JAMES McNIECE AUSTI N
A TRIBUTE 1924 – 2012
By Bill McLeod
Once in a while along life’s journey most of us are fortunate to form friendships with some truly outstanding human beings. Such was my case with JamesMcNiece “Jim” Austin.
Jim Austin died on November 2, 2012 after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer and after having lived a long and generous life. His memorial service was held at Jim’s church, St. Peter’s United in Sudbury on November 24, 2012 and his ashes were interred in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto on November 26.
Jim, as everybody knew him, was born in Chapleau, Ontario, the eldest son of Allan McNiece Austin and Alice (Dickinson) Austin. He is survived by three brothers, John (Marjory), Allan M. “Mac” (Marg) of Toronto and Richard (Liz) of Gananoque. He was predeceased by his wife Rosamond Ann Mills (1948) and twin daughter Rosamond Ann (1997). Jim was the beloved father of Elizabeth “Liebes” Austin (Laurence Solsberg) of Vancouver and was dearest “Grump” to the Solsberg sisters – Emily (James Richardson), Mariel (Kelsey Louie) and Kira. His only great-grand daughter Naomi Sparrow Richardson was born on October 12, 2012. Also left to mourn and celebrate his life is a large extended family of cousins, nieces and nephews and their offspring.
Jim was educated at the elementary and secondary schools in Chapleau, Trinity College School, Port Hope and the University of Toronto from which he graduated in 1947 with a B.A. in history. During World War II he served as a Flight Engineer, Bomber Command, Squadron 429 (Bison). He always enjoyed telling me about his war service - particularly flight training, life in wartime England, combat missions and especially about flying a Lancaster back to Canada from the Azores after the war in Europe was over.
Early in the last century Jim’s grandfather, a Chapleau businessman and merchant, partnered with George B. Nicholson and together they formed the Austin Nicholson Lumber Company. Mr. Nicholson was the first reeve of Chapleau and he was also elected to the House of Commons on three separate occasions, serving the constituency of Algoma East from 1917 to 1921, 1925 to 1926 and from 1930 to 1935. Austin Nicholson had mills scattered all along the C.P.R. lines for miles east and west of Chapleau. The largest operations were at Nicholson and Dalton Mills. Originally specializing in railway ties, the company branched into lumber and mining timbers and eventually became the largest supplier of ties in the British Empire.
After leaving the R.C.A.F. Jim joined the family firm and was in charge of several of its bush operations. In 1956 the firm was sold to W.B. Plaunt and Sons of Sudbury. Jim stayed on with Plaunt for a while before joining Eddy Forest Products in Espanola. There he served as Assistant Woodyard Superintendent, managed Eddy’s Pineland operation at Nairn Centre and when Eddy Forest Products purchased the McChesney Company in 1976, Jim moved to Timmins as General Manager of Forestry and Mill Operations. In 1980 he moved back to Nairn Centre and finished his distinguished career as Special Assistant to the Manager of Woods Operations supervising research and development in lumber operations and production and control of waste products. After his official retirement in 1988, Jim put his lumber industry expertise to good use during a stint in Africa with the Canadian Executive Service Overseas. The lumber industry, particularly sawmills, was deeply embedded in Jim’s DNA. He loved the business and he was very good at it.
Jim Austin did the research and wrote up the proposal that resulted in Alton Morse being awarded the Order of Canada for his innovative approaches to harvesting white pine timber near Chapleau.
But it was community involvement and volunteering that brought him so much affection and respect. He was the person who oversaw the smooth transition of theNorthern Ontario Health Sciences School to Cambrian College in 1973.
Jim was a Mason, a member of the Lions Club for 52 years and belonged to the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. Generally, he avoided the limelight and made his enormous contribution “under the radar” - volunteering for countless church, community and charitable activities. He chaired the Lions Club committee that was responsible for the Home for the Hard of Hearing that we all see as we drive along Paris Street in Sudbury.
Jim was just as happy sharing his considerable management and organizational skills with Meals on Wheels as he was doing dishes after an Out-of-the Cold supper, selling geraniums and Hard of Hearing Home tickets or shaking a tambourine for the Salvation Army in one of the malls at Christmas time.
But it was at St. Peter’s United Church that Jim really left an indelible mark. He served on the Sudbury Presbytery, the Mission and Service Council and numerous other church groups and committees. He was an honorary member of the United Church Women’s group and was affectionately known by young and old as “The Candy Man”. He never went to church without a pocket full of Werther’s candies for the kids and anyone else with a sweet tooth.
As I was sitting in St. Peter’s on that cold but sunny November morning on Grey Cup weekend a number of thoughts and memories flashed through my mind – two of them quite ironic. In her eulogy, Jim’s daughter Elizabeth referred to his fondness for Canadian football. On Grey Cup Day he always cheered for the team from the west. He used to laughingly tell folks that the general Canadian wisdom held that Winnipeg was the Gateway to the Canadian West. Jim always insisted that was wrong. The gateway to the west, according to Jim, was really Chapleau.
The other memory that struck me that morning was that it was on the same weekend in November of 1963 that the world was in shock over the assassination of President Kennedy. Of all that I have heard and read about that dark time, one quote still sticks out. Asked about Kennedy’s funeral, Mary McGrory, the crusty old reporter for the Washington Post told an interviewer that John F. Kennedy would have liked his funeral. Jim Austin would have liked his too.
Like the rest of us, Jim Austin’s life had its ups and downs. But some of his downs were much deeper than he deserved. The grace, courage and class with which he coped serves as an example to us all.
The McLeod and Austin families have many connections going all the way back to 1899. My grandfather was hired to be the fur buyer for the Austin retail operation in Chapleau and my grandmother was the nanny for Jim’s father and his uncle Bill. My mother (Georgina Emiry) was his first teacher and, in the 1950s, when I was a teenager, Jim curled with us. My dad was the skip, Ovide Cote the third, Jim played second and I was the lowly lead. After Sheryl and I moved to Sudbury we often saw Jim and we eventually became neighbors. I was honored and pleased to be of some assistance in Jim’s later years when he was unable to drive and when he was managing his daily life with difficulty.
In her remarks at the memorial service, Rev. Dawn Vaneyck summed up Jim brilliantly when she said that he was both a gentleman and a gentle man.