Fifty years ago this past fall I set out to walk down Lorne Street to Huntsville Public School, where I would be joining Mrs. Robinson’s kindergarten class.
I walked with my two neighbours, Eric Ruby and Brent Munroe. Our mothers walked us there, so it was an orderly and disciplined march, but we walked home alone – and fought every inch of the way.
We have been the closest friends possible ever since. But Eric and I are just two friends. We do not claim to be what Emerald was to Brent, nor what his mother Beryl, his late father Maurice, his sister Judy, his brother Ron, Mary and Kristina. We are not what Brent’s and Emerald’s children and their special partners were to him – Jeff, Chantal and Erika; Elizabeth, Dave, Keegan and Taryn…
Leslie and Dave; Jennifer and Ian; Ron and Brent’s grandson Bailey, their mother Ginny, who is here from North Carolina. (Emerald wants Jeff to know how much everyone appreciates the photographs he put together. We all know how difficult that was for him. She wants Elizabeth to know how much she appreciated the constant company.)
We are not as close as those who are also “family” in that Brent was as much a part of their lives as anyone – I am thinking here especially of the Monday family: Tom, Melanie, Robert, Laurie, Tanya…
We are just friends, not even as close as his cousins and aunts and uncles – especially Ray Ware, Brent’s lifelong idol. We are the friends beyond the family, and there is not a person in this room who doesn’t feel like Brent Munroe was his or her best friend. He had that effect – and besides, he’d probably say it was true: every person in this room was, in fact, his closest and dearest friend.
There are six pallbearers, and two honorary ones, Kenny and Norm. Emerald says there could have been 60. I think 600 might closer to the truth. As I told Emerald last evening during the visitation, it this were a ticketed event, we’d have scalpers in the parking lot. Brent was that popular.
I remember once in my newspaper work interviewing John Turner when he was briefly Prime Minister. “I would say, beyond a shadow of a doubt,” he told me, “that I know more Canadians than any Canadian alive.” I bit my tongue. I felt like saying, “Oh yeah – what about Brent Munroe?” I suspect if I had, though, he would have looked at me and said: “You know Brent, too?” That’s the kind of life force we have lost. He was someone children loved to be around. He was someone men and women fell in love with.
He was the most unusual person I have ever known. He was a big man – six four, 250 pounds – but was also larger than life. I went to school with him. He was brilliant, perhaps the smartest person I have ever known, and school failed him as it fails so many who simply have far too much energy for a classroom to hold.
I played sports with him. He was a wonderful athlete, but particularly in lacrosse, where he excelled. He was, on the floor as well as later in life, everyone’s protector. But do not get the idea he was a violent man. He may have been gentlest person I have ever known, always with a smile, a pick-me-up, a compliment, always, always, always with time to pass the day. Sometimes too much time to pass the time of day.
His was a policeman. He was a broadcaster – “The best voice I ever had,” Garth Thomas told me last evening. He drove horses. But he found his lifelong calling in wood. He used to talk about bringing out the grain in wood, but I prefer to think wood brought out the grain in Brent. He became a sort of woods mystic, a philosopher and even a poet.
As Judy said to me in an e-mail this weekend, her “big burly loveable big brother” had a “creative spirit.”
He could hypnotize you with his tongue. But also his pen. He had the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen. Friends of ours on Camp Lake, the Kearns, once hired Brent to do some restoration work on their old log cabin. He would work and then spend hours filling pages of observations on what he was doing. He would include stories and pioneer lore and even illustrations, all of which they have kept.
He stretched a job that should have taken a few weeks into months, then years – he just liked being there. And they so liked him there that he became as much a fixture as the fireplace and, as always happened, a new “uncle” for their children, who simply adored their big visitor with the bushy beard.
Alannah also sent an e-mail to me over the weekend: “The world is a bleaker place with his absence.” It is indeed. There are hundreds not here who feel this death. A man he worked for, Greg Pinch, sent Emerald a note saying Brent “touched everyone he came in contact with VERY deeply. “It was all in the twinkle of his eyes and that devilish smile. He was a big man with a little kid soul.”
Eric and I knew this.
I have never known anyone who knew so many people – and knew them well. My uncle used to quote an old Kipling poem – “If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue,/ Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch… Yours is the earth, and everything in it.” He had the common touch. He was absolutely non-judgmental. The guy ahead of him the Tim Horton’s line as important as some of the millionaires he worked for. He never criticized anyone. He was never negative, always positive. (Sometimes I wondered if he were truly Canadian.)
There were sometimes tough times, let’s not kid ourselves, but he came out of them with a deeper love and appreciation for his family than ever. He took on his toughest challenge and beat it, decisively, and we all benefited from his victory.
Sunday was Emerald’s 10th anniversary over her own victory in that battle, and it was Sunday that she came across a card that Brent that he had written out but not yet given her.
“We are a family…wow!”
The last sentence he would ever write and, not surprisingly, in celebration of family. He would want me to say how proud he was of all of you. He adored you. He bragged about you.
Fifteen months ago we attended the sweetest wedding ever. The rain let up just long enough for Brent and Emerald to exchange their vows on the back deck of The Fiery Grill in Dorset, with the Rev. Eric Seisel officiating. It was a beautiful service, but what made it was the astounding sense of love he had for this woman, and she for him. Emerald, I would wish you could have had 50 such years together, but remember, please, that precious few get even one as rich as you two had. Thank you, Emerald, for what you have meant to our friend.
And to Brent…
Thank you, Brent, for always stressing the positive.
Thank you, Brent, for your stories – most of which we believed.
Thank you, Brent, for sharing your love of natural things with us, for your spiritual side.
And thank you, Brent, for being a part of our lives – and making every one of us your very best friend in the world.
“He loved life and he loved people,” Emerald said last night.
“Maybe that’s the message for us.”
You won’t be forgotten, Brent.
A man that big – with a heart that big – you could never be forgotten.
And will not be, we promise.