“I was born April 3, 1915 in Adanac, Saskachewan. That’s Canada spelled backwards,” I can still hear Bob Beeson start one of his legendary stories.
Bob, who often joked his “warranty was running out”, and was known to say that he thought God may have “ forgotten [his] expiry date”, passed on peacefully in his sleep in the presence of most of his family on July 25, 2013 as a result of renal failure. “He was 98-years-young,” said his eldest son Alan in the eulogy. This “fell short of his planned departure…He wanted to [live] longer than his mother…which would have been greater than 100 years, 6 months.” However, that might be the only thing Bob wanted to do that he didn’t accomplish in his lifetime.
Robert (Bob) Alan Beeson, was born to the late Edwin and Alma Beeson (nee Dafoe). He once told me in an interview that his earliest memory was of his mother Alma trying to calm him down while all the men were all shooting their guns off into the air in celebration. It was Adanac, Saskachewan, November 11, 1918 and word had just reached them that World War I was finally over. Three- year-old Bob apparently had a hard time understanding what this was all about.
Bob grew up in Camp Creek, Alberta with his seven brothers and sisters. Predeceased by his brothers Donald, John, and Max, and sisters Marjory, and Dorothy, he is survived by his brothers Wilmot (wife Faye), and Harvey (wife Francis).
At Bob’s memorial service over the weekend, his younger brother Wilmot shared that his brother Bob was like a father to them growing up, and took good care of them. Their own father was often away working trying to provide for them, which he said he brother Bob also did, dropping out of school to start sawmilling at the age of 16.
Bob lived the majority of his life in the Valemount area with his late wife Clover (Cloe) Beeson (nee Monkman). He married the love of his life on May 23, 1941 and they had four children Alan, Kathy, Don, and Tom, all of whom consider their father to have been a real family man.
When World War II broke out, Bob was living in Alberta sawmilling on the Athabasca River. As the Beeson siblings began to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces, it became difficult to run the mill shorthanded, so Bob went to work on the Alaska Highway in 1942.
He told a story of one blustery night, hauling on the highway, when his truck broke down leaving him stranded in close to minus 80 degree Fahrenheit weather. He dug a hole in the snow, pulled a tarp over it like an igloo, and proceeded to burn the tailgate off his truck, with great difficulty, as gasoline does not like to burn at those temperatures. By the time he was found, he was starved and nearly frozen. He ended up with double phenomena and lost a great deal of weight. Consequently, when he got the call to enlist he was nearly turned away due to his frail condition; however the recruiting doctor took pity on him and let him in, in hopes he would regain health.
Bob joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943, taking trades in practical radio, A /C and Refrigeration, and Machining. He was then sent to England, and trained as an aircraft electrician. During a 30-day leave in Canada, with just two days left he said he was feeling heavy hearted about leaving his wife and one small child Alan, when he heard the news of the surrender of Japan effectively ending World War II. He was discharged in the fall of 1945. With the exception of Bob’s brother Donald who passed away as a young child, and sister Dorothy who was raising a family, six of the Beeson siblings went to war and six of them came back.
It was after that that Bob came to Valemount to set up a sawmill for Bill Olexiuk. He and his brother Harvey came by train April 10, 1948, 39 years after their own father Edwin had first travelled up the Canoe River with Fulton McKirdy. He always said he remembered the date because they were held up in Mount Robson for seven hours by a snow slide across the tracks. He said they set up the sawmill in record-breaking time and ran it for a year or so. He went on to set up a planer mill for Canyon Creek Sawmills, and ran it seasonally for 12 years while concurrently running his own sawmill partnered with Ralph Lebans. The Beeson family had a brief hiatus in Kelowna in 1956 but returned to log down the Canoe River.
In his eulogy Alan said Bob’s approach to life was simple, “no need to talk about it a lot, or look for negatives, let’s just get it done.” He attributes this approach to life to contributing largely to the realization of many of Valemount’s earliest community projects. This includes the first Community Hall, where he served as the president of the Community Association, the Golden Years Lodge, digging basements or building roofs for places such as the Legion, Clinic, Catholic Church, Cemetery, Fire Hall, Ptarmigan café, and the logging of fifth avenue. He was also instrumental in lobbying the Province for Valemount’s first health center (a story all in its own) when he was told no, true to his life approach he just went ahead and did it. I will agree with Alan, when he said, “His accomplishments are for history books,” and far too numerous for this story. Bob was a long time legion member, and in later years was involved with the Senior Citizens.
If you ran into Bob at his favourite local hang out, The Gathering Tree, and asked him what he was up to, his favourite thing to answer was “Oh, not doing much, but still getting paid.”
Bob never saw himself as being old; he was concerned that there might be someone older or more deserving of a spot in the Golden Years Lodge right into his 90’s. He was never too old to do what he wanted, as was apparent after his wife Cloe passed away in 1992, and his “wanderlust and sense of adventure kicked into high gear,” recalls Alan. First Cuba, then Costa Rica, and a back packing trip to Europe in his 80’s. In recent years he added an Alaskan cruise to his yearly regime, and still continued to escape to Costa Rica for the winters, planning to do it all again this winter.
I was fortunate enough to have been able to accompany my grandpa Bob to and from Costa Rica a few times. These, some of my fondest memories, happen to coincide with my greatest learning experiences. He taught me humour at hard times. Like when I sporting a cast up to my armpit after falling out of a tree on the beach, he teased me for trying to take all the attention and never let me leave his sight without reminding me that I wasn’t a monkey and to stay out of the trees.
He taught me generosity and non-judgement which I’m still practicing being able to execute with the grace he did. He always brought things for the children, he bought a family a fridge, bricks to build a home, and donated many cameras to many thieves.
He introduced me to innumerable friends in his Costa Rican community, locals and expats. He has time for everyone, even the town drunk, and he bought street workers breakfast at the cafe beside where they hung out. And even though possibly they were the ones robbing him, he never treated anyone differently. Moreover, even though I wouldn’t consider my grandfather a very religious man, I think he took Jesus’ lead in that if you had asked that man for food, water, or even the shirt off his back, I have no doubt he would have given it to you, and often before you even had to ask.
He blessed the earth with three generations of offspring who continue to touch the community and planet with much of his same gentleness, humor, and compassion. And if you’ve spent any time with any one of us, you already know his kind and witty spirit lives on and will never die because not only do we carry it but so do all of you whose lives he touched, became a part of, and I know inspired.
One man in Costa Rica told me, his heroes used to be hockey players and now it was Bob. An inspiration to so many people in so many ways. I believe he has achieved the ultimate goal: to live a long, healthy life, to be surrounded by friends and family right to the end, to ultimately choose to let go when you are ready to, to leave a legacy, and to be celebrated once you are gone.
I think we can honor Bob’s legacy best by living the way he did; with a keen sense of adventure, no concept of how old we are getting, an obligation and ambition to build community, and a steady appreciation of family, friends and daily conversation with whomever comes along.
I believe Bob would want to leave you with the same sentiment he lived by, “Don’t talk about it, just do it,” and you are only as old as you think you are.