Grade 8 class

The Oliver Road School Grade 8 class of 1961-62 with the writer back right. Some of these classmates offered 75th birthday greetings this week, confirming friendships that have lasted six decades.

BY IAN PATTISON

Updated Aug. 7

Seventy-five. It's three-quarters of the way to 100 which is the gold standard in so many things. In human years it seems like a lot to some, but it needn’t be.

While wondering what to write about this week, someone suggested, “Why not write about your birthday?” So, all pretension aside and in concert with everyone else on the same trail, I will.

I turned 75 years old on Wednesday. I don’t see that as a bad thing. For one thing, more than 100 people sent birthday wishes. Many say that I don’t look my age. That’s a real blessing and I am thankful for each and every greeting.

There were old friends and new friends, people I went to Oliver Road public school and PACI and Hammarskjold high school with, people I worked with for 50 years at this newspaper, people I spent time with for the many reasons that help to form a life.

It’s the people who make your life what it is and that begins with family. A great many things have to happen, and not happen, in order for any life to happen.

On my dad’s side we are descendants of Rob Roy MacGregor. If the 16th-century Scottish outlaw had been hung for his crimes, there’d have been no Pattisons in the family tree, and no me. Instead, he became a folk hero, married and had four sons.

My Scottish grandparents, John Pattison and Elizabeth Stewart, both ended up in Winnipeg and married. Bob, one of three sons, became a banker. If he’d stayed there, my life’s story would not have happened. But he moved to Port Arthur to work for many years as Abitibi’s accountant and met Betty Brown, my mother, and a lady in every sense of the word.

Bob was a great piano player, a tremendous golfer, active in the community and his profession, and a fine father. I miss them both every day.

My mom’s side were Irish and English stock whose descendants moved to the Collingwood area of Ontario.

My great-grandfather came to Prince Arthur’s Landing shortly after the Town Plot was created in 1871. His son, my grandfather, Russell Brown, was born 10 years later.

He met Georgia Smith of West Fort when the two attended the original Port Arthur Collegiate. They had six children, three of whom shared the distinction with Gramp of being centenarians. So if genes play the role they are supposed to, I’ve got a quarter-century left to make the most of.

I remain immensely proud of my grandparents’ contributions to this community.

Gramp worked in the family meat business which owned side-wheel steamers that brought cattle up from Collingwood. It was those vessels that prompted a life-long interest in shipping that culminated in a position as an officer aboard the ill-fated passenger steamship Noronic that was a regular visitor at the Lakehead.

Later he would open a car dealership at May and Donald Streets selling Star and Durant automobiles. Son Burt, who went on to establish Brown’s English River Resort, built the Lakehead’s first speedboat with the engine from a wrecked Durant.

Gramp was the federal Indian Agent for this area from 1914-1923. That term is scorned in this age of reconciliation but he was so highly regarded that the Fort William band named him honorary Chief Clear Sky.

He arranged to have the first, wooden cross erected on Mt. McKay in memory of those from Fort William who did not return from the war.

In his later years he collected good used clothing and shipped it to reserves throughout the Northwest. Cousin Murray Armstrong and I helped him pack it into big potato sacks and load them into the trunk of his Chevrolet.

Gramp was deeply involved in politics and holds the unique distinction of being the last honorary citizen of Port Arthur and the first one of Thunder Bay.

As a young girl, my grandmother was a popular public speaker. In those days, elocution was admired and Nan’s speaking events were well attended and covered by the local papers.

She was president of the Women’s Canadian Club of Port Arthur when it had the cenotaph installed in Waverley Park.

When a close friend was looking to leave a legacy, Nan convinced her to buy the wonderful Casavant organ for the family church, St. Paul’s United. It is one of the finest organs in the country.

Memories flood in on “important” birthdays. The old stone family home on Madeline Street. Growing up on South Hill Street with pals and lasting family friends throughout Mariday Park, from High Street to Marlborough Road. Certain teachers who left lasting impressions on an impressionable only child.

Harry Bateman was one of those. A skilled music teacher, he stoked the piano lessons of my youth to cement a life-long passion for music.

It began by lying on the living room floor in front of the Marconi hi-fi listening to my dad’s Glenn Miller records and continued through those school music classes, working at St. James Stereo Centre and joining a band that people tell me they remember to this day. That is gratifying.

They say that time goes quickly and indeed, mine seems to be speeding up while my mind seems to be slowing down. Like so many other people I can recall “little things” with clarity (the old “Diamond” family phone number to the last digit) but don’t ask me to remember the name of the spouse of someone that I just met. I still think like I’m 25 but the bathroom mirror puts everything in perspective.

Life is as good as you make it and today I live with my wonderful wife, Susan, in a home beside Lake Superior with our rescue dog, Tillie, a devoted pet who knows it’s got a very good thing compared with where it came from.

There are trials in life, and health presents as both tenuous and precious, but overall, in the great, grand scheme of things, life is very good indeed. At 75 there is much more to be thankful for than at 50, and so much more to look forward to.

As the great Jack Benny said, "Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

Ian Pattison is retired after 50 years of award-winning journalism at The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.