This photo of Dad was taken just a short time before he died in December 2004. It was taken by Lance Crossley, then a reporter with the Minden (Ont.) Times, who did a really nice feature story on Dad’s project of building stone fences at the family farm. We thought Lance’s photo did a wonderful job of showing the real Wendell, and we placed it on Dad’s casket at the funeral visitation. I also used it to accompany the piece I wrote about him for the Globe and Mail’s Lives Lived column.

I’ve mentioned my father, Wendell Sedgwick, many times in the months since I started this blog, starting with explaining that the whole reason I grew up in the Manse in Queensborough was that Dad was the minister at the United Church of Canada‘s Queensborough Pastoral Charge between 1964 and 1975. But I feel that despite all the references, I haven’t really said very much about him. It’s oddly difficult; Dad meant so much to all of us in his family, and when we talk about him amongst ourselves we don’t have to recount what he was like. It is deep shared knowledge, something that unites us without having to be voiced. So how to voice it?

Today, the day that would have been Dad’s 81st birthday, I wanted to try.

I thought I could at least start by sharing this piece I wrote for the Lives Lived column in The Globe and Mail. It was published on June 28, 2005, a little over six months after Dad’s death. I found it difficult to write, but I felt I owed him that small tribute. And I knew he would have been pleased, because he was a devoted lifelong reader of (and frequent letter-writer to) The Globe. Here it is.


Wendell Sedgwick

Farmer, forester, minister. Born Aug. 29, 1931, on the family farm near Gelert, Ont. Died Dec. 11, 2004, on the family farm, in an accident, aged 73.

‘So much to do and so little time in which to do it.” Anyone who knew Wendell Sedgwick well had heard him say that hundreds of times. He always said it in a sad way — mournfully, really. Work was the defining theme of Wendell’s life. He knew he could never finish all that he felt he had to do. But he never stopped trying.

In his mid-20s, he left the farm to attend the University of Toronto and become a United Church of Canada minister. He seemed to feel an urgency to do as much with his life as he could. He had probably thought a lot about the parable in which Jesus tells his listeners it is their Creator’s will that they make the most of the talents they have been given.

Wendell had talents in abundance. He read voraciously, and had a startling memory for what he had read. He could recite poetry by heart from an apparently bottomless repertoire. (He also made up poems, generally funny ones, on the spot, never having to pause to think about what the next line would be.) He had shone in all subjects at school. And he was athletic, tall and strong.

For most of his 33-year ministry in rural central Ontario, Wendell conducted three services each Sunday. He was a commanding presence in the pulpit, uncompromising in his faith and his sense of right and wrong. But he was never self-righteous. He once told a newspaper reporter: “I know my own failings and preach to that, and the people usually have some of the same feelings.” And just as he preached a God of love and forgiveness, he was slow to judge others, always looking for (and generally finding) the best in people.

It must have helped in his ministry that, because of his farming background, he understood the life his parishioners led. His visits to people’s homes in his capacity as clergyman were more than likely to end in a discussion of what to do about a sick calf or troublesome piece of equipment. He was someone people naturally turned to in time of need, and not just spiritual need.

Ever since he had left home for university, there had been the question of who would maintain the Sedgwick farm. The answer turned out to be: Wendell. Throughout his ministry, every July (officially his “vacation”) plus two days a week whenever possible the rest of the year, he was there, working from dawn until long after dark, trying to do in a few hours and weeks what it would take anyone else the full year to accomplish.

When he “retired” in 1997 he could devote himself full-time to the farm. He built up his herd of beef cattle. He spent a lot of time in the bush, clearing out dead and dying trees (to make way for new, healthier growth) and turning them into lumber on his sawmill. He made maple syrup. He plowed and planted and harvested. He built a fence of the stones from his rocky fields.

Wendell’s sudden death was a wrenching blow to his family and a wide circle of friends, neighbours and former parishioners. He was a person to whom many looked for wisdom, guidance and help, and it was – and is – hard to imagine life without him. But none who knew him, especially his children, will forget the lessons he taught through example, about being honest and generous, and always doing your best, and working hard.

And there is an odd but real comfort in the fact that when he died, he was doing what he always wanted to be doing: working on the farm.

Katherine is the eldest of Wendell’s four children.

15 thoughts on “Dad

  1. We all lost a great example of how to lead a good life on that sad day. My dad always told us in Sunday School class, “remember, you are an example to someone.” Your dad was an example to me, Thanks for sharing that tribute, I missed it in the Globe at the time…GnG

  2. What a beautiful and touching portrait of your dad, Katherine. Actually, two beautiful portraits – the Minden Times photo and your Globe and Mail tribute. I usually read Lives Lived, but missed that one. I do, however, remember your words when I dropped by your desk to offer my condolences shortly after your dad died and we briefly discussed what it’s like to lose a parent. (My father and father-in-law had died two years earlier – only days apart.) “Oh, it’ll never be the same,” you said in a resigned, wistful tone. How right you were. But – and perhaps you experience a similar phenomenon – my father remains a presence in my life almost 10 years after his death. Not a day goes by in which I don’t find myself having imaginary conversations with him, often about the issues of the day. I can hear his voice and imagine what he’d have to say about the Quebec election (a lot), not to mention that little skateboard rolling around on Mars. A garage owner with little formal education, he loved to read newspapers and books (especially biographies) and discuss/argue about politics. When Apollo 11 touched down on the moon in July 1969, he insisted on shutting his garage and having everyone – including his two employees in their oily monkey suits – troop into our house next door and take in Walter Cronkite and this momentous event on TV. (I remember how no one – Boyd, Gord, my mother and sisters – could match Dad’s unbounded enthusiasm for what was happening. Except for me, that is.) As with your father, Katherine, mine was great role model with his kindness, sense of fair play, humour and love of learning. As for his passing on abilities as a mechanic … alas, those didn’t take.

    • Jim, I feel like I know your father thanks to your words. He sounds like a wonderful man – a lot like my dad, I suspect. Wendell too loved to talk politics, and he too would have a lot to say about what’s going on in Quebec right now. And I remember our whole family – Dad in from the hayfield for the occasion, an incredible rarity in July – along with some young hippie types who had camped the previous night in our barn (a whole other story) also gathered around the old black-and-white TV for the moon landing.

      I wouldn’t say I have conversations with my Dad, per se, but fairly often the phrase WWWD – What would Wendell do? – comes to mind. And I find that what Wendell would do is always the right thing.

      • Found this site and realized I am not the hippie type from the barn but i was the little girl next door from Toronto that every July looked so forward to spending time with your family. The time i spent in Gelert every summer with you guys and your parents is one of my favorite childhood memories and have thought of you all often. Haying and playing in the barn was such an adventure for us. I am sorry to hear of your fathers passing and truly love the picture of him. Maybe some day we will venture up that way again and would be wonderful to see you.

      • Susan! Oh my goodness, how wonderful to find you here! I share the feeling that summers at Gelert when your family and ours were both there were among the happiest ever. I remember how sad we were the July we arrived and your place at the end of the lane had been sold. Would love to hear what interesting turns your life has taken! My email is Great big hugs from Queensborough!

  3. Such a full life he lived, by generously and lovingly tending his family, his parishioners, his land, farm animals, etc. Thanks for sharing this little bit with us and I have to note that it’s interesting to know that both our Dads always looked for the good in others – and, most always could find some good in everyone they encountered. Happy birthday, Mr. Sedgwick!

  4. As a child growing up in Queensborough Mr. Sedgwick (as my parents were quite insistent that he should be called – although I was secretly delighted that you, his daughter, referred to him as “Wendell”, how incredibly sophisticated) was a giant, literally to small child, but more importantly because he had an aura of decency, uprightness, interwoven with an open acceptance of others. He was someone to emulate, although I had little interest in farming, but I yearned to be imbued with such unpretentious goodness. One example that struck me was how he treated the indigent. On one of the rural roads to the west of Queensborough was a farm with a huge number of kids in clear poverty. At key times of the year there was Mr Sedgwick helping with seeding or harvesting. In contrast I recall taking the bus to school and we stopped at the other indigent family, near the Harris farm. At this point the bus was fairly full and poor Stafford always looked furtively to find a seat. He often sat beside me. Years later this would come back to me and I would blush at how badly I treated him never speaking to him. Mr Sedgwick would have done so, even eagerly awaited his arrival. Years after this it dawned on me more charitably (to myself) that Stafford sat with me so frequently was by choice, compared to others my passivity was far better than how he was treated by others. I guess grace comes gradually and one must be grateful for steps forward no matter how small. For me Mr Sedgwick remains the standard I use to evaluate my progress.

    • Bill, your lovely tribute to my dad brought tears to my eyes. Not only because your words about him are so kind (and true), but also in how you brought back a sad memory of the families – and especially the kids – who lived near us in Queensborough who had so little, and how those kids were too often treated by the rest of us. I am sure you are right that Stafford appreciated sitting with you because your silence was better than what he might otherwise have had to endure. I had similar experiences with some of those kids, being chosen as a seatmate or whatever because I at least wouldn’t say anything. But I was also very guilty at times of taking part in mocking of some of those kids, and it is one of the most painful things in my life to think of that now. Our parents would never have put up with that, but of course they couldn’t be around all the time. Whenever I think back to those days I hope fervently that the present-day focus on prevention of bullying and abuse offers more protection to such children than they had then. And I also hope so much that Stafford and the others managed all right in the end, despite the hardships of their childhood. I have met some who did, which is wonderful. But oh, what painful memories they must have…

      • Thanks Katherine for the reply. I like to think that the fact we feel guilty means we are redeemable and our current actions are tempered by this important lesson. I am pretty sure they are. This is part of the lessons of childhood – taking a moral or ethical stand from the general drift of thinking of our peers is one of the toughest lessons.
        On a positive note, at my father’s memorial service which you so beautifully reported on (see At the Manse, Dec 2013) one member of the one of the families attended. He was gracious, supportive and kind – as if from his perspective there was nothing left to forgive because he had long ago left it behind him.

      • That is so comforting and encouraging to hear, Bill – thank you. And I think you are right: while we may feel terrible about not having been kinder to those who were struggling when we were children, what we did learn from that is – well, to be kind to those who are struggling. A lesson learned the hard way, but learned nonetheless, and that’s what’s important. May we never forget it.

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