could all come away learning something about one of these important aspects of how our government is working (or not) and how our society determines its priorities and how it’s organized to deliver on them.  So the ideal thing for George would be to be doing productive and often physical labour and then while working, engage in a discussion on politics.  Win-win.  So by the end of the afternoon of discussion, all the cauliflower would be tied or the broccoli cut or both and we would have figured out how to properly fund the Canada Pension Plan or how Employment Insurance needed a revamp to function more effectively.   

We sometimes make the mistake that everyone knows what we know.  For me, I made the mistake as a young person of assuming that everyone must be able to do these things and make all this stuff happen.  How wrong I was.   Imagine my surprise and ongoing disillusionment when I started dating and began to realize that these young men couldn’t solve the world’s problems AND fix things.  They might be able to do one but not both and most certainly they couldn’t do both at the same time before lunchtime or before most other people had gotten up in the morning.  He cast a long shadow. 

I shouldn’t tell you the story of a certain boyfriend of mine who came to the cottage with me one year and was sent or volunteered to go help George do some work on the dock one day. After a few hours which it turned out were frustrating for George, he came up from the beach and said to me that he was willing to teach someone how to repair the dock but he never dreamt he would have to teach a man in his 20’s how to hold a hammer.  I have to confess, I had never dreamt that either.  And there’s another of George’s conversational tropes – start by telling you how he shouldn’t tell you some story but by the time he tells you why, you’ve heard the whole thing!

George was a unique combination – he was always playing the long game and planning for the future but he also managed to enjoy the present and this is where we come to the food part. George was a producer of food – something that he was immensely proud of.  But for me, I want to talk more about George as a consumer of food.  And in this, like everything else, he had some very specific standards that had to be met and he knew what he liked.  Hot food had to be served hot and cold food must be served cold.  Simple as that and god help you if you didn’t warm the plates in advance.  I think now we would call George a food snob but a while back we had no word for that.  Peter used to call George a ‘cob snob’ and a ‘cornoisseur’.  Most people had no idea the protocols for delivering and enjoying sweet corn – harvest and get cooled as quickly as possible so the sugars don’t turn to starch, eat it the same day as harvested and never ever buy it if it isn’t local and still cool to the touch in the store or market.  Sweet corn was a standalone meal course for George and this past summer, it could form a whole meal. 

A delicious dinner was the capper of the day for George and we often lingered at the table because time spent at the meal was an acceptable form of semi-sloth.  Lucky for George, Lorna is a wonderful cook and a food snob herself and she endlessly turned out delicious and nutritious meals including pie and other desserts usually served with a side of ice cream. A friend from England called yesterday and recalled a meal with George and Lorna at the farm where there was home made pie offered for dessert plus ice cream and she remembered vividly that the ice cream was served from a 5 gallon pail like you see in the ice cream parlour.  And not only that, there were multiple flavour options.  But again, this is pure George.  If you want ice cream buy the big container because it’s a fraction of the cost and certainly don’t limit yourself to one choice at a time.  In his view, this might be why God created deep freezers. 

And it wasn’t just proper meals where George’s culinary preferences were legendary.  Who can forget the cutting board that was like a drawer always extended with a French knife at the ready next to a block of cheese or a ham that would always need a “little squaring up”.   And one of his best lines was “All I want to know is when is coffee”.  And you know that during coffee break he would prepare one of his all-time favourite snacks of white bread toasted, butter applied in thick chunks and then lots of salt and maybe a few green onions for flavour if in season or fresh chives.  As it turns out full-fat dairy treats like butter and ice cream were proof of God’s love for us in George’s view.  And he never succumbed to the fake news that butter was bad for you.  Some people might have expected he’d develop heart disease with his diet but as it turns out, he is able to continue to advocate for how butter is good for you.

I should note that Richard had kindly advised that if either Owen or I were overcome he would come up and take over to finish the eulogy.  I think we all know that this is not going to be necessary – I am George’s daughter after all and we all know he had a way of going on…. Plus Richard never said what he would do if I went on too long so pushing on.

For the past few years I have been George and Lorna’s scribe for the updates to his network about his health.  I was volunteered, or voluntold or directed or something and to be honest, sometimes I was a little less than charitable about it.  The creative process was challenging working with George – mostly because he had a specific idea of what he wanted to say so he had to tell me all of it and then I could write that up  More recently I thought we had made progress and I had earned some trust to take a first draft without the full run through of the potential message.  But this was my idea.  I should have known that he was slipping away and couldn’t muster the will to direct as was his typical plan.

And for me, I see the scribe role as a gift now as I have been flooded with notes and emails from people who knew and loved George.  How lucky I am to have been trusted to hear people’s witness of his life and the way that they knew him.  I also had the pleasure over the past few years of sharing the feedback with he and Lorna to each of the updates chronicling his health journey.  I remember one time when I told him that friends from my GM family were saying prayers and lighting candles for him and his face lit up like a child – he was so touched that people he didn’t even know were thinking of him and sending him good wishes.  He couldn’t understand how they even knew and so I explained that the messages were being forwarded beyond the initial distribution list so we had no idea how far and wide the news was going.  That pleased him and it was almost like the equivalent of the miracle of compound interest applied to correspondence and communication.

I am also grateful that our kids Claire and Neil got to spend time with their Grandpa and learn about so many things - I think of visits to farms and George’s constant advocacy about agriculture and its importance.  As a result, one time when Neil was little and they were doing a unit on farming, his teacher called me after to say that Neil was so knowledgeable she just had to find out how a city kid could share so much info about farming.  We all know where that came from!  And to this day Claire still repeats George’s way of saying they would eat dinner out on the cottage deck instead of indoors - “going to dine al fresco - getting fancy”.  And both of them still giggle endlessly about George offering them a cup of coffee at age 5 or 6 or 8 years old.

He told me recently there was almost nothing left on his bucket list.  He only confessed to the regret of leaving Lorna and the dog Bailey behind.  He touched many lives with his generosity of time and resources, his advice and guidance – sometimes asked for and sometimes not.

I want to close with George’s own words – he will be delighted to think he finally got the last word.  In the middle of October, I was bbm-ing with George and asking how he was doing – it was middle of the morning.  He replied with the following message which to me is like a found poem – his very essence and a sign of what was happening.:  “Just woke up.  Got a lot of cows milked!  Planning to go for a boat ride with Denny.  Can’t go now as I am awake.”

I would say I hope that now he can let the chores go and just start the day with a boat ride but I know that won’t fly.  Instead I hope he can get his chores done in record time and after morning coffee the rest of the day is available for a boat ride on a smooth lake with a shore lunch with friends.

My last thoughts are for us who are left behind.  Some people tell you life is short so buy the shoes and eat the cake.  George would want us to eat the sweet corn when it’s in season – every day if possible and for goodness sake, use butter and salt and not margarine.

Godspeed George.