Michael Ivan Lawson, 1936-2012

My dad was someone you had to work beside to get to know. He wasn’t one to talk about himself. He loved to – had to – keep busy.

When we would go to friends cottages in summer he would always want to work. Painting decks, fixing sump pumps, motors, leveling foundations – whatever – when the work was there (and isn’t it always?) he would be there to do it.

And smile.

At a party he wouldn’t be the most outgoing person there. But if you worked beside him – weeding, nailing cedar shingles into the log cabin roof, clearing twigs and brush from the lane – you’d get the jokes, the kindness the love. Maybe not in anything he said, but in the way he looked at you, watched you work, praised what you did, overlooked any mistakes you made.

He was a gentle man.

I always felt loved. He explained to me later that he and mom observed a fairly strict (not to mention traditional) division of labour. She looked after the kids. He looked after the money. And the repairs and the garbage. But he was present. And always looked kindly on his kids and only ever had good things to say about us.

It was really hard to make dad mad. Not that we didn’t accomplish this on occasion. Usually in the car. Especially on long drives.

He was funny too. A dry wit. Much more in evidence when he was healthy but he was still able to conjure humour when things were bad.

He was patient. Tolerant. Although he had a dislike of government and officialdom that bordered on irrational.

Did I mention that politically speaking he and I had some major disagreements? Did I also mention how he could always overlook them and love his son? Even when I went to work for a union?

I remember when his municipality decided to implement a uniform house numbering system when it brought its 911 program online. The town was charging home owners for the road signs. My dad was incensed. He refused to pay and so public works came and installed the sign themselves and charged triple. “See if they get a dime from me,” he said in a huff. I had to point out that they said they’d just add it to his property tax bill. Which they did.

He made other mistakes. More serious ones.

Though compared to what we have seen since, his misguided efforts to refinance his real estate holdings in order to protect his clients’ investments seem almost like charity work.

Nevertheless, he paid society for his mistake and paid a much higher social price.

Thank you to those of his friends that stuck by him despite his errors.

And thank you to Pittsburgh Institution for letting him spend so much time learning the gardening trade in the greenhouse and at the farm there. It did actually help him turn his life around and rebuild. In his second career he always seemed much happier.

Naturally the current federal government has done away with those prison farms.

The photo of him is taken long before any of the sadness and illness of his later life overtook him. It was taken at the farm, the place that, literally, was his life.

He died there, Tuesday, unexpectedly, after a four year struggle with prostate cancer.


  1. Chris, I am so sorry for your loss. I know how important your Dad was in your life. Thank you, too, for sharing his story with all of us. The love you feel and shared leaps off the page. He was a lucky man.

  2. sending you much love, chris, and giant hugs. thank you for sharing this with us. your dad was lucky too – to have you for a son and to be so well-loved in return. xox.

  3. Chris,, My heart goes out to you and your family.. The love you shared can be felt in your beautiful writing. I am so sorry for your loss.

  4. Chris, That is such a beautiful tribute. Great to talk to you today. I will check in soon.
    (aka Cousin who was known at the Thanksgiving table to spray milk through her nose if the joke is funny enough…)

  5. I know you spent a lot of time with your dad. I’m sure he cherished those visits and you can hold onto those memories. Our sympathies are with you all.

  6. My deepest condolences Chris That was a beautiful tribute to a man that shaped your life. Hugs to you and your family …

  7. A beautiful tribute. You were a great son and I’m so sorry for your loss. Carrying you in my heart xxoo Sandy

  8. Terribly sorry to hear of your loss Chris, and that it was so sudden. It is truly a beautiful tribute and expression of such deep appreciation for him. I’m glad he had you, Irene and Mallory. Take care.

  9. Hi Chris, Thanks for your e-mail about the Cancer Society and for the link to this tribute. It is so hard to encapsulate a life, but such a gift to all of us to hear about your Dad.
    Blessings to you Irene and Mallory.

  10. Such an amazing tribute to your dad, Chris. All my condolences again, to you and your family.

  11. I am so sorry to hear about your dad, Chris.
    It sounds like he was a lovely, gentle soul.
    A great tribute.

  12. I love this picture of Uncle Mike. This is exactly how I picture him – with a small smile and a pipe. I usually picture him in a plaid shirt though, sitting at the fireplace end of the couch in the living room at the farm, smiling a little and laughing quietly at whatever antics were going on in front of him. I love how quiet he was – or perhaps more accurately, I realize now, and appreciate, how quiet he was. I think he was a lot like your mom in that way – my memory of both of them involves words like gentle, peaceful, unassuming. Like John, I loved the smell of his pipe, and have never smelled a pipe without thinking of him.

    The 6 of us are eager to see you and Sheila on Saturday, to hug you and tell you we love you and are thinking about you, and your mom and dad.


  13. Hello Chris,

    My name is Martha Russell and I grew up in Ottawa, in the house next door to your grandmother, your Uncle John and your dad. I have just finished reading your lovely tribute to him in 2012. Bless his heart for tutoring me in the late spring of 1956 for the grade nine math exam. I surely would have failed otherwise, but I got a great mark and he was so pleased.

    My e-mail address is below if you’d care to contact me. I would love to have a chat with you.

    Martha (Burnaby, BC)

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