Sunday, April 01, 2007

On Attending Bob Edmond's Memorial Service at Victoria College Chapel

I only got to know Bob Edmonds after he had retired from the Department of External Affairs. Some years ago, he had invited me to speak to the Canadian Institute for International Affairs, National Capital Branch. The Ottawa CIIA holds its dinner meetings in the Studio Hall at the National Arts Centre. It was quite a thrill for me to speak there in such a venue and to have my talk attended by many friends who work in the Government in Ottawa. I was seated at the same table as Mitchell Sharp, who had been Minister for External Affairs when Canada established diplomatic relations with China. After I spoke, Mr. Sharp entertained us all by playing the piano. At the same table was Arthur Menzies who was Ambassador in Beijing when I was a student in China and who I subsequently got to know quite well when I administered the Canadian Asian Studies Association in the late-1980s. I have enormous affection and respect for Mr. Menzies. There was also John Small there who was predecessor to Arthur at the Embassy. A really charming man, sadly he died last year. And there was Bob Edmonds. Bob had been at the Canadian Embassy in Stockholm in the late-1960s. Like Mr. Menzies and Mr. Small his parents had been missionaries in China before 1949. He grew up in Sichuan and Chinese was his native tongue. So when Prime Minister Trudeau decided that Canada should establish diplomatic relations with China, Bob was made the contact with the Chinese Government and communicated through their representatives to Sweden. Bob always regarded these negotiations as the highlight of his diplomatic career. He had a sort of historical iconic character to me. But he always treated me with such courtesy and respect, insisting I drop the "Mr. Edmonds" for "Bob." I felt so honoured by his humility.

A few years ago Bob moved to Toronto. We kept in touch, mostly by e-mail over China-related matters. After Chinese New Year I received a nice e-mail from him. So I was rather taken aback to read in the Globe and Mail a couple of days later, before I had answered his e-mail message, that he had died aged 78. At his memorial service on March 31 at noon in the Victoria College Chapel the circumstances of his death were explained in the eulogy by his son. Turns out he had been attending a lecture at the University of Toronto on March 4. During the lecture he closed his eyes and quietly passed away in the lecture hall.

Bob Edmonds died too young.

But I do hope I can arrange the same death when its my time to go.

1 comment:

Barbara MacMahon-Firestone said...

Sometime in 1984 my late husband,
Professor O.J.Firestone and I travelled to Rome to enquire about a place to house the collection he so generously gave to Ontario Heritage Foundation. When we arrived Jack said, "Barbara there is a wonderful young man who is representing Canada at the Embassy for the Vatican. I am going to get in touch with he and his wife and invite them to
The Eden (our hotel) for dinner.
To make a very very funny and long story short. We had a fabulous time and Bob and Jack got on like brothers. Shelley and I loved getting into trouble and laughing about all the goings on in the Diplomatic Corp in Rome. Then I met Bob and Shelley's daughater Meghan who was studying in Rome and was not only brilliant but very very warm and friendly. A few years later when I returned I spent a week-end with them and Meggie would take me around in her Motor Scoter!!!! Shelly was very brilliant and witty - Bob was a quite strong Saint. It was a shock for me to read the beautiful blog about the passing of Bob Edmonds. I have to say he departed just as he lived - with great dignity, and very quietly. RIP DEAR BOB,
you were a Gentleman and a Scholar. God Bless your children, Barbara Ann MacMahon-Firestone.