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Comprehending the far-reaching impact of Michael Dawe

As former Red Deer city councillor and Central Alberta historian Michael Dawe was laid to rest Thursday, I began to ponder what I could say that hadn’t already been said.

I haven’t lived in Red Deer very long — I didn’t have any personal anecdotes that Michael and I shared, despite the fact that every week, like clockwork, his column and a photo would appear in my email inbox.

Mark Weber wrote so wonderfully last Saturday about how Michael made him feel in their interactions and how valued his service was to Red Deer. Mark is such a talented writer I felt like there was nothing to add.

But as I watched the funeral and talked to people at the reception, I realized something that Michael had done for me without me knowing it.

What almost always stood out, week after week, is you could feel the passion jump off the page for whatever particular history piece.

Certain writers just have a knack for making even a grocery list sound poetic and Dawe was able to bring historical stories to life with more than just dates and names, but stories that captivated the reader. History has always been a huge passion of mine, so those stories about early settlers establishing roots in Red Deer or fugitives on the run coming through town, were right up my alley. He helped create a story about this place that I call home, one that runs much deeper than any issues we struggle to grapple with in our everyday lives.

His ability to make those stories come alive was something so very special.

I always marvelled at his ability to do this, but unfortunately never took the opportunity to tell him that.

In that vein, I also regret never tapping into the vast resource that Michael was, to inform my writing better. He could have helped make these columns more informative – more valuable to the long-term health of our community.

As I watched Michael’s funeral and talked to people at the reception held in his honour later in the Dawe, I’ll never be able to quite grasp the far-reaching impact his work had.

Mayor Ken Johnston told me a quick story as we crossed paths on Thursday. Johnston said that he ran into a woman at the funeral viewing on Wednesday, who didn’t know Dawe personally and was new to the city. Michael’s columns helped her feel more at home here, that she understood more about the city because of his writing. It was appointment viewing for her.

I was also at a party recently, just after Michael had passed. It didn’t take long for the one couple to share with me that they had a home near Michael’s in Sylvan Lake and he was quick to provide them with the history of their property when they moved in.

In the days since he passed, we’ve had readers reach out about collecting past versions of his history columns. We’ve had readers wonder who will take over and continue his legacy. I don’t think anyone can really ever do what Michael did, or be who Michael was. His commitment to this city was unprecedented and his family’s legacy has roots deeper than almost any other that has come to Red Deer.

And as much as that commitment to his work– protecting the history of the city, it was the way in which he did it that struck me.

As Rob Trentham recounted in his eulogy, “He was a friend to so many.”

“Michael had a side window in the office and whenever he saw some little old lady had walked in, Michael would walk around and give her a hug. He knew them all. He knew everyone and could bring up so many (people), he had so many generations in his head,” Trentham recalled.

Former Mayor Morris Flewwelling, who knew Dawe for more than half a century, recounted Michael’s endless dedication to the City of Red Deer and the lengths he went to preserve archives.

One poignant reflection he made that stuck with me was, “It is not death that brings us together today… but love.”

And Leila Currie, the Diaconal minister at Gaetz Memorial United Church, read a quote from Maya Angelou during the service that also struck me as so fitting.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And I think that’s something we can all appreciate, is that what Michael left behind was a legacy of being a kind person, always willing to listen and ready with a good story to tell. He was deeply passionate about this city and that’s another thing we all hope that we can find in our lives, something to be strongly dedicated to, as he was to Central Alberta’s history.

I don’t imagine it will be too long before we have a statue in Dawe’s honour in City Hall Park. Short of that, Dawe’s home away from home at the Red Deer Archives could use a name and there isn’t a more fitting place to adorn his name in our community.

And in that moment, it won’t be about the records Michael kept or the extensive nature he went to in order to preserve them, but it will be about how he made people feel – as if this city was the most important place on earth because he said we mattered – our history matters.

Even on a smaller scale, how he made people feel in those individual interactions, like the ones Mr. Trentham described.

I think anyone who can have that sort of impact on a community or a group of people deserves all the accolades and recognition we can bestow on them.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate and Regional Editor for Black Press Media.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

Byron has been the sports reporter at the advocate since December of 2016. He likes to spend his time in cold hockey arenas accompanied by luke warm, watered down coffee.
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