Uncle Jim: My Information Highway

For my last column of 2010, I'd like to take a little detour from my usual subject matter and tell you about someone very special to me. I'd like to introduce you to my Uncle Jim, who passed away on Christmas day. He was, in many ways, a precursor to the connected world we write about constantly in this column.

Uncle Jim was a long-haul truck driver. For most of his life, he delivered bricks in Eastern Canada and the United States. Over the last several years of his career, he hauled specialty vehicles for the rich and famous (i.e. he transported Celine Dion's car from Florida to Vegas). It was this last job that caused him to crisscross the continent. And it was during this time that many of us in the family got to know Uncle Jim.

Our family is pretty spread out. In Canada, we literally span the country, from Halifax to Vancouver. And we have members who also live south of the 49th parallel, primarily in Texas. Over the years, the bonds of our family have had to become pretty elastic to accommodate the intervening miles. But the bonds have never stretched to the breaking point, and one big reason for that was Uncle Jim.



Uncle Jim was our original information highway. Family was vitally important to Jim, and as he crossed the continent, he'd always set time aside to drop in on his various nieces, nephews and cousins. Jim kept a trucker's timetable, which meant you wouldn't get much warning. You'd get a call, which generally went like this; "Hey, it's your Uncle Jim. I'm in town. Got time for a coffee? I'd like to see you."

Jim didn't care about how tidy your house was, or whether there was anything to feed him. He was a man who appreciated a hot cup of coffee and a good chat. You would bring him up to date with your life, and in return he'd share his treasure trove of family tidbits from across the country. Through Jim, you'd reacquaint yourself with your far-flung family: the cousins who were expecting, starting a new job, going to school or getting engaged. At the end of the visit, you were always very glad you took the time for a "coffee and a chat." And Jim was always gracious and grateful for the time you took out of your day to share with him.

Uncle Jim made the life of a long-haul trucker tolerable by using it to become the glue of our family. He tied us together in ways that we've only now begun to appreciate with his passing. To a person, each of us have our "Uncle Jim" stories which have become so precious to us. We even had "Uncle Jim" alerts. My sister, who lives in Edmonton (about a 12-hour drive from our home) would give me a quick call to let me know Uncle Jim was on his way and I could be expecting a call soon. This gave us enough time to grab some cookies to have with coffee.

In the past few years, as Uncle Jim battled with cancer, I was able to return the favor. Whenever my travels took me anywhere in the vicinity of their home, I took an extra day to spend some time with my aunt and uncle. I didn't think it was possible, but in the past three years (since his original diagnosis) family became even more precious to my Uncle Jim. Whether it was weddings, reunions or joint family vacations, he was never too ill to travel and spend time with family. Fortunately, my wife and I were able to host one of these reunions at our home a year and a half ago. It would become the last family reunion that Uncle Jim was able to make.

My last visit with Jim was a week before his passing. We didn't have coffee, but we did talk about family and share some laughs. The burly truck driver was barely recognizable in a physical sense, weighing less than half what he once did, but the spirit was still there. He struggled to sit up so he could shake my hand. He was so grateful for the time I took out of my day to spend those last few minutes with him. I can't express how much I'll miss those visits.

On Christmas day, we all struggled with our loss. But somehow it was fitting that Jim's far-flung nieces and nephews reached out online to share our grief. We posted little slivers of our sadness on Facebook -- and from those slivers, a picture of Uncle Jim began to emerge. It seemed fitting to me that the portrait of a man who spent so much time on the road came from people separated by miles but united by memories.

I'd like to end 2010 with my own Facebook memorial to my Uncle Jim:

Uncle Jim... there's a stop ahead where you can rest for the night. The food is good, the coffee hot, the traffic light and there are friends and family waiting for a visit. You've had a long haul with a tough load. It's okay to let someone else take the wheel. You've more than earned a rest. Sleep well, Uncle Jim, sleep well. Your job is done!

10 comments about "Uncle Jim: My Information Highway".
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  1. Claire Celsi from The Public Relations Project, LLC, December 30, 2010 at 11:28 a.m.

    Wow! What a great story. I enjoy your column but I don't think I've ever left a comment. Your uncle Jim was a remarkable man. The fact that he made such an enormous effort to connect with you and your family members speaks volumes to his character. I am going to use your story as an example of "social media." He is a living example of social before social media even existed. He made him self the medium. That is so cool. Thank for brightening my day, and I'm sorry for your loss. Claire

  2. Stewart Wills from, December 30, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.

    I don't think anyone could ask for a nicer or more fitting memorial than the one you've provided here for your uncle. Condolences on your loss, and thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories of him.

  3. Marjorie Dufek from Brown-Forman Corporation, December 30, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful tribute to your uncle. I know your family will continue to treasure his memory. Your story reminded me of my grandfather, who would have truly loved this digital age. He used to send what he called "shotgun" letters to his far-flung children, grand children, nieces and nephews, using his Remington, carbon paper and onion skin paper to make sure everyone had all the news about each other. These gents recognized the joy that can come from taking the time to keep in touch.

  4. Nick Cavarra from Quigley Simpson, December 30, 2010 at 12:02 p.m.

    Am sorry to hear about your loss, but thank you for sharing your wonderful story about someone so special. Clearly he made a big difference in many people's lives simply by being interested in hearing what they had to say and what they were up to.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 30, 2010 at 12:03 p.m.

    Avah la shalom - May he rest in peace. A great tribute to a great guy. Your Uncle Jim proves once again, true social media is in human connection, person to person. And may you find your next year filled with happiness with more true social media.

  6. jim calgiano, December 30, 2010 at 12:18 p.m.

    Great story Gord. Thanks for sharing and helping us all keep what's important top of mind.

  7. Carole Barrett from Howard Rice et al., December 30, 2010 at 2:34 p.m.

    My dearest aunt Ethel was our family "glue" - the last of her generation. We lost her on Labor Day (fitting for a women who worked from 15 until she was 80), 2 weeks before her 99th birthday. 3 of my cousins & I were blessed to be with her to easy her journey home. Ethel was never married and had no biological children so her nieces and nephews - 3 generations strong were all her special kids. I weep and rejoice with you. Jim and Ethel have left us to be the "glue".

  8. Alan Hamor from adworthy inc, December 30, 2010 at 6:52 p.m.

    Good story, Gord, and a great way to tell him "thanks".

  9. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion, December 30, 2010 at 8:33 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story about a beautiful spirit. We forget sometimes how important family bonds can be. How lucky your family has been to have someone who recognized this.

  10. Tricia Murdy from MB, January 7, 2011 at 3:37 p.m.

    I'm swamped with Media Post emails and just got around to this one. I have to say the tears started coming while sitting at my desk. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing and I'm so sorry for your loss. Obviously you have some wonderful memories to keep with you!

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