Passed on: July 29th, 2012
Karl David Albert Carlson passed away on July 29, 2012 in Moose Jaw. He is survived by his wife, Beverley, his sister, Sheila Hussey (of Brookline, Massachusetts), brother-in-law, Christopher Hussey, nephew, David, nieces, Andrea (Willett) and Nora, and his daughter, Deborah, son-in-law, Andrew Spat, and grandson, Carl, of North Vancouver, BC. He was predeceased by his first wife, Audrey.
Karl was born on December 7, 1936, the second of two children of Karl W. and Ottilie Carlson. He grew up on the family farm near Mortlach, riding to school on horseback with Sheila to a one-room schoolhouse. He later went to Peacock Technical high school, and became known for spending extra time in the machine shop. He had a natural talent for all things mechanical, and a lifelong interest in cars, particularly Jaguars. One of his first was a red convertible, and his last was a dark green sedan, his favourite colour.
As soon as he was able, Karl struck out farming on his own, and over five decades he grew wheat, durum, canola, mustard, lentils, hay and other crops. He was inclined to be innovative, interested in trying out new farm implements and new ways of farming, usually with success. His work was often solitary, but like farmers everywhere he was intrinsically connected to other places and people through markets and world events. In his case this connection was deepened by many hours listening to the CBC while driving around his fields, as well as through reading about current affairs and politics, especially in the wintertime. His favourite fiction writer was Wallace Stegner, with his stark and compelling stories of human folly, hard times and perseverance, but he also liked the humane and sometimes darkly comic tales of Graham Greene.
Karl grew up in a family that had a strong sense of civic responsibility and deep roots with the CCF and later the NDP. In the latter part of his life Karl continued those traditions as an active member of the NDP and as a board member for the Moose Jaw Co-op. He was a firm believer in unions, and in the need to be engaged in the democratic process. “We get the government we deserve,” he often repeated. Throughout his life, if he objected to a government policy, whether provincial or federal, out came the notepad and a letter outlining his concerns and suggestions for improvement was drafted and sent.
In the mid-1980s he travelled to Nicaragua as a member of the “Oxfam Farmers’ Brigade” after the Sandinistas toppled the Somoza regime. There he spent six weeks near Esteli assisting local farmers who were making the transition from oxen to mechanized farming. He arrived back thin, but happy. His clothes were soft and gently scented from being washed on stones in the river by his gracious hosts. Karl often spoke of his experiences there and was impressed with the hospitality and resilience of the Nicaraguan farmers.
In 2000 Karl was diagnosed with a rare liver disease, but was fortunate to receive a liver transplant thanks to Dr. McHattie in Regina and the team at the University Hospital in London, Ontario, and a generous family that looked beyond their own grief to help someone else. Karl made a remarkable recovery and his family and friends are immensely grateful for the precious extra years.
Over the past decade he began spending a month or two every winter in Cuba, and made new friendships with both Cubans and fellow travellers. He also got to know his grandson through frequent trips to the West Coast.
Karl worked very hard all his life and he could be demanding of others, but he was essentially a gentle, sociable, unpretentious person, and a loyal and thoughtful friend to many. He had a fine sense of humour and an enduring curiosity about the world around him. As his health failed in the past year his natural empathy for other living creatures seemed to be heightened. In one of his last conversations, discussing a recent scientific study on declining bird populations in Canada, he mentioned the dandelions in his yard. As a farmer, he had used chemicals to fight many pitched battles with weeds and insects that threatened his crops—his livelihood and vital food for others. However, he was increasingly aware of the price, to his health and to the land. Although tempted, he opted not to poison the dandelions, even though it would have been expedient. He didn’t want to harm the birds.
His family is grateful to staff at the Union Hospital and his doctors Ramadan and Magnaye and their staff, for care provided in these last months. Beverley made exceptional efforts, and enabled him to spend most of his last days at home where he wanted to be.
A memorial tea will be held on Sunday, September 2, from 2 – 4 pm at the Parkview Chapel, and everyone who knew Karl is welcome. He will be very much missed, but his life was rich and inspiring for those who remain. Instead of flowers or donations, remember him, love your family, be a good friend, and engage in the world.