Happy Birthday Dad — Still Learning from You

Reenacting my high school graduation photo.  This time at my Masters Convocation.

Reenacting my high school graduation photo. This time at my Masters Convocation in 2009.

I’ve felt compelled share a bit of my Dad’s story since I read George Couros blog about his Dad.  A lot of who I am today as a father, husband, son, brother, friend, and educator were born in the loud and quiet moments I shared with my Dad.  Here is a small part of my Dad’s story on what would be his 76th birthday.

He was the hardest working, generous, and most selfless person I knew.  He had a quick witted sense of humour that would light up a room. If something needed to be done he would figure out a way to get it done.  He was the eternal optimist.  He loved people and formed many strong relationships with friends and family during his 74 plus years.  His strongest relationship was the one he had with his bride, our mom, Rita.  We miss him dearly but as a family we are supporting our Mom and helping her grieve, remember, smile, and enjoy her 6 children and now 14 grandchildren and counting.  She is the matriarch of our family and we love her and our Dad immensely.

Dad was born in Humbolt, Saskatchewan on May 22nd, 1937. He was the eldest child of Grandpa Hughie’s and Grandma Dolores’ children.  As a toddler he moved with the family to Wiseton, Saskatchewan where the family settled, ran the town store and Dad grew up with his 3 younger siblings. Growing up he enjoyed playing the trombone for dances in the area with his family’s jazz band the Hugh McDonald Family Orchestra. Hearing countless stories about our mischievous Dad growing up helped us understand the root of his sense of humour and some of our frustrations with him growing up.

McDonald Family Photo at the site of Wiseton, Saskatchewan store my Grandpa and Grandma ran from 1942-1980.

McDonald Family Photo at the site of the town store in Wiseton, Saskatchewan.  It is the store my Grandpa and Grandma ran from 1942-1980.

My Mom and Dad met in September 1974 and were married December 18th, 1975. Soon after their wedding they started building their life and their family together. I was born in June 1976, Wendy in June 1977, Louise in November 1978, and Eleanor in February of 1980. For those keeping track that is 4 children in just over 3 ½ years. I kept requesting brothers and they kept coming back with sisters. In reflection I see this as my earliest realization that my Dad was a tad bit stubborn and mom was a tad apologetic. There is nothing I can do she would say.  In July 1984 our youngest sister Delores was born and our family became complete for the time being. Including my older sister Tracy, I had 5 sisters. We were a busy and chaotic family growing up but a loving and supportive one.  I have many fond memories of our Dad.  The one that constantly sticks out in my mind is his when the many times he whispered into my ears that he is proud of me.  It is the same phrase I whisper to my kids before I tell them I love them and tuck them into bed each night.

It was with profound sadness we said our goodbyes to a Husband, Dad, Friend, and colleague at 3:41pm September 2, 2011 at the age of 74. He passed from complications relating to kidney cancer discovered only 2 weeks previous. We were optimistic he would overcome his sickness to battle the cancer made it difficult for the doctors to help him with some of his other health issues.  It was the saddest day of my life.

Our Dad had an unbelievable 42 year run as a top sales person with Ford Motor Company. He was an incredibly smart, funny, hardworking, and passionate man. He was always very protective of his clients and wanted to do the best for them. He was a great jokester, and was always finding the good and opportunity in any situation no matter how difficult it seemed. Sir Winston Churchill stated,

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

This was our Dad in a nutshell. He was an optimist, and he tried to always come up with a solution no matter how difficult the situation seemed or how many hoops he had to jump through to help you.  It wasn’t out of character for Dad to give an out of town guest one of our family vehicles or offer up a place to stay. Sometimes he would send his son on a bus to Northern Alberta or Central Saskatchewan at the drop of a hat to help a customer because it was the only place where you could find that model or colour of vehicle in Western Canada.  Dad’s generosity and selflessness were legendary.  He cherished, protected, and devoted his life to his family and his many close friends. Those who knew our Dad closely knew that he often put the needs of others before his own. He loved his family, Dixieland Jazz Music, Airplanes, Air shows, Air racing, old cars, and smiles.

I’ll close this post with a short note I read to my Dad at his funeral in September 2011.


You are a hero to your family and friends. Your 6 children learned well from you and Mom. Your grandchildren will learn a lot about your passions and the importance families, friends, and relationships are to the foundation of a quality and enjoyable life. Cancer may have complicated things and took your life, but it didn’t take your heart. It continued to beat in us after we said our tearful good-byes in hospital. All of us with the support and love of Mom will do everything we can to create a generation of hardworking thinkers that will contribute to society positively and help find a cure for Cancer and prevent future tragedies in future generations.

We love you and will miss you everyday. Each time a plane flies over head we will think of you and smile knowing that you are with us to help guide us.

Notice the plane my children spotted in this video?  Love you Dad!  I hope you enjoy the view.  We are doing well, but we miss your presence everyday.  Happy Birthday!


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6 Responses to Happy Birthday Dad — Still Learning from You

  1. Louise Hinton says:

    Wow, Hugh that was such a wonderful tribute to Dad. I know he is looking in on us all often and I believe he continues to be extrodinarily proud of you to this day.

  2. Rita J Mcdonald says:

    I am totally blown away by your article Hugh. You can sure write an article now. Thank you for writing this tribute and posting this video. Hope many see it including Gramma. We are all so proud of you as a brother, son, teacher, father and many other roles you play in your daily life. Keep up the wonderful learning life. MOM

  3. Lynn Thompson says:

    Beautiful tribute to your Dad, Thank you for sharing 🙂

  4. Cheri Dodds says:

    That was an awesome story. 🙂

  5. Barry Bowman says:

    I ran across your blog while doing research on Wiseton where I lived right across from Hughie and his family. We’ve never met but I knew your dad well. Your Uncle Jack taught me the saxaphone and Don ( “Duffy” as he was known), paved the way for my 40 year broadcast career! In my memoir I crafted for my family I wrote:

    “With two week’s pay in my pocket I was now looking at unemployment and possibly the end of my so-called broadcasting career.
    Until Duffy the Angel appeared.
    Don “Duffy” MacDonald happened to be from Wiseton, Saskatchewan where I once lived as a kid. Don, a few years older than me, was by now, a touring band promoter and happened to be dropping by the TV station right about that time. He was travelling with the famous Bill Black Combo that was appearing in clubs and halls around the province. Black had been the bassist in Elvis Presley’s early trio. When Duffy heard of my plight he somehow discovered he badly needed an announcer to set up and introduce the band. I’ve always believed in guardian angels and now I was certain! Duffy couldn’t pay me but took care of my room and meals as we travelled the wintery roads of Saskatchewan in his beat up old VW Bug with no heater.
    By February 1963 we had arrived in Saskatoon and it was pretty clear Duffy knew everybody in the business and they all knew him. He was a gregarious larger-than-life guy who made acquaintances easily and one acquaintance happened to be Laurie Korchan, the program director of CFQC Radio. From our room at the Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon, Duffy picked up the phone and called him.
    “I got this young guy who you need to see! He’s great! You should hire him now!”

    And they did. From there I enjoyed many years on the radio until I retired 15 years ago. I always wondered what happened to Don and I’m sorry I never got the chance to thank him.Since you say you owe a lot to him for who you are today, you should be very proud!.

    Barry Bowman
    Victoria, B.C.

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