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On Sept. 23, the world lost an amazing man, and while only a few of you knew him, he was a wonderful and influential friend while I lived in London.
When I met Jim Collard in 2004, he’d been retired from the Army for some time and working at Western’s Engineering Stores (previously the Machine Shop). Jim, Stephen Mallinson, Katherine Manweiler and Lonnie Wickman were influential in helping me get part-time and, eventually, full-time work while I finished my undergrad and master’s degress.
Jim was amazing – he made us laugh constantly with his huge array of jokes he’d picked up in the Army. Any time he went electronics shopping, he brought me along and we had a blast setting things up at his house. We golfed together, and while I never properly learned, we did so with laughter and stories and jokes.
I’ll never forget a couple of golf stories.
One he told was of when he was golfing in Petawawa. He used to get angry when he golfed as a younger man, and one day he put a large number of balls into this same pond. So he picked up his golf bag and threw the whole thing – clubs and all – into said pond, and stomped off to the clubhouse. The moral of the story came later: It’s far easier to throw them in than it is to fish them out when they’re full of water and mud.
I also remember another day when we were golfing at our favorite course, The Fox, and it was bucketing down rain. We were just trying to get through the first hole, long par 5. Well, we were just having a hell of a time in the rain and Jim got frustrated with this new club he had. You see, he loved buying new putters and hybrid clubs and trying them out – but with varying success. This one club had finally irritated him after shanking another shot, he swore and smacked the club head against the ground. With a musical and loud ‘PING,’ the club head came sailing off and down the course. That was the last of that club – we just moved on to the next hole after that.
I have so many memories of Jim and I. He once accidentally killed a blackbird on the last hole of the course – nailed it like a rifle shot with his ball halfway down the fairway. He was mortified and felt awful about it, though we couldn’t help but make the joke about it being his only birdie of the day.
When we had Engineering Stores rebuilt, part of the renovations were to clean out an old gas cylinder storage room that hadn’t been used in a while. He decided that, like all new rooms on campus, it needed a name – so he went to his computer, printed out a sign and posted it on the door: ‘The Ian Robertson Room for Natural Gas Expulsion – Formerly known as Mouse Shit Alley.’ It stayed up as long as we could get away with it.
It turned into a series of signs that went up. When the university was looking to deal with a payroll crisis around 2007, he printed a bunch of signs and pasted them to his desk and computer, all saying ‘BUY OUT.’ Eventually they did, when the crash happened in 2008.
When he suffered a small stroke and took a few months off for rehabilitation and recovery, he came back to work as soon as he possibly could. He missed our camaraderie, I think. His left hand was never quite as good as his right, so he blamed any mistakes he made on the stroke. It turned into a good joke: “Why’s that screwed up?” “Oh, Jim must have done that. It’s alright, he had a stroke.”
I could go on here for hours. Half the jokes you’ve ever heard me tell are ones that I got from Jim.
But I want to close with one memory I’ll never ever forget. Jim and Marla were always so encouraging of me as a pianist and musician that they even came out to my graduating masters recital at Western. He came backstage after the concert – a man who loved and listened to Deep Purple, AC/DC and The Who, and had just listened to Grieg, Beethoven and Liszt. With tears in his eyes, he told me that it was “f-ing incredible.” With no disrespect to my professors, that was the best endorsement I could have ever received.
I’ve cried by myself every time I’ve thought of Jim succumbing to cancer as quickly as he did. I have shed more than a few tears here this morning in Hong Kong after reading that he’d passed. Believe it or not, I dreamt last night of him and he said he was feeling much better. I’m not a religious person anymore, but he no longer is suffering that’s for sure. He didn’t deserve to go that way, no one does. But today, I’ll be thinking of Jim and all how much he made me laugh for the few years I knew him. My deepest sympathies go out to his wife, Marla, his kids and his grandchildren, whom he all loved very much.
Farewell, old friend.