Eighty years ago a chubby little boy joined the Graham family, Russell George. It was Monday, April 7, 1941 and the German Luftwaffe sank 12 ships in an attack on the Greek port of Piraeus (Athens), the first night of the Belfast Blitz began and British General Richard O’Connor was captured by a German reconnaissance patrol in North Africa.
Russ’ parents were Joseph and Ruby (McCurdy) Graham and he grew up with two sisters, Verna and Hazel. Russ attended a one-room school and in later years became the caretaker for this little school making sure it was clean and always warm for the other students. Life lesson #1, ‘Unless you want a “cuff” don’t “scuff.” (Referring to dragging your feet.) ‘Pick up your feet’ is a phrase Russ’s family heard him say regularly. After public school it was off to Chesley High School and who would have known that many, many years later his granddaughter would also attend this very school.
Living in a small town often meant having many childhood friends that sometimes led into getting into trouble from time to time. For instance, Gloria tells of the time Russ and some of his buddies waited until after dark to raid a neighbours strawberry patch. Well, this ended in a cruiser ride home with berry stains all over his hands and face and still denying that they had raided the strawberry patch. This, no doubt, led to one of Russ’ life lessons he tried to pass on to his family, ‘When you feel your face going red, you are running out of breath, your eyes are bulging, and you hear what sounds like a broken vacuum cleaner, then and ONLY then will you know that your milkshake is now empty.’
After working for some farmers in the area, and also a bee farm, Russ decided that this was not the life for him so he set out to London, Ontario to see if he could get accepted into the Canadian Army. Well, luck was on his side and he was soon off to basic training. He thought he would only stay a couple of years and then see what else there was to do but when it came time to get out a healthy pay raise encouraged him to stay a little longer and that turned into a full-time career with Russ retiring after 30 years of service.
Russ was always up to new challenges and in 1966 he became a member of the Armed Forces motorcycle team. He trained for a year and then in ’67, the team travelled from coast to coast in Canada performing numerous stunts. Russ’ main role was jumping his bike through a ring of fire which often led to having the hair burnt off his arms and also losing his eyebrows from time-to-time, but this did not stop him from performing. He also did several pyramid rides that required a lot of balance and trust from his fellow riders.
Russ was still looking for bigger and better adventures so he became a paratrooper and jumped out of perfectly safe planes in the middle of the night. Once on the ground he would either be a good guy or the enemy and believe it or not he even got paid to do this. During his army career, he travelled the world and performed all the tasks at hand, finishing his career in 1989 at the age of 48 and rank of Warrant Officer.
Not only did Russ look for adventurers to challenge him, but he also looked to keep busy and active. As a child, Andrea thought she had the smartest Dad! No job was too big for him to tackle and he never needing help from anyone outside their little family group of 4. She could never understand how he just knew how to do everything.
Okay, now to backtrack a little.
At the age of 27, Russ decided it was time to settle down and met a farm girl, Gloria Lipskie, from Chatsworth that won his heart. They were married on Saturday, August 10, 1968 and two years later a baby girl joined the family. The year was 1970. Gloria knew Russ was going to be a good Daddy when one night he decided that he would try to get Lisa to burp and in doing so Lisa filled every pocket he had. Without saying a word he handed her back to Gloria and went and cleaned up. Three years later another little girl completed the Graham family, Andrea, it was 1973.
Russ had a very unique way of disciplining the girls. He was a man of very few words, all he had to do was give them his special look and they knew that was the end of whatever they were doing wrong. The Graham family was living in Kingston and they made several trips between Kingston and Chatsworth. It always seemed they would hit Toronto in rush hour traffic – well that was just about the time the girls would decide to act up and start bugging each other in the back seat. Gloria would tell the girls to stop and if they didn’t listen, without warning, Russ would swing back like a cobra strike. Indeed, Russ had a very long right arm and it would go over the front seat and without even making contact with anyone it put an end to all the carrying on in the back seat. Andrea remembers being grazed by that big ol’ mitt once, and it sure stopped the arguing in the back seat!
It just wasn’t Russ’ right arm that amazed the girls. They had to watch out for his hands as well. He had the “Graham” hands for sure. More like baseball mitts on the end of his arms. After a couple of drinks, he would start flapping his wings when he danced and his hands were flying around when he talked.
“As a teenager, like many, I became rebellious. I asked dad if I could buy a dirt bike and he said NO! I left in a huff and later that day, I pulled into the laneway with my brand new to me, old Suzuki! The look on his face was priceless. He wanted nothing to do it. Wouldn’t even talk about it. After a week or so of riding this old bike around, the clutch was acting up so I decided to fix it. He came home from work, to see me sitting on the edge of the laneway with the bike all tore apart. The seat was off, the handlebars were off, the gas tank off, and I was working on the bottom end of the motor. He asked me what the heck I was doing?! I said “I’m fixing the clutch, it won’t shift into any high gears.” He said, “You’re not even near the clutch!” He told me that I may as well scrap the bike because it will never work again now that I had wrecked it. I knew I had to prove him wrong, so I put it all back together and rode it for another year. I never did get it to shift higher than third gear. He could hear me come home every time though with that familiar scream of a 2 stroke revving to beat hell.”
However, Russ did have a number of life lessons he taught his family. In order of importance (LOL); ‘Always carry at least 2 lbs. of loose change in your pockets. There are several reasons for this – The first being, it’s easier to carry than a bell or whistle for scaring off wildlife. Secondly, it gives you something to make sweet tunes with when you are in need of a radio. Thirdly, it is a great way of irritating whoever you are having a conversation with.’ On a more serious note, ‘Take pride in who you are and what you do, and never argue with a Heinz pickle. You can’t tell them anything.’
Everything had “14” in it. If Russ had to walk a long way for parking, or if he only wanted two of something he would always say. “I had to walk 14 miles to get there,” or “I didn’t ask for 14 things.” He was known for slightly exaggerating his stories. He was the best story/joke teller ever though! He knew exactly when to pause, to keep you on the edge of your seat, and the facial expressions!!! He could tell a story and have everyone in stitches just by his expressions and hand movements.
Russ taught the girls and Gloria to be very independent individuals as he was gone for months at a time and they had to learn to do things on their own. To this day both Lisa and Andrea are very independent women and are not afraid to tackle the task at hand. They still asked for Dad’s helping hand from time to time or even his advice on how something should be done. Lisa usually threw in a trip to Pizza Hut and she knew that would get her Dad’s attention every time. Andrea just had to mention she was going to try something and Russ was full of suggestions but he usually just told her enough so she would ask for his help.
A few more of Russ’ suggestions were; ‘Carry a tape measure with you everywhere you go. Step 1) Measure things that don’t need measuring and keep people waiting while you do this. Step 2) Repeat Step 1 at least twice. Reason for this?… well it’s just good “measure.” When working with wood, ALWAYS grade the piece by sliding your bare hands back and forth quickly against the wood. This is how you tell if it needs more sanding or not. If you see blood, then keep sanding. If no blood is visual and you haven’t felt any stabbing pain, then you’re off to the races.’ Following the above life lesson, ‘ALWAYS carry a Band-aid in your wallet.’
There was always several steps Russ would take if something was broken or needed maintenance. First, he would just fix it if it was not too far gone. Second, if he couldn’t fix it with its original parts, he would go and empty his parts bin on a large tray and root around to find something to make it work. If that was not successful, he might run to the store to purchase a $0.25 cent thing-a-ma-jig to fix it. Finally, if that still didn’t bring it back to life, then and only then would he decide it was scrap, BUT not before he would completely strip it clean of all its moving components for future uses.
When Gloria would tell Andrea that Russ was coming home after being gone for sometimes months at a time on exercise, she would get so excited! After all, that’s when he would bring home the left over packaged rations. Yum! The girls and Russ would sit outside and eat cheese & onion and sardine sandwiches. Mainly because Gloria didn’t want the smell of sardines in the house. Whatever Dad ate, Andrea had to as well. This included all the cake, tarts, cookies and anything else that was bad for you.
As the years went on Gloria became more dependent on Russ and he stepped up to the plate and took over many of the household chores. One of the girls remembers being around 9 or 10 years old and helping Russ build a garage in the backyard. Installing an above ground pool (which today is no big deal, but back then it was a lot of work), going to many scrap yards looking for used parts to fix (or pimp out his rides). ‘Waste not, want not’ became another life lesson Russ learned and then, in turn, taught. ‘Recycle and reuse as many items as possible. Give old things a new purpose. Be creative. Don’t worry if people make fun of the outcome.’ One of Andrea’s favourite memories of Russ was going to the scrap yard or the dump with him. They always came home with more than they took! It was great! Finding things to use for their next projects.
Ten years ago the house was sold and Russ and Gloria moved into a senior’s complex in Hanover with no more snow to shovel or grass to cut. It amazed Gloria how active Russ remained. He could do a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle in a little over a day and also could do several crossword puzzles a day. The way he mastered the remote control really amazed her. He could go from the current program to the weather channel and back again without even looking at the remote. ‘When asked a question, if you do not know the answer, make something believable up and look convincing while doing so. It’s all in the presentation.’
Seriously, Russ still rode his bike and went for long walks – after all he had to keep up on what was happening in the area. He went for his daily coffee at McDonald’s with his buddy who would call around and pick him up. He never lost any time going out and getting into the car either. Perhaps Russ shared the following advice with his coffee buddies, ‘Cover your bar fridge with as many stickers as possible. This helps with the insulation process. Keeps the cold in.’
Russ was also a great fan of the Blue Jays. Now if they could have only heard all the advice he offered them from his lazy boy Gloria was sure they would have won more championships. NASCAR was also a favourite although he didn’t get quite as excited over it as he did the Blue Jays. ‘Close your mouth when watching TV.’ Russ never explained why this was so important, but who would dare to question him!
This popular saying led to many food orientated life lessons as well, like, ‘NEVER eat TOO much of the main course, because you MUST leave room for dessert.’ Or ‘when eating “crumbly” foods, inhale gently through your mouth so the crumbs go in and not all over you or the table or floor.’ ‘Always remember to express your appreciation for a good home-cooked meal by smacking your lips several times, licking every utensil, and wiping your plate clean with either bread or your tongue.’
Russ was also a super Grandpa, cherishing his two grandchildren. He was always there to check on Cortney’s car or to tell her how great her banana bread was. He gave Joey advice on different topics and was always there to listen to them.
Cortney, Russ’ granddaughter writes,
“He was a wonderful grandfather that was always there when you needed him. Whether it was an after school phone call for help with math homework (even in college), to picking me up from work or driving me to appointments he was always willing to help. He had the most interesting stories and the way he presented them to you with such detail and pauses always grabbed your full attention. A couple of times in high school when I had a spare after lunch I’d drive to Hanover to get Subway and sit on the front porch with him and chat until I had to go back to class. I’ll never forget how cool I thought he was when I was little and he was the school bus driver. I remember Grandma walking us down to the post office around the time he would be going by on his way home so that he could pick us up and give us a ride back home with him.”
Cortney wasn’t the only one who received ‘car help’ from Russ. Andrea also has a love of old cars, motorcycles, and all things related because of her Dad. Watching him do all the work on his own cars, prompted her to do the same. She likes to think she made him proud. She can use power tools, shift gears whether it be 3 on the tree, 4 on the floor, or on a motorcycles as good as anyone because of him. They shared so many interests. Andrea purchased a ‘69 Nova so the two of them could go out to car shows together. They often sat in the laneway for hours in the car. He would tinker with minor details and pretty things up. She will always cherish those last few times that he drove the old car to take the young ones for ice cream. He would sit in passenger seat and wave at everyone on the streets and sidewalks as they cruised around.
Yet another one of Russ’ life lesson was, ‘Try to have patience. When that doesn’t work, make sure you throw the hammer in the direction of least damage.’ ‘Never allow yourself to get wet. Whether it be from rain, or an out of control sprinkler. You are sugar and will melt. Avoid this at all costs!’
Other things that remind Andrea of her father included, Scotch mints, licorice, desserts, old cars, tools, how there was a long pause before saying “hello” when he answered the phone, his facial expressions, how organized he was, Heinz pickles, flyswatters, deer whistles, pocket change, pocket protectors, extremely short pencils, measuring tape, crossword puzzles, how he hated to get wet and she could go on forever.
He had his share of health issues but always seemed to battle through. He had such a will and want to live. He will always be the strongest man his family has known. In turn, grandson Joey had some of his own advice as to how much he loved his grandpa. “I loved this old (young at heart) man, he always knew how to make me laugh with the words he said and some of his facial expressions. He had also taught me something or made suggestions to help life go easier. I didn’t know what I would without him in my life. I LOVE HIM.”
Russ’ family simply cannot express how much love and respect they have for this wonderful man. His knowledge, humour, personality, his actions and just how HE did things will never be forgotten. He has touched his wife, daughters and grandkids to the core and will always be remembered as an inspiration. His legend and stories will be passed on by all those who knew him for years to come.
Sadly, Russ passed away in the loving presence of his family at Hanover & District Hospital on Monday, March 22, 2021 in his 80th year.
He leaves behind his loving wife and best friend of 53 years Gloria (Lipskie) and his two daughters Lisa Barfoot (Terry McKeeman) of Owen Sound and Andrea Money (Riley Hicks) of Mooresburg. Russ will be greatly missed by his cherished grandchildren Cortney Money (Aaron French) and Joe Money. He will be fondly remembered by his sister Verna Miller and sisters-in-law Donna (Rene) Chartrand and Sharon (Roger) Martin. Russ was predeceased by his sister Hazel Graham, brothers-in-law Doug and Jim Lipskie and his parents Joseph and Ruby (McCurdy) Graham.
Cremation has taken place and in honour of Russ’ wishes a celebration of his life will be held at a later date. Inurnment in Hillcrest Cemetery, Tara.
Memorial donations to Royal Canadian Legion Branch 383 (Tara) would be appreciated as expressions of sympathy.
Our family chain is broken
and nothing seems the same,
but as God calls us one by one
the chain will link again.