Angus W. J. (Ron) Robertson RIP

Written by  //  January 12, 2020  //  Absent Friends  //  1 Comment

ANGUS W. J. ROBERTSON (Ron) May 30, 1930 – December 28, 2019
Our beloved Dad passed away on December 28, 2019, at the age of 89. Ron was born in Toronto and grew up in Montreal, Nassau, and Montebello. He was one of the original first-year Charter Members of Sedbergh School, and earned degrees from Bishop’s University (BA ’50), Oxford (Wadham College, BA-MA ’53) and McGill University (BCL ’56).
His career in the Foreign Service included postings to Colombo, Sri Lanka and the UN in New York, and he later served as Ambassador of Canada to Finland. His last posting was as Minister and Deputy Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.
Ron was an expert skier and daily jogger, had a lifelong interest in cooking, and was a generous host to friends and family. His natural curiosity led him to be among the first to try new technology, and he loved travelling and exploring the world until late in his life. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of literature and world history and was a great, spirited storyteller. He was a born animal-lover. His home, like his mind, was always open, and many friends gathered at his table over the years. He was a loving father and grandfather, and the keystone to our family.
Son of the late Angus Gerald Robertson and the late Catherine Grace Waldron. He will be greatly missed by his children, Miranda Abrams (Douglas), Anthony Robertson (Isabelle Solon Helal), Alexander Robertson (Huma Fazil), and Zoë Robertson; and his grandchildren, Sydney, Elliott, Harry, Émilie, Sophie, and Haris. He will also be fondly remembered by his former spouses, Rochelle de Zylva Schmallenbach and Terhi Salomaa; as well as cousins, Marion (Manny) Robertson and Chuck Gross, Renée Sorese and Marc Gelinas; along with extended family and many friends and former colleagues around the world. He was predeceased by his brothers, Douglas and Richard Myles and by his cousin, Susan (Suzy) Robertson Sorese. The family would like to thank Anita Herrera for her support over the years.
Family and friends are invited to Racine, Robert & Gauthier Funeral Home at 180 Montreal Road Ottawa, Ontario on Saturday, January 11, 2020 for a visitation from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., followed by a Funeral Service at 3:30 p.m. in the chapel of the funeral home.

12 January
A note about Ron’s funeral sent to some of his far-flung friends
The weather was not as bad as had been predicted. The freezing rain held off until later in the evening, but it poured all day.
It was a simple service, held at a funeral home with which Ron had struck a bargain some 20 years ago (!) when it was just opening and was offering ‘specials’ to people who ‘booked early’. So typically Ron.
His children did him proud.
The four children were the only eulogists. First the two elder ones, starting with Miranda, followed by the two younger ones. Each pair stood together as they spoke, so avoiding the awkward getting up/sitting down intervals. Together, the four wove a delightful narrative that was perfect in tone, painting a colourful, intimate, portrait of Ron’s life and their lives with him, and injecting moments of humour.
They carried off the entire event with such grace; it was a perfect tribute to the remarkable man we knew and love. He would have been so proud of them.
Of course, Ron had planned the funeral, so it was short on religion, although there was a presiding clergyman (not sure what denomination) who spoke well and kept things moving along. The 23rd Psalm was recited.
The only prayer was the Our Father.
There was a female piper – that was not part of the plan, she was a substitute for the designated piper. I think it is the first time I have seen a female piper and no doubt Ron would have enjoyed the originality!
The room/chapel was packed and though a lot of white hair, there were also many younger people, a reflection of Ron’s abiding interest in and mentoring of the next generations, as well as the perpetually open door at home for his children and their friends.
Following the service, everyone was invited to Ron’s house for a convivial reception – it was packed and almost impossible to circulate, but it was a further example of Ron’s eclectic collection of friends.
On the train coming home, Ron’s cousin Marion (Manny) Robertson, Reed Scowen’s daughter Amy and ex-wife Mary Anne (McNally) were in the same car. I had never met Manny, nor Amy, and had not seen Mary Anne for years, so that made for a very pleasant, chatty, trip with lots of good memories exchanged. A fitting end to a long day of fond farewell to Ron.
One final note: Zoe was the one who wrote Ron’s obituary. When I congratulated her on how well done it was, I mentioned that in one of our many, many, phone calls, Ron had sharply criticized an obituary that used the word ‘beloved’ and said he thought it was superfluous and silly. I was careful not to use it in the obituary I wrote for David! I noted that Zoe had used it in her opening sentence and she laughed, saying that she had done so despite Ron’s opinion as, after all, he was beloved. Another sign that Ron’s encouragement of independent thinking has taken root in his offspring.
I shall miss him terribly, but am grateful to him for connecting me to all of you and I know we will honour his memory by continuing the dialogue that he started.

Following my return from Ottawa, I sent this message to his children:

Dear Anthony, Miranda, Alexander and Zoe,
As I have written to some of Ron’s far-flung friends, his funeral, which you carried off with such grace, was a perfect tribute to the remarkable man we knew and love. He would have been so proud of you!
The obituary was beautiful and so many people commented on the delightful photo of him.
Your loving eulogy wove such a delightful narrative was perfect in tone, painting a colourful, intimate, portrait of your father’s life and your lives with him.
You four were his crowning achievement and I know you appreciate how much he loved you and delighted in your every exploit – even when he told you to ‘walk home’ –  as his annual missives and frequent messages recounted.
I was struck by the range in age of the people present last Saturday – a reflection of Ron’s ability to connect with people of all ages and walks of life and form lasting friendships. Not only did he take a deep interest in everyone, but how he loved connecting his friends to one another! This was so evident at the reception at the house, and I know he would have been delighted that four of us bonded as we came back to Montreal on the train together.
You may know that my David and your father were at Sedbergh together. Their mothers were friends, or as Ron put it bluntly, “drinking companions”. The quality that bound David and Ron was that like Kipling’s Elephant’s Child, they shared ‘satiable curiosity’ about almost everything and an enthusiasm for new technology (read toys). Whatever new gadget one had, the other soon followed suit – a sometimes endearing, sometimes annoying, trait that kept them both young in spirit and enabled them to reach across generations.
Over the past few years, as David’s Alzheimer’s advanced, Ron gave me support in so many ways. He brought me in to fascinating email exchanges with friends, mainly former colleagues, with impressive knowledge of world affairs. A number of them have become good friends of mine, despite never having met other than electronically. Ron knew that I craved that kind of exchange that did not require me to leave home and caregiver responsibilities. I shall forever be grateful  to him.
I also loved the information he shared on a panoply of esoteric subjects; he never stopped educating me!
More recently, he phoned once or twice a week, sometimes with a tidbit of gossip or to share news of one of you, sometimes to reminisce about old friends, sometimes to discuss and debate a political development, an article he had read, or news he had watched. And sometimes simply to tell me what was on the menu for dinner.  I treasure the memories of  those conversations and miss them terribly. Every day, I find myself thinking “I must send this to Ron”, or “I wonder what Ron thinks about this?” I suspect that instinctive reaction will endure for a long time.
I was so touched that he came to my 80th birthday party in September. I had not seen him for a long time and was shocked by his appearance, but we had a great dinner after the party, he was surrounded by lovely, accomplished, younger women and enjoyed every minute of it.
All of this to say that I loved him dearly. Charming, erudite, inquisitive and often impatient, he was truly unique.
Somehow, I thought he was indestructible.
I send you love and thank you for giving him such a perfect farewell.

In return, I received this from Miranda:
Thank you thank you for sending us such a lovely email.
I will keep it and cherish it as it is a beautiful eulogy in itself.
It is heart warming to know Ron affected so many of us in the same way, and also each of us in our own special way.
I already catch myself wanting to call him and check In on him to hear about his day and to see what he might think about what I am hearing on CNN, and I too will be doing this for years to come no doubt. I used to speak to him almost every day.
Until close to the end- I too thought he was indestructible- and his incredible mind certainly was!  Right till the very end!! But his body and lungs were sadly only human and mortal.
We will be missing him together…
It was so nice to see you again at his service and reception. Thank you again for your touching words.
With gratitude,
and this
Thank you, Diana.
What a wonderful surprise to find your email and be allowed another chance to remember our father through the eyes of someone who knew him so well.
I appreciate you taking the time to paint such a vivid picture of what he meant to you; I feel as if there is still so much left to learn about him even now.

One Comment on "Angus W. J. (Ron) Robertson RIP"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson June 1, 2020 at 7:29 pm ·

    Dear Diana
    Thank you so much for your wonderful report. I am myself recuperating from an operation on my varicose veins and had good time to reflect on my memories of Ron. We were never all that close – one seldom befriends dips, they come and go. But with Ron we had an understanding, mutual, shared views and above all trust. I have good reason to believe that he suspected what I had been and was up to, but never took it up. Once he asked for my “opinion” how to solve a tricky situation with the Canadian military attache in Moscow (he was also accredited to Helsinki) and I solved it for him (and Canada). He never said a word about it, but I was a little surprised some time later to be honored by the RCMP! I always thought that he was underestimated by your external. Perhaps he was too independent, outspoken(?) or seen a bit as a play-boy, which he was not. He was a good man and I treasure his memory.
    You may share this with those you trust and feel should know.
    With my warmest regards

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