My wife, Maura, and I enjoyed that privilege for the last thirty of Okill's ninety-eight years. We met him first in 1989, when he organized the first convention of the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada ever held in the Province of Quebec, at Bishop's University in Lennoxville. It was held to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Association's incorporation by Act of Parliament and the Bicentennial of Lord Dorchester's proclamation placing a mark of honour on the original Loyalists and their descendants, male or female, in perpetuity. Deploying his immense organizational and interpersonal skills and, after mastering the intricacies of royal, federal and provincial protocol, Okill persuaded his former schoolmate from Gordonstoun in Scotland, His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, to be the guest of honour at the convention, making it a resounding success.
Okill was immensely proud of his Loyalist ancestor, the Reverend John Stuart UE, sometimes called the "'Father of the Anglican Church in Upper Canada", as well as many other of his forebears who contributed in different ways to the building of our country.
As President of Heritage Branch, the Montreal chapter of the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada, Okill secured the publication of the book, The Loyalists of Quebec 1774-1825: A Forgotten History in 1989. He increased the Branch Membership substantially, thanks to his personal magnetism, and then went on to serve as Dominion President of the entire Association from 1994 to 1996.
But there are many other dimensions of Okill's life that we need to recall today, if we are to do justice to his memory.
There was Okill, the warrior, the young bombardier, who stormed Juno Beach on D-Day in 1944 with the 14th Field Regiment of the Third Canadian Division, and went on to fight his way into France, Belgium and the Netherlands, where he played a key role in the liberation of that country from Nazi tyranny.
Five decades later, he militated successfully, with other Canadian veterans, for the building of the Juno Beach Centre in Normandy and attended its official opening. His regimental association also organized the visit of Dutch schoolchildren to Canada in the 1990s and introduced them to some of the men who had freed their homeland so long before. Okill himself was welcomed back to Holland several times for commemorations of the liberation, and he had an abiding love for the Dutch people. As a member of the Royal Canadian Legions Saint Lambert Branch, he often took the salute at Remembrance Day ceremonies and also spoke to students and on the radio about his own wartime experiences and war in general.
Then there was Okill the businessman: the real estate broker and appraiser, the founder of Stuart Realties that he managed for over forty years. Many are the individuals who, thanks to Okill and his firm, found suitable homes in which to live, raise their families and, as Okill would say, "get on with life". As a Director of the Montreal Real Estate Board, he did much to foster higher standards of ethics and responsibility in that business.
Then there was Okill the sportsman: the internationally known winner of beagle hound competitions, the seasoned salmon fisher, the avid gardener, the champion lawn bowler, and the last surviving founder of the Saint Lambert Curling Club.
Indeed, Saint-Lambert was always close to Okill's heart. He was twice honoured by the City Council as citizen of the year, a true lambertois, as he was designated. No wonder, since he belonged and contributed to virtually all the clubs and organizations in the municipality, participating in many of their activities and presiding over some of them. Indeed, he was a lambertois par excellence.
Okill was also aphilanthropist. Moved by his Christian faith and civic spirit, he did much to help those less fortunate than himself. He was a governor of the Canadian Christmas Tree League, a founding director of the South Shore Community Services and a director of the Federation of Social Agencies. His many acts of private charity are known only to God. Together with his wife, Sylvia, he was an active member of the worshipping congregation of this Church. They both devoted many hours of volunteer labour over the years, helping with the rummage sales held in the Church hall.
Then there was Okill the Officer: commanding the re-raised 78th Fraser Highlanders Regiment. He believed it important for young people to taste the discipline and camaraderie of military life, to earn summer pay to help finance their studies and to perpetuate the proud Highland traditions of piping, drumming and dancing, in honour of the original Scottish troops of the 78th who fought in Canada in the Seven Years' War.
Okill accompanied the 78th Squad to Scotland for its famous tour of 2004, where it performed in many locations, including Balmoral Castle, before Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and his old friend, the Duke of Edinburgh. The young lads of that squad loved Okill, who regaled them with his war stories and sang for them some of the ribald songs that the Canadian troops had sung during World War II. Never was an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel held in higher esteem by his troops.
The organizations that Okill either supported or headed are too numerous to mention. He was: a Knight of both the Order of St. John and the Order of St. Lazarus; an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada, whose Laurentian Branch in Montreal he revitalized; a director of the Advisory Board of Bishops College School; and, as a proud Canadian of Scottish ancestry, he was a mainstay of the St. Andrew's Society of Montreal and the Quebec Thistle Council, honoured as Scot of the Year in 2006. The list of his memberships is too long to recite.
In all the bodies that he influenced, he fostered fidelity to their missions, transparency in their operations and accountability in their use of money.
Okill earned a huge array of honours and medals, including military decorations like the France-Germany Star and the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, among a string of others. In 2009, France inducted him into its Legion d'honneur. He also received the Queen's Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals. True to his Loyalist heritage, he was a passionate defender of constitutional monarchy and freedom under the Crown.
But far from resting on his own laurels, Okill made a practice of nominating other people for awards, usually with success, especially for the Caring Canadian Award, that he also held. Many of the medals I am wearing today are the result of Okill's effective advocacy with the staff at Rideau Hall. He also assisted a number of people and institutions to apply to the Canadian Heraldic Authority for the grant of coats of arms, and they become armigerous like him.
Last but not least, of course, was Okill, the family man. The well-being and happiness of his spouse, Sylvia, his son, Colin, daughter-in-law, Vicki, and his daughter, Heather, were his constant concern, and his affection was reciprocated in spades.
What really struck so many about Okill was his indomitable spirit. Whatever problems, setbacks or disappointments he encountered in his long years, nothing dampened his enthusiasm for life. He always saw the silver lining behind every cloud. He never seemed disheartened, but was endowed with boundless energy. He was wont to quote the wartime battle cry: "damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!"
In short, Gordon Bruce Okill Stuart was a man of caring and of daring, a man for others, a natural leader, faithful friend, loving husband and parent, and a committed Christian. Many regarded him as a kind of father-figure and a beloved mentor.
Now Okill did not like long funeral eulogies. So I must conclude. The family has asked me to do so by reciting some verses that I composed in his honour for his 80th birthday, amended slightly for his 90th and have now tweaked one final time for our purposes today. So I would ask your indulgence for just a few moments more, while I read, for the last time, this "Ode to a Loyal Heart".
BY ROBERT C. WILKINS UE, C.M.H. PRESIDENT, HERITAGE BRANCH MONTREAL SAINT LAMBERT UNITED CHURCH - 06 SEPTEMBER 2019
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|Title Annotation:||IN TRIBUTE|
|Author:||Wilkins, Robert C.|
|Publication:||The Loyalist Gazette|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
|Previous Article:||Well Remembered.|
|Next Article:||PETER OLIVER The Loyalist Perspective on the American Revolution.|