News of the passing of Gordon Parsons this week at age 73 left Labradorians from almost every community saddened. In fact, people from every part of the province, many from other parts of Canada and even from different corners of the globe, stopped to remember a man who played a big role in making Labrador a much better place to live.
Parsons, originally from Flat Rock, made his way to Labrador, first to Happy Valley Goose Bay, married his wife Clemmie, and eventually arrived in Labrador West in the early seventies. Parsons worked for the Aurora, and eventually went on to buy the paper.
Throughout the week, many friends and acquaintances reflected on Parsons and the things he did. Some of them shared their thoughts with the Aurora.
Long-time friend Frank Corbett of Wabush first met Gord (as his friends affectionately called him) at the local gun club.
“Gord was an avid marksman, and was able to help you learn the right way to use a hand gun, and improve your scores at a target practice,” he told the Aurora.
But for Corbett, it was Gord’s passion and enthusiasm for anything he took on that was his trademark.
“He would engage us in conversation, so much so that one night at the gun club we realized it was 11 p.m, and we hadn’t even opened our gun cases because we talked so much.”
Corbett and Parsons met often for breakfast or lunch, took drives to Churchill Falls, drives that were always peppered with stories.
“He was a natural story teller, even though sometimes they were slightly embellished,” said Corbett, but it was such a pleasure to be with someone so knowledgeable.
His wit and humor would be the icing on the cake for any conversation with Gord. Corbett also remarked getting a Christmas card from Gord was something he and his wife looked forward to every year.
“Tucked inside each card was a sort of mini year in review, a month by month report of the Parsons family,” explained Corbett, always written with a touch of humor and sometimes irreverence.
MHA Graham Letto says in his memory Parsons was a pioneer who paved the way for better transportation in Labrador.
“I call him a trailblazer” Letto says.
He was good friends with Hank Shouse, long time Mayor of Happy Valley Goose Bay, who also pushed for better transportation for Labrador.
Letto said discussions of a Trans Labrador Highway and a Highway all the way to Baie Comeau Quebec were held frequently in the Aurora office, and discussions with Shouse a regular thing.
“Gord was with the first group to drive to Baie Comeau in the early eighties and to cross to Happy Valley Goose Bay, his constant push for the Trans Labrador highway and lobbying and working with people across Labrador has resulted in the road we drive on today with improvements year by year,” Letto said.
He even said Parsons recently was in contact pointing out the need for rest stops, always thinking of ways to improve things. Letto remembers that when he served as Mayor of Labrador City he would often hear from Parsons in environmental issues, another of his causes.
“It was Gord who convinced council not to dump snow into Little Wabush Lake because of the contaminants there could be in it, and we often got photos of unsightly garbage in areas on the boundaries of the community which he requested we clean up.”
Gordon had a passion for whatever he did.
“It was just a short time ago he contacted me from the hospital in Labrador City with suggestions of things that could be done to improve the wellbeing of patients,” explained Letto. “He had strong opinions, but he was always fair as a journalist, his ideas were realistic and he always offered solutions on how to make them happen.”
There was more than just a Trans Labrador Highway on Parsons mind. He was involved with the Combined Councils of Labrador, the Labrador West Chamber of Commerce, he was an avid bird watcher, environmentalist, geocacher, ham radio operator, just to name a few .
It was ham radio that began a friendship between Gord and Colin Vardy, Wabush councillor and former Mayor.
“My dad was involved with ham radio, and I would tag along, I was very young but Gord always had time to speak with me, at times we would visit the Aurora office, and I was fascinated when Gord showed me how they got the paper ready to go to the printers”, Vardy said.
He says he had just gotten his first computer and told Gord a computer could take care of a lot of the work he was doing manually.
“Gord was a fixture at the local mall restaurant, Fun Foods, he always made it a point to say hello, and have a conversation, even though I was much younger he never spoke down but always was engaging, listening, offering opinions and advice.”
Vardy says their friendship flourished in the past 10 years. Realizing Parsons had no grandchildren he named his son Berkley Gordon, as a tribute to a man who had been a positive influence in his life, says Vardy. Poppy Gord he was to Berkley Gordon. Vardy also noted that Parsons always had a cause, or a purpose, and had no fear of brining his ideas forward.
Vardy attests to Parsons tenacity when wanting something done.
He told the Aurora, several years ago Parsons decided he was going to buy a Porsche SUV, and was dismayed to find out there was a substantial waiting time for the model he wanted. Undaunted, Parsons wrote the President of Porsche Canada, marked private and confidential on the envelope so no one else would open it, and explained why he needed the car sooner, rather than later.
It worked. Parsons got a call, there were cars at a track in Halifax for public showing or test runs for press Vardy wasn’t completely sure, regardless the result was the SUV that he wanted was soon driving down the highway.
Gary Peckham remembers Gord as the man who hired him in the early eighties to do some stories for the Aurora.
“He was a journalist, and a businessman,” recalls Peckham. “Telling me to ‘write enough news to fill the space between the ads.’”
Gord was the boss, but never acted like the boss. Instead he was always more like a friend, says Peckham.
That friendship often meant doing things together like hunting trips that were filled with Gord’s wit, humor, and stories.
Peckham recalls traveling towards Schefferville, and saying to Parsons, “Lots of tracks Gord, lots and lots of Caribou tracks”, to which Parsons replied “You can’t eat tracks, Gary.”
He also says no matter what Gord got involved with, he was passionate about it.
“He gathered a group of friends and associates and made the first road trip to Baie Comeau, which then was about a 16 hour journey. Peckham says it was his passion for things like that and being able to show people the difference it could make that’s resulted is the vastly improved roads we have today, particularly the Trans Labrador Highway.
Another not too widely known thing that Peckham shared with the Aurora was about a cross that Parsons placed along the highway.
“He saw that somebody had placed a Buddha along the highway, and thought that a cross would make a fine addition as well. Off he went to his garage and constructed the cross.”
Peckham told the Aurora the cross was placed at mile 133, and is still there to this day.
Peckham says people who knew Gord loved his dry wit , sarcasm, and his passion for getting things done, his desire to make a difference and improve things for his fellow Labradorians. He even led the movement to have an official bird recognized for Labrador. Parsons was an avid bird watcher, and was often called on for his expertise. He went to the combined councils and eventually the Grey Jay was proclaimed the official bird of Labrador. A few years later it was recognized as the official bird of Canada, which bought even more excitement to Parsons and his colleagues.
For former MHA and Mayor Alec Snow, Parsons was a friend and a true innovator for the community. Snow told the Aurora, “In the early days of the Aurora it was the only source of news in the town, people depended on Gord’s paper to inform them of events that mattered, and to explain how things could affect them, and it was a role he took on with pride and responsibility.”
“I dealt with him while I was Mayor, and I dealt with him as an MHA”, Snow told the Aurora. He was always upright and forthcoming and expected the same, but he was always fair.
“Even after the paper, when Gord approached people with an idea or a beef, he always explained why, and always had suggestions of how things could be improved,” explained Snow. “I was part of the group that made the first trip by road to Baie Comeau, you could see how excited he was, knowing what a difference this would make to Labrador.”
Snow revels in the fact, that he had the opportunity to play a prank on Parsons who was known for some of his pranks or practical jokes.
“I found his wallet in the bathroom and it contained a substantial amount of money, so I removed the money and went into his office. First I placed a $50 bill on his desk and told I was giving it to him, to have fun. Then I gave him $100, asking how he felt. After a few more bills on his desk, Parsons reached for his wallet which was usually in his back pocket, only then did he notice it was missing and only then when I passed over the wallet did he realize I had pranked him.”
Just a day after his passing, no matter where you went, somebody had a Gordon Parsons story, or an anecdote or a memory they were sharing. Proof that he was somebody who touched and affected many lives.
He had a passion for his family, his friends, his community, and life.
That was obvious as the list of people we could have contacted for a comment or a quote or a story, was immense. From fellow citizens to some of the biggest names in the province and beyond.
There is no doubt, Gordon Parsons is a name that won’t be forgotten.
He leaves behind his wife Clemmie, son Karl, daughter Susan and a legacy that because of his foresight, Labrador is a better place for all who live here.