This Good Man - by Donna Stewart

“The life of a good man who has died belongs to the people who cared about him, and maybe itself is as much comfort as ought to be asked or offered.” Wendell Berry in A Place on Earth, “A Knack for the Here”

I met Gord at breakfast at an Ontario government camp for training 16 year olds to be counsellors at non-profit camps. My first day there, before the campers arrived, at the staff breakfast, my attention was arrested by witty comments from from the other end of the table. I was a brand new Christian and I didn’t yet know that Gord’s sense of humour was what allowed him to get away with being a committed Christian in a secular sports context…without being shunned, that is. But I quickly learned that he commanded the respect of everyone from campers to the locals who worked on maintenance. I noticed that the campers called him “Scotty” behind his back, but “Sir” to his face, a neat combination of affection and respect. And when the bureaucrats from Queen’s Park were assessing staff for the delicate task of shepherding the girls’ staff canoe trip, all agreed that Stewart was the most trustworthy.

if you are going to live together for over sixty years and raise five children together, a camp is a great place to meet. I saw that he was cheerful first thing in the morning, and controlled even at the end of that women’s canoe trip when he had to do ALL the portaging. But it was almost the end of the summer before we got our other relationships sorted out and then I had to leave for my first teaching job 1500 hundred miles away! That’s when I found out that he was a great letter writer, because, except for school breaks, that was how we got to know each other.

The next summer we became engaged and the summer after that we married. By the third summer our lives changed completely because we had Ruth and Gord was already passing on his love of music. I found him holding her in front of the record player, sometime in the first six weeks of her life, saying “Now Ruth, this is GOOD music”. I know it was the Messiah they were listening to, because those were the only records we had. But people from St. Andrews will remember his brash AMENS at the end of an uplifting anthem. He lost some Inhibitions as he aged. And after he was bedridden, music was a great consolation.

Gord had been trained by his family in his evangelical Presbyterian context to be a leader. to help his father in the Sunday School, to lead a Scout troop, to head up an Inter School Christian Fellowship club in his high school and Vacation Bible School in summer. It always makes me laugh that his one experience of camp, at Pioneer Ontario when he was 15, the first week he was a camper and the second week he was the assistant leader of a canoe trip. But somehow in all of that, he learned how to fit in socially while not being mainstream in his faith. Sports had a lot to do with it: wrestling, water polo, track, places where size wasn’t prime, but I think there was something more…an interest in people, a willingness to accept and respect people the way they were. I think he may have been the least judgmental person I have ever met. I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that he lived the faith he’d committed to before he was ten. Other people could write books challenging the historicity of Jesus. Gordon KNEW him.

So in our home we were partners. Gord took the little ones to the library while I shopped…or he did the shopping for me, when it was very rare for a man to be do that. He helped with the laundry in our first primitive setup in the country outside Orillia, Ontario. And when automatic washers were still only for the rich, but we had two children under two, he invested, without my knowledge, in an automatic washer.

I always felt listened to, paid attention to, and probably the kids did too. When John didn’t fall easily into faith, Gord did not push him into roles he wasn’t ready for. He found ways for John to serve at camp that didn’t violate his convictions. I honoured him for that.

And when I was in a Bible study with minister’s wives, I found out how blessed I was. The other wives were required to conform to certain norms of dress or entertaining or housekeeping and childraising. I didn’t feel that pressure. I could be myself.

I could keep you for a long time singing Gordon’s praises, because I think I’m being realistic when I call him a saint, or at the very least a true disciple, but the “kids” who are all in their fifties and sixties now, can add their own testimony and I will move on to wider spheres.

I always claimed that Gordon married me under false pretenses, because he promised me that he’d never become a preacher, but I forgave him. Why wouldn’t I? He grew in that responsibility. He didn’t grow in his use of audiovisuals, and he always lamented his inability to remember stories, including some very remarkable experiences he had in his ministry, but I got to sit for over fifteen years under a minister who truly honoured the Word, and never once said anything from the pulpit that wasn’t true in his own life. And I would know, wouldn’t I?

Gordon was, I think, the most forgiving person I have ever met. He didn’t make a big deal of it. He simply forgot the offense, as if it had nothing to do with that person’s reality …or his. Once he was seriously maligned to the Board of InterVarsity by a former staff member, but when he was asked years later to talk it over with that person, who apparently still harboured a grudge, he said he couldn’t. “I don’t remember enough about it,” he said. It is a marvellous thing to live with a man who keeps such a clean slate. And he did that right to the end.

Even as his three terminal diseases were changing him, and I couldn’t accept it and got really cranky, he didn’t hold it against me. As recently as this August he was reluctant to let go, because I would find it hard to lose him.

He was right, of course, but I think we all give thanks for having known him, and we’re all glad that his struggle is over and he is at rest.