A life well-lived – remembering a local veteran
by Shelagh Fitz
One can think of no better epitaph than the one Tish MacDonald offered of Jack MacQuarrie – “He led a rich life.”
MacQuarrie, a popular Uxbridge resident, veteran, and unabashed joke teller, passed away on Jan. 10, at the age of 95.
Born on Christmas Day in 1925, and schooled in Windsor, Ont., Jack MacQuarrie followed in his World War I veteran father’s footsteps when he signed up for the army at 17. Unlike many of his contemporaries, this was done with his father’s permission. When the army’s age requirement for active service impeded his plans, Jack took it upon himself, on a day’s leave from infantry camp, to sneak off to Montreal to join the Navy. However, the war ended before Jack made it to the Pacific front.
Jack returned to attend university. Upon graduation, Jack returned to the sea for the Korean War as an electronics operator. Once attached to an air squadron, he talked them “into teaching [him] to fly.” This effort was scuttled by a higher-up in the chain of command who didn’t want to squander his signals, radio and radar training, returning MacQuarrie to the realm of radio communications and electronics. Seemingly never satisfied with the status quo, MacQuarrie found his way into a diving unit, where he qualified as a naval diver. He participated as a “subject” in experimental chamber dives, performing deep chamber dives and rapid ascents to test the decompression computer programs being developed at the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine.
His tenure in the Navy played out in the underwater world. Assignments, during active and reserve time, took him to many underwater sites. His underwater adventures were ultimately curtailed by two separate incidents that affected him physically. It was during a six-month long rehab at Sunnybrook Hospital that MacQuarrie began graduate school.
He remained loyal to the Navy and his comrades for the rest of his life. Long-time friend and fellow Navy man, Norm Goodspeed, recalls being invited to share the ride to attend the Naval Club of Toronto. This invitation was the “start of a wonderful friendship.”
More recently, on Thursday afternoons, Jack would arrive prepared for the meeting of “The Knights of the Round Table” with a “little story to tell,” recalls former USS teacher Tish MacDonald. According to MacDonald, MacQuarrie had “a wonderful sense of humour” that was on display with these humorous tales that were reminiscent of ones found in Reader’s Digest. Mostly social, the club offered opportunity for younger members to hear stories of military service from those who remember it all like it was yesterday.
MacQuarrie, like so many of his colleagues, gave back to his
community. Says MacDonald, he was a resource, an inspiration, a mentor
and a friend.
“Jack eagerly participated in all of our remembrance-related activities at USS and in the community of Uxbridge and equally enjoyed sharing his stories and hearing about the students’ Remembrance Tour experiences,” says MacDonald.
During her high school years, Uxbridge student Emma Runnells was paired with MacQuarrie through the veterans matching project in preparation for the USS Vimy 100 tour. Runnells says she “had no idea” that the friendship “would become so important” to her and to MacQuarrie. Just as he would introduce Runnells as his adopted granddaughter, she claimed him as her “adopted grandfather.”
“Despite being 95 years old, Jack had an ageless passion and vigour
for life that inspired me and those who knew him,” says Runnells. She
credits MacQuarrie with imparting lessons with respect to being
adaptable, willing to take chances and to pursue one’s own passions.
An art collector, with a keen eye for works by the Group of Seven, in 2017, MacQuarrie generously donated 22 works of art to the Varley Gallery in Unionville. The collection was representative of all Group members except Edwin Holgate.
“Jack was thoughtful,” says MacDonald, “but more than that, he would act on that thoughtfulness.”
A talented and involved musician, MacQuarrie was moved at a funeral for fellow veteran Fred Barnard by the presence of a bugle that had been modified to accept a standard trumpet mouthpiece. MacQuarrie decided the Uxbridge Legion needed a similar bugle, and through his efforts, it was presented to the Legion last July.
In his early years, MacQuarrie was encouraged by a couple of classmates to join a band. This became a lifelong passion. Locally he was a member of the Uxbridge Community Concert Band among others. While not a founding member, MacQuarrie was highly instrumental in bringing attention to what UCCB was trying to accomplish, says conductor Steffan Brunette.
“The band received more than its share of publicity and exposure into the Toronto market through Jack’s regular contributions to WholeNote magazine.”
Jack MacQuarrie is survived by his partner of many years, Joan Andrews and his son, Andrew. Memorial and/or Celebration of Life details had not yet been released by press time Tuesday.
All photos displayed here were borrowed from former USS teacher Tish MacDonald’s Facebook page.