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Collin Elm

I’d like to talk a little about my dad. Settle in - this guy was interesting and he was remarkable. A very impressive man.

When I call him my dad, I say it with pride. We all do.

I am privileged to know dad as a father, a boss, a work partner and as one on my crew and as a person and a friend. His greatest impression on me was of course as a father, and I shall speak to that in the most part, but I must comment briefly on other aspects of his life.

Adrian was born on September 16, 1930, son of a farmer. He was raised on a farm in Hardisty, Alberta.

As a husband
Mom saw dad as a good provider and has fond memories with him, highlighted by the years they went camping together.

As a friend
He was fun, and had a good sense of humor. He was well respected and valued as a friend. He was considered a quiet friend with a good sense of humor and capable of the odd prank.

As a tradesman Dad started his career as an electrician in Hardisty. He operated Hardisty Electric while he apprenticed. The business didn’t fare well because farmers preferred to pay with chickens and eggs rather than cash, so he moved on to join the electrical workers in Edmonton. He received his 50th year recognition from the IBEW a few days before he died.

Dad complimented his electrical ticket with certification as a master electrician. He also had an instrumentation ticket. He was well thought of as a tradesman.

I recently talked to an electrician who while he was an apprentice had dad as his first journeyman. His memory of dad was that he was very knowledgeable and helpful and what stood out the most was that he was very patient. He had very dry hands which he would at times substitute for a voltmeter. Also remembered was his wry smile. “He was a good guy and I really enjoyed working with him.”

On an operating plant where Adrian worked maintenance one of the engineers from that plant remarked that Adrian was the best maintenance electrician to work at that plant.

As a person
Dad was interested in spiritual things, a Christian man whose testimony was on the quiet side. On one hospital visit a week ago, he started our conversation by talking about hymns. He told me a favorite of his was “Amazing Grace”, but said that the song was everyone’s favorite. The other hymn that stuck with him since he was a kid was “The Old Rugged Cross”. We talked about the cross in the song and the fact that Christ’s death on the cross meant a new life for us. He was on his Ipad for a ½ hour going over the lyrics of the hymn. I think he was singing the hymn in his head.

Adrian was a moral man with integrity, dedicated to the truth. He could be trusted.

He was a man who gave attention to detail. He didn’t miss much. His horizons in this regard were considerably expanded with the advent of the internet.

He cared about the success of others and was a key player in the development of many tradespersons. We had a chance to discuss this in recent weeks. He told me he didn’t fancy himself as a strong people person. But I remember watching him closely on the job. Being my father I was more interested than most to see what there was to this man. It wasn’t long before I realized one could learn a few things about working well with others from him. Further, he was significantly responsible for launching several careers in instrumentation.

A tribute to his strengths as a people person was that I was able to work with him as a partner, foreman or on his crew. We are all, I’m sure, aware of the additional challenges that can exist when working with loved ones. Not everyone can do it. He made it easy - my biggest challenge was to remember to call him Adrian instead of dad.

When it came to family he had an interest in the Elm family tree and our family roots and collected information in that regard.

Dad was innovative and creative. He did a few things that were outside the box. The first I can recall was the construction of a boat in the living room of our home in Hardisty. I remember also when he experimented with an alternative way of cooking hot dogs by placing the wiener between 120 volts. It worked but the ends had a metallic taste from the copper. He built a garage door opener from scrap pulleys and belts using an old grinder motor. He built several playhouses and go-carts for his kids.

He built a welder from an old transformer and taught me to weld. I ran out of scrap metal, so I went looking for something to weld. I came across my sisters’ bikes and thought it would be impressive to make a bicycle built for two and so I welded the two bikes together. I became apprehensive. I was proud of my creation, but there was a bad part to this. What would dad think, what would he do? What was he going to say? When he came home I watched closely as he walked by the patio where my creation was on display. He looked at it, then looked at me, smiled gently and said “hmmm.” I think he might have been impressed. He and I both knew that there was a bad part to this, but he didn’t punish me. In his wisdom he didn’t take away from my sense of accomplishment. As far as the consequences to my deed… he knew I would have to face my sisters. From this memory I’m reminded of other memories, some more serious situations - some very serious circumstances - times when significant misfortune had befallen me, or my siblings. Dad wouldn’t like the mess we were in, and he let us know about it - but what was significant and unforgettable was that he was there and very present to do his best to help us fix it.

Dad was a compassionate father. This was a part of him that at times was very evident, and at times not so much. When our lives were a bit messed up he let us know. What he didn’t show often was when he hurt for us. I know he hurt because when he thought he was alone in the garage one day I found him in tears over his child’s grief. There were times when you could see his hurt in a slight twitch just below his left eye. Some thought it was anger; but the anger was a secondary emotion. Deep down he hurt for us.

Some when they leave us, do so without warning, and when they are suddenly gone leave us searching for that last encounter, wishing we had told them they were loved. We were blessed in that God gave us that tap on the shoulder, and we were served notice the He was taking dad home. With that we all flocked to the hospital to spend precious time with him. We wanted that quality time, each with that special thing we wanted to say. At one point it began to tax him and started to be a bit of a burden. Dad and I talked about it being like a wedding where everyone wants a piece of the bride and groom, and it ends up being an exhausting day for them. When I mentioned that this was his day and he was the one that everyone wants a piece of, he only said, “I’m doing my best.”

Those words echoed for me. I’m doing my best. This was dad. This was Adrian. This was his unspoken motto. It was the way he approached everything, be it for him or for others. With dad, he always did his best.

As a father
Dad’s influence on us was more than he knew. My sister and I were talking about the fact that in the absence of God in our presence as a person we tend to imagine his existence based on our awareness of our earthly father. In this regard we considered ourselves advantaged to have our dad as a frame of reference.

He was a good mentor. I told him a couple of weeks ago that when I was a kid I wanted to be just like him. That desire followed me in part into adulthood. To that he replied, “Well, how about that”. I don’t think he thought much about being one to be looked up to.

Later in the conversation I eluded to the fact that I appreciated all the guidance he had given, and if there was one last word of advice he would give, what would it be. He paused, sighed, looked at the ceiling and said, “I think that’s a little heavy”. And with that the conversation was over.

The day following dad’s passing, our family was reminiscing, each recalling specific memories about dad. A common theme emerged from almost every event which spoke to the fact that we mattered to dad and in his eyes we were all individually important and had value. In his mind our worth was a settled issue. He didn’t talk much about it, but as we reminisced one would realize that his actions spoke louder than words.

He encouraged us to accept challenges and accomplishments. He sponsored and invested in our dreams and at times steered us where he thought we should go especially when we seemed slow on the uptake. He was significant in diverting my interest in law enforcement to a trade career and John’s possible venture towards trades to a successful career in software engineering. He took John to work one day and showed him the difference between a pipe wrench and a keyboard. I spoke earlier of his motto as doing his best. His challenge to us was to do our best, and be all we could be.

Sometimes his fatherly caring would involve coaching us in the details of taking good care of ourselves. I remember him warning me when I owned one of my first cars that if I didn’t properly maintain it, it would break down – and it did, in downtown Edmonton. Reluctantly, I called him for help. I got the help plus a memory that reminded me forever to keep my vehicles maintained. When he towed me home he used a very long rope and at three successive traffic lights ran the yellow - slowly. When we got home he showed little emotion and said nothing, but when I looked closely he had a smirk on his face.

On another recent hospital visit I told him that one of his strengths as a father was that he was always there for his us. He said that he was just doing what came naturally. I went on to tell him it was more than just being there, and being dependable, it was that so often he went the extra mile. Often that extra mile was one we never even thought of. It came from his attention to detail. Following this discussion, after a little quiet time he said, “I have a little time left…. but not much”. I knew what he was thinking. There he lay, tired and weary, but still wanting to contribute and take care of things for us. He was still aware of our needs, and wanted to be a part of improving us and our situations.

On our last visit, 3 ½ hours before he died he said something to me. It was just a little more than a whisper and without much articulation. I asked him to repeat himself, and he calmly did so, but I still couldn’t understand him. I’ve since thought about it, and I think I know what he was saying. It was in part that last piece of advice. “You kids… you do the best you can, and be the best you can be…..and I love you guys”.