19 September 1929 – 27 January 2014
Above, my dad, George McKinney, mom, Helen, and my baby sister, Penny, just before going out for dinner to celebrate dad’s 80th birthday, September 19th, 2009. In December of that same year, mom and dad moved out of their second home of 32 years to an “over 45” condominium where almost everyone is over 75. Dad joked, “I can’t believe how many old people live here!” and, to be honest, I am not sure he was joking. I think he still saw himself as a younger man. That was one of the many beauties of dad.
He also teased, “I am moving to my last home, and taking my next one with me.” as one of his last projects in his wood working room at their house in Edmonton was hand carving a gorgeous box from solid walnut hardwood. This would house his and mom’s ashes when that time came. The handles on either end of it are from a dresser mom had in her childhood home on the farm, near Clive.
Dad loved his new “over 45” home and was thriving there. Though his health had certainly diminished since he was 75, or so, as he had chronic COPD, he and mom were still exceptionally busy and enjoying a very active life. In August of 2012, mom was diagnosed with cancer and as an unfortunate testament to his anxious nature and the love and interdependence the two shared, dad experienced his first COPD exacerbation 5 days later. He would have 4 throughout that fall – almost not surviving two of them.
No matter how ill, dad always kept his sense of humor and would tease the nurses relentlessly. Every time his meal tray would come, he would ask, “Steak and lobster this time?” Every time. There would always be a giggle and he would lift the lid on the hospital tray and exclaim, “Darn it! Maybe next time? But, this looks pretty good.” He did enjoy his hospital meals.
As dad was in the hospital for his 83rd birthday, my sister and her son, Denver, with his wife Sara, my daughter, Ragan, mom and Vanja were all in his room before the supper hour with strict instructions to not let the hospital meal in until I arrived. Mom had the angel food cake, of course. The evening meal came promptly at 5 pm daily, and it was the highlight of dad’s day, company or not. I whipped in, just in time, and slid the tray of steak and lobster under his hospital lid. The nurse brought dad the dinner and he teased the usual, “Steak and lobster this time? It’s my birthday, you know?” The nurse just stood and grinned, waiting to see his expression and added, “Well, I don’t know… maybe today…” he lifted the lid and was in absolute shock. We laughed so hard. He was truly incredulous, and momentarily believed that the nurses actually arranged for it, or that it was the hospital dinner that evening – then came to his senses and enjoyed that meal like no other he had in his life. Lip-smacking, licking his fingers, eating with relish in front of all of us and without apology.
That is one unforgettable hospital memory that brings such joy.
He was in the hospital, almost non-stop, September through November that year and very fragile as each exacerbation took its toll. It brightened his day when Penny would visit.
Mom’s surgery went remarkably well in October. She was back to her spunky old self in January of 2013, and dad also began to thrive. He was now on oxygen full time and needed to use the walker for distance walking, but he and mom were back to their full schedule of activities. I wish I had a photo of the medal he won in May when he and I attended the Breath Easy Program at The Edmonton General Hospital. He won the only medal given each course for Most Improved! He was tickled pink. I was so proud of him. He was walking on the treadmill, walking the halls, doing exercises and actually sweating like a young man. Don’t get me wrong, he was slow, but he was determined. And sparkling.
In July, he contracted pneumonia. A mild case, at first, but couldn’t shake it. In August, he was in the hospital with serious pneumonia and the sickest I had ever seen him. There were many days during that time that both he and I thought might be his last. Yet, again, determined as he is, he slowly recovered and was back home by mid October.
This time, he needed his walker to move around their condo. He was on continuous flow oxygen, yet just so thankful to be home. I had a conference in Banff and booked a larger space for all of us at the Banff Springs Hotel, with hopes dad could make the trip. He was so cooped up, and getting away would be such a treat for both of them. Wheelchair, walker, oxygen tanks and luggage packed, we spent three wonderful nights in Banff – one last time. We used to go camping every year, when Judy and I were children, on Tunnel Mountain. Dad and mom hadn’t been back to Banff for over 20 years. It was time.
I attended my meetings, but would spend the two hour lunches with mom and dad, as well as the late evenings. One day we went on the historic tour of the Banff Springs Hotel which I had taken before and would highly recommend. Both enjoyed it, as did Penny.
We ate a lovely meal in the Rundle Lounge on our last night. Dad insisted on treating me and it was so enjoyable. We had lots of laughs. That was one of the nicest times I have had with my parents, and I cherish the memory.
One mid afternoon, we drove all around the town, and dad so enjoyed seeing the changes. Our last tour was of the Tunnel Mountain Campground. Memories flooded back to each of us and we were almost vibrating out of the car…. with tears and with joy for the happy family times together when Judy and I were so young.
In June, mom and I had bought Christmas in November tickets, not imagining dad would need round the clock care by then. And, when the time came, Judy was able to stay with dad for the three nights, so off we went after the above farewell photo. (second puppy is Judy’s baby, Mitzi) Their 63rd anniversary was spent apart and was the very first anniversary they were not together… but, a gorgeous bouquet of roses were on the table waiting for mom when we returned home and dad took her for dinner on the weekend to celebrate. Can you imagine 63 years?
Mom and I had a wonderful time. Nik Manolovic danced the anniversary waltz with her the night of November 6, 2013. I met Elizabeth Baird and interviewed her. The recipe she shared with me for the interview was her Quick Chicken with Wine. Mom and dad came for dinner to eat it and enjoyed themselves immensely. Dad was holding his own.
In December, dad contracted pneumonia again. It happens with chronic COPD as aspirating food or liquid is so easy to do and when it gets into the lungs, it causes pneumonia. After three nights in the hospital, we brought him home. It became all too apparent that there was nothing they could do for him at the hospital that we already were not doing for him at home. Don’t get me wrong. The nurses and doctors are incredible. It is the hospital system that is almost third world when providing care for the elderly. It is definitely not a place of healing. I ranted about that already. We had been providing round the clock care for him since he returned home in October. Mainly, by mom. This time, he was very weak and though the home care team were incredible, the help was minimal. During his hospital stays, I took on the bulk of the care time with dad. We had someone there with him 24 hours a day. But, as he was now at home, the bulk of his care fell onto mom.
I think I have mentioned more than a few times how anxious dad is. His mother died on Christmas Day. His father had a heart attach on Christmas Day. As this Christmas Day approached, he was immersed in doom and gloom. I visited him early on the morning of Christmas Eve Day for a few hours before returning home to finish dinner preparations for that evening. He was just not coming. He said he didn’t feel good enough. Knowing him like I did by this time, I was pretty sure he could come, but left the decision up to him, of course. As he couldn’t bear to have mom miss the meal to stay with him at home, he finally decided to come over.
It was clear to all that this would be our last Christmas meal together. There were a lot of laughs, a lot of loving and some very focused time sharing our favourite “dad” memories with him.
Oh, how he enjoyed that evening. I popped over very early Christmas morning to take my ipad so we could Face Time the gift opening, knowing full well he would be far too exhausted from the evening out to come over that morning. He was beaming. He was also exhausted. I brought some warm Christmas Morning Wife Saver which has been the mainstay of our traditional Christmas morning breakfast for years, set up the ipad and when I got home, they were chatting with the family and all eating together in their separate homes.
Denver and Sara were coming for dinner on Boxing Day. Denver was going to bring the guitar dad gave to him when he was a young boy, and play it for dad for the evening. Dad was ready to come over for dinner at noon, he was so excited. The Christmas Day rest had him good to go for another festive evening with the family. And it was one of the most precious evenings I have spent with our extended family.
Denver also played the song he sang at our wedding. I cried again. When dad took the guitar in his lap, all cameras were out. Dad taught himself to play the guitar, organ, banjo, fiddle (violin) and almost any musical instrument he could lay his hands on. He was very artistic, loved to draw, and was good at it… and we all know what a talented wood worker he was as he hand made over 30 grandfather clocks from solid walnut or oak and 4 hard wood roll top desks. There was nothing my dad couldn’t do. My chest still puffs out when I think of how proud I have always been of him.
Immediately after Christmas he needed help to get out of a chair, and within a week the palliative care team was out, a hospital bed was in their living room. Yet, until going through this with him, I didn’t know how soon he would pass. There were days I felt would be his last, but the day he left us, wasn’t one of them.
And now he is in his last home. We held a Celebration of his Life on February 8, 2014 as we needed time to rest, regroup and send him off the way he wanted to go. Wasn’t he just a doll when he was young? My sister and I were looking at his obituary in the Red Deer paper and agreed that even at this age, he was the cutest fellow there.
In the same room as he and mom celebrated their 60th anniversary, we Celebrated his Life.
He said to me, “Plan for 100 people, but you’ll be lucky if 60 come as almost all of my friends are dead.” I was moved to tears as people kept coming and coming that Saturday afternoon. 140 people in all. Dad would have been tickled. Oh, how he loved to visit. And, clearly, he was a great friend to many. Oh, how proud I was again, that one last time, of my dad. He would have been so proud, too. He loved his friends. He said to me the last night I stayed over with him, “Didn’t we ever have some great times, your mom and I? We just had the best life and had the best friends, didn’t we? We sure were lucky, weren’t we?”
Each of us spoke, or prayed or played at his Celebration. We cried. We laughed. We ate. Just as dad would have wanted it to be. And now, he is at rest at last. Looking at these happy photos of his last months with us warms my heart. I was truly blessed with the most wonderful man on the planet as my dad.
Denver singing How Great Thou Art for dad, at his request.
The Eulogy I read at the Celebration of Dad’s Life
Well dad, here we are, just as you wished, gathered together to “enjoy some friendship and to eat some really good food”. Nothing fancy. Just your family and your friends in your home – with you, one last time.
I know you’d want Penny here, but she’d not allowed… however, as she laid between your legs on the 27th of January in the hospice, she said her good byes to you as we all did, on your last day. We were so blessed to have the opportunity to be with you and care for you and to say our good byes to you during your last days with us. And now, at your request, we celebrate your life.
One courageous Northern Irish couple with 4 children in tow immigrated to Canada in the late 1920’s in search of a better life and to escape the poverty and struggle in their homeland that never righted itself after the Great Potato Famine of 1845. Emigration was prevalent with young Irish couples of the time period. They settled on the flat, barren prairies in Southern Saskatchewan near a small town called Bengough. September 19, 1929 their last child was born just before the Great Depression we know as the Dirty Thirties swept through our country. Nellie was the eldest followed by big brother, John, May, Dolly and baby George. Dreams of prosperity shattered, and knowing all too well how to survive, Michael and Mary McKinney were able to provide the bare necessities to their brood. World War II began in 1939 and John was conscripted to the army, so young George was pulled out of school at the end of grade 7 to work on the family farm with his dad. When the war ended and John returned home, George had 5 years of grueling farm work under his belt, and lost no time as he hit the open road at the tender age of 17 in search of the Canadian Dream. His first stop was Red Deer, as some neighbouring childhood farm friends had settled there.
Hired by Vern and Nel to drive Taxi for their company situated in the Sorenson Bus Lines station, George thrived. He had discovered a little corner of Paradise. It wasn’t long before Evelyn Bowie tried to set this young, shy, good looking boy with that mesmerizing twinkle in his eye and that sideways smile on a blind date with her good friend, Helen: a gorgeous spunky independent gal that would be perfect for him. Yet, he’d have none of it. Finally he agreed, that if they paraded her by him, unknowingly, and he approved, he would go out on the date. The rest is history. His long lashes, captivating green eyes and adorable dimples wooed Helen into submission and they were married on November 6th, 1950; she was 20, and he had just turned 21.
This young dapper couple had their act together and worked to buy their first house in 1954, a year before their first daughter was born. By that time, dad was driving bus for Sorenson Bus Lines. Two years later, came a little curly haired blond green eyed bundle with long lashes and those same adorable dimples. The family was complete. Except for the dog.
That house in Red Deer was a home second to no other. Small by today’s standard. 1050 square feet. Two bedrooms. One bathroom. A family of four and the dog. George took home ownership and providing for his family very seriously. The first time there was a problem, the tradesman showed dad how simple it was, and from that day forward, George was truly a “Jack of all Trades” and the master of some from electrical wiring, to plumbing, to full on construction, nothing daunted him. Everything was a challenge he was up to if he could do it himself to save money for the future of his family. George built a suite in the basement and rented it out for about 10 years to 3 lovely young married couples that became fast family friends.
Dad was the first on the scene if anyone asked for a hand. He would drop everything to help a neighbour and it was that kind of neighbourhood we lived in.
To his daughters, George was the quintessential hero. One day he arrived home with a perfect little miniature rocking chair for baby Valerie. Two years later, he copied the design, and built the perfect replica for second baby, Judy. Another day he told his gals he had a box of Candy waiting for them in the car. A box? Unheard of. There was a 6 week old tiny little puppy waiting inside. Another day, he asked “If you could dream of anything in the world you could have, what would it be?” No matter how big we dreamed, we never dreamed as big as he did. That was the time he built us a playhouse in our backyard from wood salvaged at an old church yard nearby: hard wood floors, electricity, a waterfall out the door… it became a summer bedroom for sleepovers in high school. Dad made each of those dreams come true. Even for our own children 20 years later when he built them a playhouse in his new Edmonton back yard.
Dad worked shift work driving the bus, so alone time with dad was special. Going with him to Consort on the bus was such a treat. Being the bus driver’s daughter was something we were SO proud of. When mom would Spring clean the house, dad would pack a picnic and walk Judy and I down the big hill to Rotary Park for a day of picnic and play. Mom would pick us up when she was done. There were no cel phones in those days, folks. Sometimes we were there for hours, and we just played and played and played.
When Helen started working, George took on a little cooking in the kitchen. Lunches were suddenly an event in the middle of the day as dad made the best lunches ever. His salads were so creative and delicious. He shared his love of food with us. A can of corned beef on the stove with sauerkraut mash laden onto a slice of buttered toast. Mmmm. Left over roast beef sandwiches with mustard, onion, salt and pepper were his favourite. His eyes would sparkle as he would make his favourite foods and present them to us. I vividly recall a mixed vegetable salad he made for me one day that was bursting with colour and flavour. I had never seen a salad like this. Believe me, he was creative in the kitchen. That was the day I discovered that tomatoes actually sparkled. If you haven’t discovered this yet, you must. The flesh of a tomato does sparkle in the light. His fried chicken was even better than mom’s. Sorry mom.
The last full meal dad ate at home, mom and I cooked for him. He hadn’t eaten anything for over two weeks, and then woke up on a Tuesday thriving. Supper was a great fresh water Walleye (pickerel) fried in butter with beets and a special potato onion and cream bake. I so enjoyed watching him relish that meal and he was as appreciative as he had always been when there was a good fish fry in the house. Just like a little kid eating candy for the first time.
After 27 years of flourishing in Red Deer in our home, neighbourhood, traveling the world, and at thriving at work, Dad could see a better working future in Edmonton. The move in 1977 was an adventure that held triumphs and heartaches. Both mom and dad secured much better positions in each of their respective work places, and though the neighbours were lovely, and they soon became fast and dear friends with their neighbours on either side, and a couple of others, there was no extended neighbourhood like the one in Red Deer. They were lonely. But, not for long.
Soon, this now middle aged dapper couple was round dancing, square dancing, playing bridge, and heavy into crafts and wood work. Dad started to build his grandfather clocks and suddenly, there weren’t enough hours in the day to do all they had planned to do, once again.
And then, holy crap – what did Valerie do? Suddenly, George and Helen became grandparents at 48 and 49 year old! That was not in “the” plan. (and yes, I was married at the time!) Dad refused to be called Grandpa. Instead, he was Papa George. He doesn’t remember that, and I have heard him deny it – but it was hilarious. Within 4 years they had 3 grandchildren – Ragan, Lauren and the last was Denver… the first boy in our family. We were all thrilled!
Mom retired at 50. And they soon started wintering at Scottsdale for the next 12 years. Dad retired at 62 and we were all wondering how they would adjust being full time together at home having never done this throughout their married lives. The answer: Just fine, and thank you very much.
This is an industrious couple. Even in retirement, they rose at 7 every morning, had coffee, breakfast, read the paper and were each into their “work” by 8:30 every morning… dad in his shop or at whatever project he had on the go. Mom, the same.
Judy and I commented many times that this couple was busier in retirement than most couples working full time. They had a schedule and it was a very full schedule. Helen would have the little girls home at lunch and after school for a few years. They would both skate, bike ride, and travel with their grandchildren.
Thankfully, at 80, and still very dapper, they left their second home of 32 years to move into this place. Dad jokingly said, “Moving into my last home and bringing my next one with me.” As one of his last projects was carving this walnut box he and mom will be buried together in at their plot in Clive.
Dad had COPD for 40 years, and it began to affect the quality of his life the last 10. He had to stop dancing. He couldn’t breath in the cold so he couldn’t shovel his walks. He couldn’t breath when walking distances. He couldn’t breath when mowing the lawn. By the time they moved into the Vanier, everything was a struggle. But, that didn’t stop him. Mom found him on the ladder cleaning his eaves the month before they moved in.
They thrived again in their third neighbourhood. Both we so happy they had moved when they did and to such a lovely building with such lovely people. Dad repeated, countless times, “We are so happy here.” He enjoyed his visits with the men in the lobby, making new relationships and had visions of himself seated on a community mower mowing the condo grass. His body would never match the energy within his heart.
Everything changed dramatically for dad in August of 2012 when his first serious COPD exacerbation occurred. He was in the hospital for his last 2 birthdays. In and out. In and out. Very near death at least twice that fall. What a trooper he was. From January of 2013 to July of 2013 dad did well and was back on his usual schedule of bridge and walking in the halls. He was even planning a trip to Vegas. However, in August of 2013 he contracted double pneumonia and became deathly ill. Eventually, his iron will once again triumphed and after a bout of “stamina building” at the General Hospital, returned home in October this past fall. He was filled with appreciation for every new day and wrestling with the all too obvious realization that his end was now near.
In October, I had a conference in Banff at the Banff Springs and talked mom and dad into coming with me for three nights. Dad was so excited to get out of Dodge! It wasn’t Vegas, but would do. We packed up the oxygen and away we went. This was the worst snow day in years. We left at 7 am and arrived at 1 pm. Six hours for a 4 hour drive. Dad was sitting in the back seat, watching every inch of the highway as he used to do, for so many years. Then I heard, “You’re doing a good job, Valerie.” Over my shoulder and felt like an eight year old all over again. We drove through the town and up to the old Tunnel Mountain Campground where we had shared so many family memories. It was a wonderful trip.
Another bout of pneumonia found him back I the hospital in December, but we just could have him there no longer. After three nights, we brought him home and committed ourselves to care for him here. He could barely stand and couldn’t walk without his walker inside the condo by this time, but oh, how he would work to walk and to do what he was told.
Three weeks before he passed, he was forcing himself to walk the halls. He could barely stand up. Why? “He didn’t want to take the wheelchair into the doctor’s office for his doctor appointment.”
He couldn’t stand being alone and it was such a pleasure to finally give my dad something he would actually receive. It had been so hard for him, during his life, to ask anyone for anything, or to let anyone do anything for him. I was honoured.
Though it was not easy, it was a pleasure. Yet, we really did believe he would live longer than he did. There were many days that we thought were his last. But not this one. It was truly a shock. Yet, he is at rest at last.
Now, mom and dad were married for 63 years and 2 months. During his last days, he was consistently worried about leaving her. He knew he couldn’t survive without her, yet he did believe she would be OK without him: however, he knew her better than any of us and told me how he worried about her being lonely and had me promise to visit often, though he knew we would, anyway. Dad would ask that each of you take mom under your wing. She may appear stoic, ultra capable and so independent, but she was married to this man for 63 years and life for mom has changed more dramatically than any of us will every know.
Yet, she has a lifetime of happy happy memories, as we all do.
And dad, though we said it far, far too little, I love you. I will miss you and I am so thankful to have had a father as wonderful as you.
I’d like to share a few lines from a favourite hymn that are particularly poignant today:
“Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects Thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above
Thru words and deeds of those who love.
When such a friend from us departs,
We hold forever in our hearts
A sweet and hallowed memory,
Bringing us nearer, Lord, to thee.”
I believe that I am the luckiest grandchild (alongside my dear sister and cousin Denver, of course) to have been privileged with a grandad who is known by so many for his goodness, humor, talent, generosity, hard work ethic, and kindness- just to name a few. I feel very fortunate to have developed such a close relationship with my grandad, and one that I will cherish forever. When I came home to visit for grandad’s 84th birthday this past September I had the special opportunity to spend some quality one on one time with him in the hospital, and that was very special to me. I was able to sit and listen to him and really give him the full attention that he so greatly deserves, but I have always been either too busy or too far away to offer. I will forever hold that and so many other memories dear to my heart.
Grandad was like a father to me. He was there to consult me during the purchase of my first car …and quick to help me when I wrecked it not long after. Grandad was a very skilled woodworker and he built so many cool things for us girls- a huge playhouse for us in his backyard, a wooden kitchenette for our playroom, cradles for our baby dolls, trundle beds, and rocking chairs, but our favorite had to be the BIGGEST and most BEAUTIFUL Barbie dollhouse you have EVER seen. It had a veranda, working lights, and real tile flooring! He was so talented and crafty and always willing to help me with whatever I needed. I always knew that I could go to him with any random task and he would be able to tackle it. I loved my grandad’s lighthearted sense of humor and knew that I would rarely get a straight answer from him. One of his favorite jokes was: “wanna hear a dirty Joke? The white horse fell in the mud!” Or, when we would go to see a movie in the theater and right as the production company credit would begin at the start of the movie, grandad would always exclaim: “I’ve already seen this one!” And a personal favourite, if I would see Grandad after attending church, he would always ask: “did you say a little prayer for me?” The laughter never stopped, and I didn’t mind a bit. Even in the depths of illness, grandad never lost his humor. When I was saying my farewells this past September, my husband Aaron asked me to pass along get well wishes so that he and Grandad could have a billiards rematch next time Aaron was in town- to which Grandad responded: “he doesn’t stand a chance!”
I love my grandad dearly and I will forever have fond memories to cherish. As a dear friend told me consolably: “heaven is richer today”, and I absolutely believe it!
Judy’s Opening Prayer
I don’t believe that we have to be in a church to be with God. I believe that God is right here in this room with all of us today.
May we bow our heads in prayer
Dear heavenly father we thank you for bringing all of these close friends and family together here today to celebrate the life of George Mckinney, our dear father, grandfather, husband and friend. Dad will be missed deeply. He had such a sweet soul and soft heart. Dad always had a quick wit and grin to go with it. I know that he is in a better place today and the suffering and pain he endured has ended for him. He is grinning from ear to ear right now seeing you all here for him. I am truly thankful to each and every one of you for making the effort to come and pay your respects to my dad today. I know that each of us has pain and is struggling with something. May God touch each one of you today in a very special way and may we rejoice together in the celebration of my dad’s life here on earth. He is right here with us now and we will always carry him in our heart. God bless us all. Amen.