I’m not sure if there’s any kind of world record for working long past the traditional age of retirement.
My dad is 77 and still working full-time, and I have no doubt it is what has kept him healthy of body and sharp of mind.
But he doesn’t come close to Fred Lyall, who at almost 95 has decided to step down from writing his longtime column for The Morning Star, In the Garden.
When Fred broke the bad news to me, I jokingly told him how lazy he was that just because he was getting on in years, he thought he could start to take it easy.
But knowing Fred, he isn’t likely to be relaxing in a La-Z-Boy, remote control in hand.
Instead, he will no doubt tend to his beloved garden, which includes hanging baskets the likes of which I’ve rarely seen. In winter, he will probably be on the ice at the Vernon Curling Club.
When I started working at the paper in 1995, one of my toughest assignments was learning to decipher the hieroglyphics that was and still is Fred’s handwriting. To this day, I’m certain that my colleague Cara Brady and myself are the only members of the newsroom staff who are able to competently typeset Fred’s columns.
For Fred is the only columnist for whom I don’t insist on his work being e-mailed to me. So each week, like clockwork, and always well ahead of deadline, I receive three or four double-spaced, handwriting pages on three-hole loose-leaf paper.
Over the years, Fred and I have enjoyed many conversations, with topics ranging from gardening to our favourite runs at Silver Star, to the latest news about his sons and grandsons. He has listened patiently to my endless questions about what to plant in shade, how to prune my roses and what type of food to use on my hostas.
Born and raised on the Prairies, Fred is a veritable encyclopedia of gardening knowledge, which he willingly and happily shares. He has often published his home phone number in the paper, and encouraged gardeners — beginner and expert alike — to call him with their queries.
He has never been shy about sharing his opinions on everything from rodeos to the provincial government’s latest faux pas.
As well, Fred has shown his gift of empathy, expressing sorrow at losses I’ve suffered over the years. A veteran of the Second World War, he has no doubt experienced his share of loss, but has always been quick with a kind word, a joke, a story.
He has shared his advice at the secret to a long and happy life, “Wine, women and whisky,” said of course with a twinkle in his eye.
And he has given hours of his time, along with other members of the Okanagan Gardens and Roses Club, to the rose gardens at Hospice House, watering, deadheading blooms and ensuring they are beautiful for Hospice residents.
Every year, he has invited me to the Okanagan Gardens and Roses Club Christmas party. One year, with no child care available, I took my young daughter. She of course took immediately to Fred, who scooped her up for a big hug and has never failed to tell me what a delight she is, music to all parents’ ears.
And as Fred hangs up his pen, I want to say on behalf of everyone at The Morning Star that it has been an honour and a pleasure to have you as part of our team, Fred. I wish you and Margaret all the best in your retirement. But if you think I’m going to stop bugging you for gardening advice, think again: your phone number is not only in my Rolodex, I’ve actually committed it to memory.
—Katherine Mortimer is the lifestyles editor for The Morning Star