Eulogy for Clifford Tattersall

Everyone has an origin story. Every child has a parent, destined at some time to be separated from them. It grieves me to say that my father passed away on 28th February, 2022 and the only way I can think to honour his memory is to share the Eulogy I wrote to shed some light on my origins and to share his family’s grief. Also, for those unable to attend his funeral service today (March 5th, 2022), I hope these words remind you of him and might bring a smile to your face.

Our father was an irascible but lovable character.  Often the centre of the conversation, he was quite at ease as the agitator in any discourse, approaching life with an unparalleled inquisitive zeal. At any moment he might have appeared to waver from sarcastic to serious, and to summarise his traits would require me to acknowledge he was both funny and critical, political and knowledgeable, open and secretive, stubborn and generous, kind and strict, but mostly, dedicated and selfless, to the end. 

While tempted to speak about how much he meant to his family and how he shaped us and how we will miss him, I would better honour him by describing his life and how his life had meaning to others.

Clifford immigrated to Canada as a child, twice, as he liked to put it. The first time (in 1954), when he was 7, he moved here with his sister Valerie and parents, Doris and Harold Tattersall, from Lancashire, England.  His father had taken up a farm manager’s job, lured by the promises of a better life in Canada, presumably from promotional material circulating in the newspapers and town halls of northern England. Despite the many stories he told us of his early life moving from different towns in Southern and Eastern Ontario, we never tired to hear them. They were the standard farm life stories of early morning milking, living on scraps of food, and the trials and tribulations of rural life….Life was hard, and they were poor. Indeed when asked of his lack of middle name, his favourite response was that middle names were too expensive when he was born, in post-war, Northern England.

For reasons best lost to history, he says he was sent back to England to live with his grandmother at the age of 12, ostensibly to prepare for his family’s return to England (had they tired of the frontier life?) ….except, instead, his own parents chose to simply remain in Canada!  So, a year later, like a child out of an O’Henry story, he was returned to Canada and therein spent the rest of his life.

Some time after his return, he and family settled in St. Catharines, and eventually my dad met my mother, Brenda Bernard, as they both lived in Port Dalhousie.  His parents owned the local variety store, Lakeview Variety, better known as “Mr. and Mrs.’ T’s” that pre-dated the rise of the Avondale stores, and thus most people in the neighbourhood knew one another with the store as the central hub. Indeed, that is where my parents met!  Clifford and Brenda married in 1969 on what I imagine was a beautiful spring day in April, although sadly I am told, it was cold and wet!

Following a few years working in sales for local industry, my father embarked on a federal government career initially as a flight service specialist at Toronto Airport and later working as a radio operator for Transport Canada and finally the Canadian Coastguard.  This career brought us, as a family, to all corners of Ontario: Sarnia in the southwest, Earlton in the North, and Wiarton in the middle.  During those years in Wiarton, my dad wanted to have a hobby farm, allowing us all to re-live his childhood (his words!).  Small ideas at first.  A few chickens for eggs, a cow for milk, a horse for riding.  It wasn’t long before this hobby farm grew to a second full time job, with 30 cattle, 3 horses, 30 chickens, 5 pheasants, and yearly wood chopping, hay baling, grain seeding, rock picking, and all the trials and tribulations of farm life.  The concept of doing things in moderation was alien to my father.

In the last 10 years of his career, after selling the farm and moving back to Niagara, dad continued his career meanderings on his own.  Downtown Toronto for 2 years, Sydney, Nova Scotia for 2 years at the Coast Guard College, Sault Ste. Marie as station manager, back to Sarnia as manager and technical trainer, and eventually all the way to Inuvik in the North West Territories as manager of the marine radio station for his final few years until retirement.  While we couldn’t join dad on all these adventures, we felt that we lived them with him over the years through his regular conversations about the people he worked with.  My father was certainly known for work ethic and his gift of the gab.  Rarely was he not busy getting something done around or on the phone or facetime catching up with someone.

Following his retirement in 2005, he returned to Southern Ontario from all his northern journeys and wanted to take up a hobby.  For a time, he took this literally, building a train set which allowed him to play toy trains with his grandson.  But as always with my dad, there was a connection to yesteryear automobiles, and his train set eventually grew to an antique model car hobby, presumably as he began to remember the cars of his youth.  This was not unusual for us.  Growing up with my dad invariably involved him spotting a vintage car on the road that he would immediately identify down to year, make, and model within seconds, usually then describing how the taillights differed between the 1957 model vs. the 1958 model and where the vehicle was manufactured.  So I suppose it was fate that in his retirement, he took it upon himself to become a vintage car owner, initially with the purchase of a 1937 Oldsmobile that he gradually upgraded over the years.  But at his heart, he was always a Studebaker man, so when the chance arose for him to procure one, he drove across the country and borders to acquire his first Studebaker, a beautiful 1955 aqua blue car.  He eventually expanded his fleet of Studebakers to 3, including a 1964 and a 1966.  Most of his summer months were spent tinkering, fixing, polishing, and generally moving his fleet of Studebakers from winter storage to the various summer garages he managed to “borrow” from friends and family.  I know that his retirement involved a network of new friends and acquaintances met at swap meets, car shows, and drivers clubs that have supported him during these last few years. 

From my own perspective, I always felt a little conflicted that I lacked his vehicular knowledge and innate automotive enthusiasm, despite being taught by my dad how to ride a bike on an airport runway!  It may have seemed I could not fully enter into this part of his life, but he included me in it nonetheless by asking me to provide him with space in my garage for one of his vintage cars.  This gave him reason to share his interests with me over the years, and I remember our yearly road trips to Marshville fondly.

We shared other things with our father, that stemmed from our own childhood that he had set in stone for us.  A consequence of him raising us on a farm in a rural homestead, we all shared a love of the outdoors, and of the joy of a simple walk in the woods.  Indeed, since 2011 we have taken almost daily walks in the St. John’s Conservation area.  These early morning forays, often before sunrise, were filled with political discussions (dad’s favourite) or academic rants (my favourite).  I think we both listened, in our own ways, although sometimes we only responded to each other days later, after careful contemplation or examination, knowing that we would always have each on another day to continue the conversation.  With dad gone, I will miss these cherished ‘examinations’ into our opinions and biases the most. 

Socrates claimed that “An unexamined life is not worth living”, and I think my father, although not a philosopher, may have lived by this creed, but with his own unique take.  For a non-lawyerly person, my father was very inquisitive – and often to some – inquisitional, sometimes taking a polarising view on topics.  At times he seemed to passionately argue about something, and I remember one day I said to dad: “You aren’t really arguing, you just like to question every single topic”, and he looked back at me, almost with delight as if I finally did begin to understand him.   Perhaps, in his own way, he understood the claims to examine life as being instructions to examine the lives of others, given how intensely or dogmatically my father would think and pursue the issues of the day.  Maybe he wondered whether his own children and family were too close to appreciate him, but I know we did, and I hope he knows that we would not have had him any other way.  

While my father certainly had his way of examining truths, he was on a journey that examined the strengths and limits of any human being.  On top of all the love, encouragement, memories, and life lessons, we will forever cherish the memory of our father’s zest for inquiry.  It is what made us who we are.