Ottawa – 17–18 June 2008
On Tuesday, 3 June 08, I arrived at the Courtyard Restaurant in the Ottawa Market for the reception of our inaugural meeting of the Veterans Ombudsman Advisory Committee. Several members were already there and the rest were arriving in short order. One of the first Veterans I encountered was Wally Smith, our Second World War representative, who had come to us from Peterborough. Not knowing his regimental affiliation I greeted him with a hand shake as we made our way up the staircase to the reception. Immediately in front of us was the distinguished peacekeeper and member of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), Colonel (retired) Don Ethell. Wally said "Hi" to Don, telling me that Don was another Patricia. Now Wally might have known what Regiment I was from, but it was the first time I clued-in that he was a Patricia too. Wally was quick to take me up on my offer of a pre-dinner libation, and throughout the evening I returned to our common affiliation to "take the Mickey out of " the other members of my Advisory Committee who were members of other regiments, the Navy and the Air Force. Such was the joie de vivre and sense of humour of Wally Smith. However, the next day at our inaugural meeting of my Advisory Committee, it was strictly business for Wally. Wally didn't take Veteran issues lightly, having been a champion for the Veterans for decades. Wally's sense of humour was second only to his sense of commitment to the fair treatment of our Veterans, and this set the tone for a hugely successful meeting.
You may have noticed my references to Wally in the past tense. That's not because our meeting took place last week, it's because Wally passed away the very next Friday night, 5 June, or early Saturday morning, after I had the pleasure of meeting him. It was tragic news for me. Since my appointment as Veterans Ombudsman this is the second distinguished Veteran whom I had the pleasure of meeting but unfortunately passed away before I really got to know. The first was Ken Barwise. As a soldier, I spent every day of my professional service conditioning and preparing myself mentally to endure the loss of colleagues in battle. That certainly doesn't make it easy to take the loss of a comrade, and the loss of Wally and Ken is hard. Ken was a war hero, and I feel very, very fortunate that I was able to meet him in person before his passing. He was the kind of guy about whom Regimental legends are written - the kind of guy that I and every young person who joins the military try to emulate.
I didn't know Wally much longer than I knew Ken, but it was clear to me that he too was a special kind of guy. This was confirmed when I went to Wally's funeral. He was more special than I will ever know. He was a servant to his country as well as his community, and the church was packed with hundreds of mourners, or should I say well wishers because we all congregated to celebrate Wally's life. Two of Wally's children, his son Don and daughter Patricia, named after the regiment he so proudly served in, gave moving eulogies that will live within me forever. I am proud of my accomplishments as a husband, a father and the commitment I have made to my country and my regiment, but I have a long way to go before I could ever compare myself to Wally.
Goodbye, my friends, you have inspired me. I will continue to serve in your memory. I only wish we could have served together longer.
Date Modified: 2009-06-17