January 28,1932 – October 20, 2012
Vernon Everett Lowey
When I look back on my childhood, I consider myself the most fortunate of my brothers for the time I spent with dad. Most of you know my family well enough to know that dad had more than his share of daemons to battle and like any war, there are times that one will falter. For most of my life I got to know my dad as a hard working man who was dedicated to providing for his family and caring for his community. As a kid I grew up knowing that there were times I couldn’t be a priority in dad’s life, but I was comfortable knowing that I had to come second to a career that demands that sometimes, personal sacrifices must be made when a stranger calls for help.
The time that Dad spent as an EMT was also the time that I recall him being happiest, and these are the memories that I hold most dear. Many people know that dad lost 7 fingers in a farming accident, what most don’t know is how his destiny was forever changed because of that. You see, my dad was destined for medical school after he finished harvest that year….he never had a chance to pursue that dream. For 27 years my dad was haunted by his inability to follow his destined path through life and it took a toll on him and our family. In 1978 he was given the gift to at least partially realise that dream when he was hired to operate the ambulance service in Kelvington. His boss may never have known it at the time, but his decision to hire my dad took my family into a much brighter future for which we will always owe a debt. The best part was that he was able to share his dream with the love of his life as well as all three of his sons, each of which followed in his footsteps and trained as EMTs. If Vern was the patriarch of Kelvington Ambulance, Rick and Tom were certainly the uncles.
Life as an EMT meant that dad wasn’t able to be home for the occasional Christmas, birthday, or other special event taking place and like my brothers, much of the time I spent 1 on 1 with dad was in an ambulance. I did my first ambulance call with dad when I was 11 years old in a blue Mercury Station wagon with a light bar on top. From the front it was easily mistaken for an RCMP cruiser. Times were different back then, ambulances didn’t need to have a person in the back with the patient, but dad wasn’t the type to skate by with the bare minimums. Until we received many condolences over the past week from current and former government officials, I really had no idea just how active my parents and others had been in lobbying the government to improve patient care in the province. He always made sure he tried to do better than his best and that was a trait he passed on to his kids.
Dad’s form of humour was on the dry side and took a little to get used to. Once he got to know someone well enough to let his guard down he could be a riot. From little one liners like “That went right through where my fingers “used” to be” after he missed catching something we’d toss to him, to elaborate stunts that he’d plan and lie in wait for to spring the trap. My oldest brother, Kevin, used to play in a band that performed at dances across the countryside. Early one morning after one of these dances he was speeding back home near Fosston when he saw a car slowly approaching from Wadena on the other side of the intersection. When he turned the corner he thought, “I hope that’s not the cops.” Sure enough, as soon as he turned that corner the suspicious car followed him and within a few seconds the lights were activated and my brother was busted. So he thought. As he pulled over to face the music the “police car” slowly passed him and my mom and dad giggled and waved as they drove by. They were on their way back from Saskatoon in that ambulance I mentioned when dad noticed the car coming toward them and suspected it might be Kevin so he slowed down to make sure Kevin turned first.
Dad was a consummate tinkerer. He built two ambulances by hand, and was encouraged by Transport Canada to continue. He was fond of his antique car collection and shared his mechanical passion with all of us. Growing up in an auto parts store gave each of us a chance to learn from him and develop our own passion for classic vehicles, but only if they were Chrysler products. For as long as I’ve been around, every vehicle dad owned save one was a Chysler, Dodge, Plymouth, or Fargo. I recall one time when Daryl was looking for a new car, dad and I went with him to look over his new Road Runner and bring it home.
Until this past summer, I thought I knew what my father’s childhood was like but I’d never been told about the incredibly difficult life he had, and when I did, it put a lot of his life into perspective. Every parent worthy of the honour wants their child to have a better life then they had. Fortunately, our dad was worthy, we didn’t face the routine physical and psychological abuses he dealt with while growing up. He may not have been there every time we wanted him to be and I know there were times that he wanted to be there for us too. Our dad wasn’t much on showing his affection and words of encouragement didn’t come easy, but that just means when he expressed himself to us we knew it came from the deepest, most protected recesses of his heart and soul.
One might think that putting work before family meant his priorities may have been a little out of whack, but he was always there when the chips were down, heck, he had to pick all three of his sons up from the aftermath of whichever car wreck each of us were in over the years, sometimes it was only a tow truck, but there were ambulance trips for us also. There were times when deep personal tragedy dealt dad an ugly hand too, but he took his responsibility to his community and his family in stride and made sure that their needs were being met before he took time to deal with his own.
When I was 10 years old we were on a family holiday that included a visit to a waterfall. I don’t remember which one it was or where exactly, all I can recall is that there was a place where the raging rapids below the falls narrowed to a point where my older brothers could jump across. I followed their lead and easily made the jump, only to discover on the way back that the boulder I had previously jumped from was much higher than the one I had landed on. To get back across the river I had to jump much farther and much higher than I was capable. My brothers tried to reassure me and showed me over and over how easy the jump would be, but I was scared. There was no other way across the river, this was all I had.
Finally I summoned the courage to try the jump, and I failed miserably. When I bounced off the side of the boulder and fell into the raging river below I could hear, even now, my mother’s scream. As my feet fell into the raging water I felt a firm grip on my wrists. I looked up to see my dad hovering over me as he pulled me to safety. Never one to be long on words for us kids, all he said before I tearfully ran to my mom was, “Try to jump higher next time.”
This is how I choose to remember my father. A serious man who would occasionally let down his guard, a man who taught us that sometimes the needs of others have to come before your own, and as the hero who lent a hand to save my life so many years ago, just as he did for many people here today
For that and more Dad, you’ll always be my hero.
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.