Douglas Christie


Eulogy – Delivered by Cadeyrn Christie, March 15, 2013

Men like my dad weren’t made to die in a hospital. Such men are really made to die on a battlefield, with a sword in one hand, and a shield in the other. Fighting for what they believe.

We don’t have battlefields like that anymore, and so men like my father find other arenas, in which they can fight for what they believe. For my father, that arena was the courtroom.

Getting to that courtroom wasn’t an easy thing. Growing up, my dad explained it pretty well, he said “we always had enough to eat, but there was never anything left on the table afterwards.” He worked his way through school at the University of Manitoba, while living in the top floor of a boarding house, with a broken skylight. During the summers, he would either work on the railroad, or lifeguard at the Banff Hotsprings. I can’t confirm this, but there is more than one story of a young woman, who was previously a strong swimmer, suddenly and for no reason, forgetting how to swim, and needing to be rescued by my dad.

Dad went to UBC for his law degree. Near the end of his studies, and with his money almost gone, he became famous as the only student ever to make sandwiches and sell them to his classmates.

Dad was called to the bar in 1971. And even from the start, he did things a little unconventionally. Before someone can become a lawyer, they have to article under another lawyer for a year. This other lawyer is their Principal, and at the end of the articling year, the Principle has to declare that their articling student is a fit and proper person. My dad was going through his articles, and taking every chance he could to get into court. He had a friend who was an insurance adjuster. One day he was having lunch with this friend, and the friend had to cut short their meeting, in order to interview an insurance claimant. He offered to take my dad along with him so that they could continue their conversation, and dad agreed.

Dad thought nothing of it at the time, but this small decision impacted the rest of his life. It turned out that the insurance claimant who was being interviewed was actually suing a client of Dad’s Principle. This inadvertent error created an impossible conflict of interest, and Dad’s Principle was livid. My Dad lost his job, and what he thought was his only chance of becoming a lawyer. He told me that at the time, it seemed like his entire life was over. It wasn’t though, because another lawyer, Barney Russ, stepped in, took my Dad on as an articling student, and gave him a second chance. After six additional months working for Mr Russ, Dad realized his dream, and was called to the bar of British Columbia. My Dad went to Barney Russ, and thanked him. He asked Barney how he could ever repay him, and Barney just replied, “pass it on”. Dad spent the rest of his life trying to do just that, and standing here today, I know that he succeeded.

I often joked to my Dad that his most violent detractors also owed him a great debt of gratitude, because without him, many of his clients would have gone unrepresented, and would have been justified in crying foul at their lack of counsel. To this, my Dad’s answer was always the same. He would tell me that everyone, no matter who they are, or what they might have done, deserves a defence lawyer. My Dad was not a foolish man. If he had set out to become rich, I have little doubt that he would have succeeded. Instead, he chose to defend the people who would otherwise be defenceless. He paid dearly for this. He suffered terribly, but he also persevered. To my dad, giving up was never an option.

Dad was a fighter. But with all the fights, and the friends, enemies, and adversaries that he had along the way, I think that people might miss some of his most important achievements. Dad was a fighter, but he was also a protector, a provider, and a father. It is this last achievement for which I respect him the most, and it’s also something you’re not going to read about in the paper, so it’s what I want to tell you about today.

Anyone meeting my dad would have been hard pressed to not realize that he had a wonderful sense of humor. His family however, knew just how deep that sense of humour ran. Dad loved a good practical joke, so much so in fact, that when I was 12 years old, he sat me down at the table after dinner, and informed me that he had signed me up for the youth branch of the British Special Forces. He said, “son, you’re going to love it. You leave in a week. They’re going to teach you how to repel down buildings, and jump out of airplanes.” I sat there in shock as he went on. He said “you get to come back when you’re 14 for 2 weeks, and when you’re 16 they give you 3 weeks leave. When you turn 18 you transfer into the full special forces, and you can start working towards becoming an officer.” Now I don’t know about the average 12 year old, but I wasn’t too pleased with this development, and I made that pretty clear. So what did my dad do? Well, he thought on his feet like he always did. And what he did next was what transformed a relatively standard practical joke into a family legend. He said “Son, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s ok though, because I can bribe the recruiter, and get your name off the list.”

My dad was also a proud Scotsman. And he taught me how to be a Scotsman too. I think the most important lesson he taught me in this regard, was how to pull nails out of old 2x4s, and straighten them so that we could re-use not just the 2x4s, but also the nails. We always laughed at this habit he had, of re-using old building materials that might have been a little past their prime. But this habit was really a result of how much he struggled and suffered early on in his life. He worked so hard to become a lawyer, and went without for so long, that by the time he became a lawyer, he had a firmly entrenched sense of frugality and humility that would be with him for the rest of his life. With us, his family, and with his friends, my dad was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. But when it came to himself, Dad was always happiest driving a beat up old truck, and having his boots re-soled.

I could not have asked for a braver or kinder man for a father. He was busy, and he travelled a lot, but he always had time for my sister and I. He was the man who took us out to his farm in Sooke, and spent hours building things with us and exploring. He was the man who would get up at 6 am on a Saturday to go fishing. And he was also the man, who at almost 60 years old, strapped on a mask, picked up a paintball marker, and ran around getting shot at just because his son thought it looked like fun.

Despite how fearsome he could appear in a courtroom, Dad was always profoundly kind to Kalonica and I. I think it’s fairly common for a parent to start counting when a child misbehaves. My mom would ask us to do something and she would count to 3. My dad on the other hand, he counted all the way to five, and so slowly that it might as well have been ten. My dad and I would fight sometimes, like any good father and son will. One of the things I remember most about him, is that when we did argue, you might as well flip a coin, because it was even odds on who was going to apologize first. My apologies were usually because I realized that I was wrong. His were usually because he was willing to let me figure things out on my own, and then step in to help me out if I got myself really stuck.

It’s not easy to apologize, but it’s even harder sometimes to accept an apology. My dad always did it graciously, and he never withheld his forgiveness, even when it might not have been deserved.

When I was 14 he took me on a summer camping trip, where we drove aimlessly around the Island, checking out all the spots we’d heard about. We ended up camping on Buttle Lake. Looking out over the lake, we couldn’t tell how far across it was, but there were big cliffs on the other side, and Dad wanted to canoe across and look around. Crossing the lake wasn’t difficult, and we poked around, realized that the cliffs prevented us from going ashore, and we decided to come back. Dad really loved our dog Angus, and he took him everywhere, even when it wasn’t really the best idea. This was one of those times, and as we headed back across this wide lake, the wind came up, the water got choppy, and the dog got anxious and started to rock the canoe. I was terrified, and I was sure that we were going to capsize and possibly drown. My dad just kept paddling, and talking to Angus to calm him down, and after a long paddle, we made it back to shore.

When my dad was in the hospital, I asked him if he remembered this, and he said “yeah. Man was I nervous.” Robert Louis Stevenson once said that a Leader is someone who keeps their fears to themselves, and shares their courage. My father was that leader. And looking back now, it boggles my mind that he went through so much that as children we couldn’t understand, and throughout it all he always remained calm and collected. He never once let his children see the uncertainty, and the pain, that I now realize he spent most of his life confronting.

My dad was a lot of things, to many different people. We’ve all lost something important. My mother has lost a steadfast partner. We have lost a loving father. His friends have lost a comrade. His clients have lost an honorable advocate. This loss is crushing, but I take comfort in a few things that I know: My father lived fully, he loved freely, and he laughed every chance he got. He provided for and raised a family. He fought for what he believed. He can rest now, and no one can hurt him any longer. Most importantly of all, I know that he is at peace.


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