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Lives Lived: Gavin Montague Rumsey

Anglican priest, husband, father, musician. Born Nov. 16, 1930, in Wynndel, B.C., died July 19, 2012, in Victoria of prostate cancer, aged 81.

'He has a good heart, in more ways than one," my mother said as my father lay unconscious in his bed in the last hours of his life.

Indeed, Gavin Montague Rumsey had a great heart, one that gave quietly and profoundly of itself throughout his 81 years of life.

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Born in Wynndel, among the fruit farms of the Creston Valley in British Columbia, he was the youngest of five children. When he was 7, his mother left her husband, and Gavin never saw his father again.

In his personal memoir he wrote, "For the next 10 years we lived in what would now be called poverty." When he was 10, he almost died of a gangrenous appendix.

After graduating from high school, Gavin went to work in the Canadian Bank of Commerce. But with the encouragement of his maternal grandmother, Mildred Young, and Anglican Bishop Patrick Clark he made a decision to study for the priesthood.

While attending the University of British Columbia in 1957, he was posted to Germany for the summer as a member of the Canadian Officers Training Corps. While there he met Lois Ford, the daughter of an Anglican army chaplain. Five years of courtship by letter followed.

On July 7, 2012, just 12 days before his death, Gavin and Lois celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

At a gathering of friends, Gavin gave a short speech during which he recalled, "My eye fell upon … Lois and I was smitten! I want you to know that 'smitten' is a wonderful combination of happy feelings and happy hormones."

After his ordination, Gavin served for 34 years as a priest in southeastern B.C. and Edmonton.

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He and Lois, a teacher, raised four children. Always a skilled writer, he often helped his children with school assignments. "How did we do?" he would ask when the paper came home graded.

In later years, when I became a staffer with the development and relief agency of the Anglican Church, he became my theological consultant on sermon writing. "How did we do?" he would ask after I had preached.

Faced with the profound changes taking place in church and society in the late 1960s, Gavin studied family and marital counselling at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kan., to learn how to preach "with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other," and to address theological dynamics in people's personal lives.

Knowing that his five-year struggle with cancer was coming to an end, Gavin spent time listening to some of his favourite classical music and trying to play piano pieces he had learned long ago.

He also began writing letters to each of his children. He concluded his letter to me in this way: "Lucky me for having shared 48 years of my life with you. With an extra long hug I say: Guard your health. Be kind to yourself as you are to others. Continue to be one of my favourite preachers. God bless you. Your loving father, Gavin."

Dad, go gently into the night, oh good and faithful servant.

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– Suzanne Rumsey is Gavin's daughter.

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