Teacher. Soldier. Historian. Artist. Born Jan. 18, 1945, in Vienna; died Jan. 19, 2017, in Beaconsfield, Que., of a heart attack; aged 72.
His full name was Roman Johann Jarymowycz. He was proud of every syllable. A naturalized Canadian of Ukrainian heritage, Roman was born while the Second World War was still thundering. As the war ended, his family was consigned to a displaced-persons camp. Deeply affected by war, he spent a lifetime studying it.
Roman was a gifted educator, a decorated soldier, a provocative historian and a witty cartoonist. He was a bon vivant, living live to the full.
Roman was lucky in love, marrying Sandy d'Apollonia in May, 1997, a true life partner. They were teaching colleagues and she became his best editor, making sense of his exclamation points and dot dot dots. He wrote like he spoke – flamboyantly!
In the 1960s, at the University of Montreal's Loyola campus, Roman cut a stylish swath, his trademark cape blowing in the wind. His military career began at Loyola, with tuition paid by the Canadian Officers' Training Corps.
Roman loved games. One suspects he was hunting a lost childhood. How else do you explain hand painting an army of Napoleonic lead soldiers in miniature?
He became a devoted follower of Star Trek and the Beatles, especially the Sgt. Pepper album. As it was the sixties, he enjoyed the odd joint – but preferred a tumbler of Scotch. His weekly cartoons in the college paper are memorable and he was a fiercely competitive debater, a skill passed on to generations of students.
At St. Thomas High School in Pointe-Claire, Que., Roman was known as Dr. J. For more than 30 years, Dr. J. kept classes spellbound with stories of Canada's rich history, especially the military dimension.
Colonel Christopher McKenna, a former student, writes that Roman is famous for his ability to connect with so many. "I can't tell you how many times I have run into young troopers both in Canada and deployed overseas who spoke kindly, even adoringly, of him. A legend in military circles, Roman influenced the lives and careers of many of us."
Roman rose through the ranks of his chosen militia regiment, the Royal Canadian Hussars, eventually promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and awarded command. Roman became a military scholar, earning an MA and then a doctorate. He turned his studies into books and his 400-page Tank Tactics earned the distinguished book award by the U.S. Army Historical Foundation.
At McGill, he studied with the dean of Canada's military historians, Desmond Morton, who recalled: "Roman was funny, energetic, bright … a very decent guy."
He led tours of Second World War Normandy battlefields, bringing together Canadian and German veterans to relive the battles, which were models of history and entertainment.
Roman had a dark side, too. He could be terribly short, though his friends came to understand that his grouchiness was often brought on by pain from osteoarthritis.
For his long, impressive service on so many fronts, the military bestowed upon him the coveted Order of Military Merit in 2001. But some of his best work was done in front of millions as seen in the CBC/Radio-Canada films The Killing Ground and The Great War.
The Hussars Regimental motto captures the raison d'être for Roman's life's work: Non nobis sed patriae. Not for ourselves, but for our country.
Brian McKenna is Roman's friend and director.