Monday, 5 June 2017

Brian Linklater: A Kind and Gentle Soul

Some 25 years ago, I found myself rudderless, having sold my rather large pile of a house in Orleans after my husband left me with three little kids. At the time, Dan had offered to take the kids for the summer, and I agreed. I needed to spend the summer healing.

I bought myself a townhouse and sold most of my belongings to pay for the move. With the little cash I had left, I invested in some cheap Ikea furniture. Trouble was, I had no idea how to wield an Allan key. Let's just say, I had left all the heavy lifting and practical stuff to my husband, who was now in the wind.

One day, after dropping the kids off at our mid-point, where Dan's girlfriend picked them up, I decided to stroll over to the National Press Club. It was tough. I was still reeling, still grieving the death of my marriage, and hurting about passing off my three little kids to the woman who helped break up my marriage.

It was summer, with the Parliamentary recess on, and there was absolutely nobody around except for Dave the bartender, and a rather largish man whom I had seen many times, but whom I had never met. He was sitting in his usual place, in the tub chairs right off the bar, having a Scotch and reading a book.

He smiled at me, and waved me over. I sat there and told him about my sad life.

"My birthday is coming up," I told him. "My kids are gone, and I have all this Ikea furniture to put together. Guess that's how I'll be spending my birthday."

"Let me treat you to lunch," he said. "Next Friday. Downstairs."

I thanked him, grateful, like Blanche Dubois, for the kindness of a stranger.

The next week,  I showed up for lunch, and the kind man bought me wine and lunch, and then presented me with a gift -- a set of tools.

"I'll come over tomorrow and help you put that furniture together," he said, smiling.

And he did.

That was typical of Brian Linklater, who died last week in Ottawa. He was a kind man, thoughtful, sensitive, with a great sense of humor. Over the years, Brian did many a good deed for me. He helped me find work when I had none, introduced me to a vast number of interesting folk from the association community, and most importantly, listened.

He was really great at listening.

Over the years, at the club, Brian stopped reading his book and began to come out of his shell, holding court at his usual table at the side of the bar. He arrived precisely at 4 p.m. and would leave at precisely 5:50, in time for his wife, Jan, to pick him up. He liked his Scotch, and pipe, though he gave up the latter about ten years ago.

Most of all, Brian loved people.

This unassuming man had a great career in the association business. He rose through the ranks within the Canadian Society of Association Executives and even became the Chairman of the Ottawa Board of Trade. Many years ago, he left his executive position at the Canadian Printers Association to hang out his shingle as a consultant for a number of small associations. Like the salesman he was, Brian travelled around the country to trade shows and to the small offices of  tiny associations whose members sold tools, lumber, and gift and tableware.

 Brian helped save the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs from near extinction, taking on the job of executive director until its restructuring. He worked with the CAFC for many years, and even became an honorary fire chief. Of that award, he was most proud.

Brian worked into his 70s but found it difficult to ply his trade in the age of the Internet. Sadly, he gave up his company. His health was failing, and he finally admitted it was time to put himself out to pasture.

I haven't seen Brian for years now. I moved on, and found a new person to wield the Allan Key. While we continued to be friends, we began to drift, as people do.

We lost track of each other about five years ago. I'd heard he was ill, and only found out about his death yesterday.

In the old days, it would have been all the news at the National Press Club.

There would have been a wake where we would all get together to tell Brian stories.

Those days are gone.

And so I write this as my small remembrance of a remarkable man.

Good night, Mr. Linklater.

From the girl who still doesn't know how to use tools.

I dedicate the following song to Brian who liked to whistle a good tune. 

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