Remembering a life well lived

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My Uncle Jim died this week at the grand old age of 97. With his passing, my family has been diminished. At least we can be consoled by the fact he led a full and important life.

James Fraser Milne was born in 1920 – I find it hard to comprehend of anyone being born in 1920; it seems like more than a lifetime ago. Uncle Jim lived through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the birth of television and mass media, and the death of King George V. When you look at someone’s life this way, it’s amazing how much change has happened in a relatively short period of time.

Uncle Jim and my dad shared a Scottish heritage and a love of carpentry but that’s about where the similarities ended. While Uncle Jim was thin and wiry, Dad was big and imposing. While Dad was larger than life, Uncle Jim was a quiet presence in the room.

Uncle Jim joined my family when he married my mother’s sister, Betty, in 1944. It must have been culture shock for this only child; Mum and Betty were two of eight Amundsen siblings and Uncle Jim soon had a huge extended family. The spouses of each of the Amundsens have always been referred to as outlaws, as opposed to inlaws.

Uncle Jim served his country during the Second World War as a navigation instructor in the Royal Canadian Air Force based in Calgary. His job was to teach pilots heading overseas how to navigate using rail tracks and waterways as guides.

He was incredibly athletic, only putting away his downhill skis about five years ago and giving up golfing a year after that. I’m sure that’s why he lived to such a ripe old age; I just don’t think he ever looked at his age as a reason to stop doing something. He even taught me how to ski – one of my favourite photos is of Uncle Jim and I on the slopes in the 1970s looking extremely dapper in our stretchy ski pants.

And then there was his sense of humour. My female cousins and I were told we were his “favourite girlfriend” as kids, only finding out we each had this distinction when we compared notes later in life. He was so busted.

Uncle Jim was a funny and charming man and he will be greatly missed, not just by his immediate family but by his extended family, too. The ranks of the outlaws just lost one of its favoured members. Safe home, Uncle Jim.

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