Our friend Doug died on July 8, 2013, at 73. An old acquaintance who’ll never be forgot. His stepson, Andrew Marr, provided the hook for this story—appropriate since Andrew’s a fishing guide. Doug was such a good guy that even his stepchildren loved him.
Burton and I met Doug and Suzie circa 2000 as members of Laurel Oak CC in Sarasota, Fl. We played golf (about equally) and bridge (they whomped us). They visited us Up North, and we, them, in Southampton, Ont.
A few years back, the Leiths moved and left LOCC. We remained friends. One of Burton’s favorite Doug moments was when the two of them stood at a bar. Doug gazed at the bartender, whose endowments were well displayed, and said, “You have beautiful…eyes.” I loved the grin that darted across Doug’s face at the surprise party Suzie threw for his 70th when she proclaimed, “You’re my movie star.” And how he nicknamed her his Suzie Sunshine.
We were heartbroken when, about a year after that party, Doug was struck with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. But Doug wouldn’t permit broken hearts. Even as he coughed more and struggled for breath, even as a small oxygen tank turned into a big one, he refused sympathy. He forbade friends to discuss his condition. He carried on, dragging his tank behind him. But still playing. Still in the game to whatever extent he could manage.
After 2 years, Doug finally made the waiting list for a lung transplant. He and Suzie moved to a condo in downtown Toronto to await the life-saving donation. He died 3 weeks later.
Doug had 3 children of his own. When he married Suzie, Andrew says, “He accepted 3 more into his family.” Doug also had 6 granddaughters and a large circle of close friends. Andrew calls him “a true charmer.”
At Doug’s “celebration of life,” his son Fred spoke about Doug’s relationship with Suzie. Both were divorced from first spouses. Fred said, “Doug said of Suzie, ‘She changed my life, but she didn’t change me.’” Fred mentioned his dad’s love of sweets—especially Doug’s mom’s Dutch apple pie. In Doug’s honor, the service concluded with a pie buffet.
Recently, Suzie sold their Sarasota condo. We took her out for dinner and what we trust wasn’t a final hug. Her son Andrew came along. We talked about how the family had honored Doug’s wish to be cremated. Doug left no directive about his ashes. Andrew said, “The most conventional practice is to commit ashes to an urn and keep them in a place of honor, such as on a mantle. Our family chose something less traditional.”
Doug had 2 more great passions. The game of golf. And the home he and Suzie built above Lake Huron, about 75 yards from the water. After the funeral, Andrew recalls, the whole family gathered at the house “to share stories, laugh, cry and mourn the loss of our patriarch at the family home where we had such wonderful times together. We didn’t have Doug any more. But we did have the whole family, and a deck, and a lake and golf balls and clubs. Who came up with the idea, or how much wine we’d had, or how sad we were didn’t matter. We figured out a method to spread some of his ashes in a way he’d have loved.”
They proceeded to dip golf balls in water and then in Doug’s ashes. The entire family took turns hitting ash-covered balls from the beach into the lake. “We sailed some, duffed some, sliced, hooked, popped up and hit all manner of shots that took Doug into the great blue yonder. We knew he was smiling upon us and probably saying: ‘Keep your head down and follow through.’ It was a special moment we all cherish to this day.”
Just as the family finished driving Doug home, Suzie took a photograph. A flock of Canadian geese flew overhead, in V formation. “How profound,” Suzie said. “They were heading south, just as Doug would, if he were still alive.”
Some of Doug’s closest friends also received small portions of their buddy’s ashes. Andrew says, “Doug accompanies many of us around golf courses, tucked away in our golf bags. Some of us still ask him for advice on a shot now and then. His friends have sat down on his favorite holes and enjoyed a scotch in his remembrance while laying some of his ashes.”
Doug’s pals, including David Ferguson, Gord Lickrish, Don Grant, Bruce Mitchell, John Clappison, Doreen McLashon and Pete Smith, spread some of Doug’s ashes on the famous, harrowing 17th hole of the Old course at St. Andrews, Scotland. (Known as the Road Hole, it’s bordered by a road along the property line. The sport of golf began at St. Andrews in the early 15th century.)
Andrew personally scattered some of Doug’s ashes at Gator Creek Golf Club in Sarasota. There, on the 8th hole, Doug scored his only hole-in-one. Last winter Andrew drove to the course and told the golf staff who he was and what he wished to do. “They promptly gave me a cart and I wound my way out to the 8th tee. No one else was around, so Doug and I shared one last memory at the course where he and I had created so many great memories together.”
My mother, also a golf enthusiast, used to refer to her ultimate resting place as “that great golf course in the sky.” Mom, you’re in good company.
Thanks, Andrew and Suzie, for sharing this remembrance. Doug may not have made it through the entire back nine, but he nailed the holes he was given.