Thursday, 26 May 2016

Jim Lovie: Lucky Man

If you've ever had a President's Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie, or its barbecue sauce, you've tasted the influence of Jim Lovie who passed away in Ottawa yesterday at the age of 88.

Jim was, for many years, the head of meat operations at the iconic Canadian grocery conglomerate.

But he was much more than the "butcher-in-charge".

Jim influenced the career paths of hundreds of Loblaws employees over his many years with the company. I'm sure there isn't a person who met Jim who didn't love the twinkle in his eye, his corny jokes or his easy smile. But employees knew enough not to cross the old man, or let him down.

Jim had a bit of a flash temper and would take offending employees into the meat freezer for a dressing down. He'd close the door and let the employee have it, but he never embarrassed anyone in front of their coworkers.

That's because Jim was a classy, classy guy.

And he was a valued member of the Loblaws family, even agreeing to fork over his wife Chrystal's home recipes which were incorporated into the President's Choice brand.

I first met Jim on the porch of his daughter Jennette's house on Riverside Drive. He'd just come off a knee operation, one of his many encounters with the medical profession. I visited him often with Jennette at his home in Amberwood Village where he liked to sit in the sunny lanai and watch golf -- when he wasn't playing it!

Jim worked hard, but he also liked to play hard. He saved and saved so that he and his wife Chrystal could enjoy a long retirement, travel the world, and spend winters in Florida. It was in Florida where Jim got himself into trouble, baking in the sun, resulting in a bad case of skin cancer that, at one point, left him with a hole in his barrel chest the size of a baseball.

Still, he motored, hat on head, cart under him to carry his wobbly legs over many a round of 18.

Even losing his beloved wife to cancer 15 years ago didn't stop Jim. At Amberwood, he had many an opportunity to play the field, but settled on a decade long relationship with his companion Lois.

He was a lucky man, alright.

Lucky in love, lucky in family, lucky in career.

The last few years have been tough on Jim, and all of those who loved him. He battled a number of cancers, and lived his last few years on the clock with a heart aneurysm. Then, just a few months ago, he received the deadly news that he had colon cancer.

He spent the last few months in the hospital, alert, ready with a joke, but in constant pain and delirium set off by morphine. At 3:05 a.m. yesterday, he ran the clock, but not before having a friendly chat with the nurses, and flashing them his trademark grin.

He was lucid til the end.

I helped Jennette gather his things yesterday at St. Vincent. We sat quietly by his bedside, and then Jennette and Lois gave him one last kiss. The last few months have been an ordeal for these strong women who rarely missed an afternoon at his bedside.

It's been particularly hard on Jennette who lost her husband Roger nearly two years ago to the day.

May, for Jennette, has become the cruelest month.

Now with Jim on his way, and her oral cancer at bay, Jennette may finally get the retirement she's dreamed about, though she admits afternoons will be hard, particularly the cocktail hour when she talked to Jim every single day.

But life goes on, at least at our end. As for Jim, who knows where his luck will take him.

"Good luck on the next leg of your journey, young man," I saw, giving him a final wave.

If there is a God, and there is a Heaven, I know in my heart, Jim will be travelling there first class all the way.

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