Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Douglas Ian McLennan (June 26, 1941-May 1, 2020)

My father died peacefully on Friday evening, around 10:45pm, some fifteen months after he’d been diagnosed with als, and nearly a decade after my mother [see my obituary for her here]. Never mind the prior colon cancer surgeries, or the triple bypass; the diabetes, sleep apnea or even the prior diagnoses of multiple sclerosis. I’d always figured his laundry-list of health issues over the past decade or so would have meant he’d finally die of something completely unrelated, such as a meteor, or sink-hole. But he showed me, I suppose. As his official obituary reads:

Peacefully surrounded by his family on Friday, May 1, 2020. Douglas Ian McLennan of Maxville; age 78 years.  Beloved husband of the late Joanne Irene McLennan (nee Page).  Loving father of Rob McLennan (Christine McNair) of Ottawa, and Kathy McLennan (Corey Derochie) of Maxville.  Cherished grandfather of Kate Seguin-McLennan, Emma, Rory and Duncan Derochie, and Rose and Aoife McLennan.  Dear son of the late John Duncan and Ellen McLennan (nee Campbell).

As expressions of sympathy Memorial Donations to the ALS Society would be appreciated by the family.  As a Memorial to Douglas a tree will be planted in a Memory Woods.  Condolences may be made online at

He aimed to die in the farmhouse, but actually died at the neighbour’s house, given the furnace in the farmhouse literally exploded two weeks’ prior. There was an evacuation and a professional service come through to clean every inch of every single thing in the house (which means the farmhouse is the cleanest it might ever have been), and they were only given the ‘all clear’ from the insurance company to move back in on the day he died. He was close enough, I think. And he enjoyed, I was told, finding out how fast his new wheelchair could go when they moved him and his equipment (the hospital bed on the front end loader of the tractor) next door. Apparently he really opened up that chair once he got to the road. Given our current pandemic, there couldn’t be much of an in-person service, but there will be an online component as part of it, for all of those unable to attend. Here are the notes I put together for the Thursday morning service (which will be live-streamed via YouTube link, apparently), which of course will be be cut down considerably for time:

November 1941
Our father, Douglas Ian McLennan, was born in the log house on the hill along McDonald’s Grove, Concession 8, Roxborough, at 4:10am on June 26th, 1941. He was our grandparents’ second child, born eighteen months after an unnamed daughter who died within a day. The Ottawa Citizen printed a one-line obituary for “Baby Girl McLennan,” September 1939, and our father always claimed no knowledge of her. Our great-aunt Jesse said it was the only time she ever saw our grandfather cry.

Given the loss, our father might have been both miracle and a relief to our grandparents, Johnny and Ellen. John Duncan, or “Johnny,” was the youngest of four boys and three girls, so when he married in 1935, he moved from the McLennan homestead where he and his siblings were born. Our grandparents moved directly across the road from the McLennan property, a dairy farm that he still operated with his brother Scott, into the log house on the hill, a property of 160 acres that Johnny and Scott had purchased in 1934.

When our father was eight months old, Johnny moved his small family to the farm next to the original McLennan homestead, and this is where my father would spend the rest of his life. This is the only house he’s ever known, although one could say he knew a couple of neighbouring houses nearly as well. Growing up, he was surrounded by family, with uncles and aunts within walking distance, and some older cousins, whether Weldon and Eileen on Cameron Road, or Jule and Audrey, who regularly made visits with their parents from their home in Ottawa. He was the baby of his small cluster of cousins. He worked with his father. He rode his bicycle along the dirt roads. He had a dog that, due to an accident, had only three legs, still bounding happily across the fields and over machinery. By Dad’s teenaged years, the Jensens had purchased the original McLennan farm, and he found a life-long friend in Kris, the two boys taking turns slipping through the opening in the fence between their farmhouses.

Our parents met in 1965. She was a townie, living with her family in the south end of Alta Vista, then still a relatively-new Ottawa suburb. This was in the days before Highway 417 was completed, back when the drive from the farm to the city would have been three and a half hours. His mother didn’t drive, which meant he spent much of his twenties accompanying his father into the Ottawa Civic for radiation treatments. All of this, I’m sure, done without a single complaint.

Our parents met through friends as part of Bible Camp. Kris Jensen was engaged to a girl from Ottawa, and his fiancé was, and still is, best friends with my mother’s younger sister, Pam. It was a three-and-a-half hour drive for my father to court my mother. There is a story I heard from before they were married, of my father assisting the Page family on Christmas Eve. He helped my mother at her family home, assembling toys for my cousins to wake up to as part of their stockings, before finally driving back to the farm late enough that he made it just in time to do morning chores.

leaving her parents' house on their wedding day
At some point, my mother caught scarlet fever while babysitting, which had begun to affect her kidneys. By 1967, she was told she had three months to two years to live, prompting Dad to respond that he loved her, and was going to marry her anyway. I can’t imagine him saying any of that aloud. I can barely imagine him thinking it. They married in 1967, and she managed twenty-two years on dialysis before her third kidney transplant in 2000, which allowed her another decade, outliving her original prognosis by more than forty years.

A three and a half hour drive.

Once our parents were married, his parents moved to a bungalow on Highland Road, just north of St. Elmo. Dad said it didn’t matter where his parents lived, his father still came over every day. They were unable to have children of their own, due to Mum’s ongoing medical issues, which led to my arrival in January 1971, at ten months old, and Kathy’s arrival in June 1976, at two months.

at the extended mclennan family reunion, 1974
He was considerate, but inattentive. Our parents had two children, but he didn’t know when our birthdays were. After Mum died, Dad told me that between Kathy and I, he knew one of us was in March, and the other in April, but he had no idea which.

He provided an example of self-motivation, organization and self-discipline. He rose before dawn every morning to begin the work that needed to be done, as daily, monthly and seasonal demands of the farm required, milking between thirty and forty head of Holstein, and maintaining three hundred and ninety-five acres of land. He provided an example of being the best there was at what he did, including constructing his own buildings and machinery as needed, and providing assistance to anyone who might have required it. And knowing the difference between what he could do, and what you hire someone else to do. He was presented with a leadership award in the early 1970s for his years in 4-H, and spent the whole of his life donating money to a variety of charities, more than I could count. He was active in the church, and in his community. And yet, his lessons, at least to me, were never straightforward. If he were attempting to teach you how to do something, he would either lose patience and do it himself, or micromanage, something I was reminded of repeatedly over his last six or eight months. I remember responding to one of the neighbours when I was four years old that I had no intention of farming, but I wonder how much of a factor might also have been our inability to approach each other. And yet, how I do what I do now, from the approach to work and the considerations of community, is so deeply rooted in the example he presented.

at seventy-one, with Kathy
To learn from him, one often had to take a step back, and pay attention to the bigger picture. He was the first to offer a neighbour assistance, just as they were realizing they might have needed it, although never with pressure or presumption. He plowed multiple driveways every winter, and was always receiving friends in our yard who sought his expertise to fix some broken part or another. When Cameron McGregor was no longer able to take in his own hay in the later 1980s, it was our father who took it on, along with his hired man and myself, with Cameron doing whatever he could, despite his eighty-odd years. During the ice storm of 1998, our father hooked the generator up to the tractor and the Hydro line, providing three weeks’ worth of electricity my parents’ wouldn’t have had otherwise (for her dialysis machine and the milking equipment). He’d owned it for years, and apparently Mum had teased him for it. She stopped bothering him about it then. And throughout the days of blackout, he moved from neighbour-to-neighbour with the tractor and generator, providing a couple of hours each for heat and a hot meal before he moved to the next house, finally making it home in time for his evening chores. His was an example of the glue that helped keep a community together. If you could do something, you offered it. If you required the help, there would always be someone nearby who knew how, and could help in their way.

with his father
They spent $1,500 on fuel to keep that generator running during those three weeks immediately following the ice storm. Our mother’s only inconvenience during those three weeks, which she did complain about, was having to sleep on the other side of the house, given the tractor was running all night outside their bedroom window.

He was easygoing, but it often took some doing to prompt him to laugh, speak or get angry. Going through dozens of photographs of him after he’d died, it was nearly impossible find one where he wasn’t looking away from the camera, whether down or to the side. The photograph included in the obituary is from 2012, as I prepared to get married. We were still an hour or two from the ceremony, as my piper, best man and I were gathering, captured by our official photographer. I think I’d finally chastised him for not actually looking happy, or at the camera, which made him chuckle. Oh, for god’s sake, Dad. He was someone who was quietly, steadfastly there, not wishing to announce himself or be in the way. He was strong in his beliefs, but humble in their application. Our father emerged from a strong willed mother to marry a strong willed wife, yet he didn’t care for direct conflict. It would take an awful lot for him to be pushed to complain, or step in. During one of his hospital stays last year, it even took some convincing from us to inform the nurses that if he complained of pain at all, it was because the pain was quite bad, and he required painkillers.

September 2012, prior to our wedding
2019, driving through the back fields
After he sold the farm, he offered sizeable amounts of money to both Kathy and myself without as much as a further word, whether a suggestion of how to spend it, or any question of how we had. He could offer it – so he did. It was a sign of trust. He didn’t interfere, or prod. I always found him confusing to interact with, playing his cards so close to the chest that you couldn’t even tell if he was participating, or how much he took in, until he spoke. I suspect I overthought it. Who he was he always kept in plain view; one simply had to be attentive.

Fifteen months ago, he was handed a diagnoses of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, after already having gone through surgery for colon cancer, a triple bypass and a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis that he had most likely already endured for more than a decade. Earlier on, he developed sleep apnea and diabetes, both of which forced him to move from dairy farming to cash crop in 2000, before he was unable to even do that anymore. He was used to doing everything himself at his own speed in his own way, but managed to handle all of these difficulties with grace. After his ALS diagnosis, his only insistence was that he die at home, refusing to go into hospital. I don’t think he really understood how much of that was even possible without the enormous amount of work Kathy put into his care. He occasionally told me just how much he appreciated her, and how great her kids—Emma, Rory and Duncan—were to him, but in hindsight, I suspect he didn’t say much to her about this. I don’t know if he could. He wasn’t exactly one to emote his feelings, and I suspect our mother spoke enough that it allowed him his silence, where he may have been most comfortable.

from their honeymoon : the botanical gardens, hamilton
There were multiple times over the past couple of years that doctors had told us to go in to say goodbye to him and he’d somehow reemerge, albeit a bit weaker each time. Acting as though nothing had happened. A few weeks before he’d died, his bowel nearly ruptured. His doctor expected it within a day or so of seeing him, and yet, he made it through, and was back in his chair in the living room, poking at his tablet and in front of the television, as though nothing had occurred. He was where he wished to be, and was able to be.

He was a consummate gardener, much like his mother. When Christine and I were married in 2012, he grew all our flowers, and refused anything in return. He took photographs of rainbows, including the occasional double-rainbow over the property. He would get excited about rainbows. He maintained birdfeeders for multiple birds, able to watch for hummingbirds by the front step, and blue jays, cardinals and orioles by the back porch, through the kitchen window. He was a good man, and a fair man: the first things anyone would say about him. He cared deeply about his family. I shall miss his quiet, distracted, resoluteness. I am wishing I had paid better attention.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Dear Kathy, Robbie and Family.. Just wanted to tell you that I will be tuning in tomorrow morning.

Even though we are so far away, my heart is with you all. In this time of sorrow.

Jeanne Jensen