John was a practical philosopher. He believed with a passion that “things get done by doing”. There are many precepts a person can follow but this is one of the best. He was a ‘can do’ the ‘glass is half full’ kind of man. He was irksome to those who muttered, “you can’t do that”. Yet, those he swept up in his never ending drive to get it accomplished looked back and said that was a good job, we got something done. There was shared pride. Only is wife, Meg could slow him down, but just, and that was not for long. His dedication to finishing the job was constant, almost to the moment before he died, late in the morning on February 8th, 2012. Thankfully, many of his family were with him at the Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, Ontario.
Imagine this. It is 2008 and the 210 foot museum ship called the Alexander Henry, the largest artifact in the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes collection is at rest. She sits in the Kingston Drydock but her paintwork is peeling, leaving a bad impression all around. The Board has just received a quote of $350,000.00 to repaint the ship and they are in shock. Naturally a debate follows, interminable, until John says, “while you guys are talking I will be painting”. He raised the money, ordered the special paint, borrowed a barge from a contractor friend, Doornekamp and found volunteers aplenty. So there they were, solid working guys, retired executives, lady consultants, academics all bending to John’s direction. The job got finished and it was returned to its’ pride of place at the Museum, as one Kingston’s most favourite photographic subjects. It reclaims its’ position as an enduring symbol at the Museum, a testament to John’s hard work and perseverance.
John was one of those people who can be considered a founder of the Marine Museum.
One day in the early 1980s we toured two very refined Museum Assistance Programme (MAP) bureaucrats from Ottawa. Barry Lord, (now a big time consultant) and his now retired assistant George Zielinski who had to make a fateful recommendation. Will the museum get the money or not? So John, in the destitute, run-down Kingston Shipyard industrial buildings took his shovel and cleared a path through the bird droppings. Were they wearing Gucci shoes? Probably not, but we imagined all Ottawa civil servants did. They were taken sailing, in sloppy weather – yes one of them got seasick. Not a good sign. But John did not stop there. Garden Island, across Kingston Harbour is a haven for the literati, academics and generally very interesting people. Among them was Arnold Edinborough a prominent writer for the Financial Post among others.
He wrote a column at the urging of John in full support of this daring urban regeneration project, among the first on an industrialized Kingston waterfront, just a few weeks before the Trustees of the Museum Assistance Programme met. So there was John, a lobbyist on behalf of the museum.
The MAP board voted, yes! – $300,000.00 a good start that eventually leveraged even more financial support by a fine team of Trustees. John was always there over the succeeding thirty-two years; saying the right thing, interceding at just the right moment and never stopping. Only a few days before the end, John was at the Marine Museum, no doubt, exhibiting his usual courtesy and encouragement.
John was a boatbuilder in aluminum and steel, a teacher, a morale builder, a source of inspiration to all who knew him.
I am not saying good-by to John. He is still with me and he will remain so.
Maurice D Smith