It was the largest and most difficult funeral I have ever had to conduct. Fifteen minutes before the funeral there was not that many people who had showed up. But then they started coming and coming. A steady stream of people arriving to pay respect and a final goodbye. And this village church that has the seating capacity for 170 people was packed to the seams for an afternoon funeral in the middle of the week. This speaks volumes of how well loved and respected this man was. A simple retired farmer who died at 90 years old. Not only did he impact the community. He impacted me.
I’ve known Stewart Jamieson for close to 30 years, but I only really got to know him well for the past 6 years I’ve been a lay pastor at Hillsdale Presbyterian Church. Not only did he become a dear friend, he became like a father figure to me. My own dad died at 47. I was 15 at the time. After my dad’s death I latched onto my Uncle Don as a father figure. He died over 20 years ago. After that it was my father in law Des Worrall. After the passing of my father-in-law, these past few years Stewart had unknowingly taken over that role of my father figure. As his pastor I feel I’ve learned so much more from him, than what he has learned from me. Just by the way he daily lived his life, Stewart taught me patience, humility and servanthood. Steward lived out the verse Philippians 2:4 “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too”. Stewart always put others ahead of himself. .
I have never written a blog post for a funeral I have conducted. After the funeral there was many, many hugs and words of thanks given to me from family members. And the response from those who attended the funeral was massive of how much they appreciated the funeral. So the thought came to me that maybe I could write something to keep Stewart’s memory alive. But I want to write this mostly for Laura, a granddaughter who is deaf. She was at the funeral, but could not hear what was being spoken. My heart went out to her. I could tell by reading her face, that she dearly loves and misses her grandfather. And hopefully with this post (though much condensed from the full funeral message) it will help with closure for Laura. And the memories of Stewart might live on for anyone else who reads this.
“S” is for “Starting out”
Using the acronym for Stewart, the 1st letter is “S” for “Starting Out”. The year 1927 was an amazing year that saw Charles Lindberg fly across the Atlantic for the 1st time. He reached Paris from New York in 33.5 hours. There was the Peace Bridge spanning 5800 feet across the Niagara River, which was completed in 1927. And Ford Motor Company releases the Model A in 1927. Not to be outdone was a baby boy born at home on September 20th, 1927 on the second of Flos. The proud parents named him Stewart Walter Jamieson. The word “Stewart” comes from an old English word “Steward” which means “guardian or warden”. There would have been no electricity when Stewart was born, as it only became common in urban areas in the 1930’s. The same goes for telephone. And of course no running water. Steward’s parents faithfully brought him to this church every Sunday. Stewart lived across from the one room school. The family shared with me beforehand that he dutifully carried a pail of water to school each day, as well as lighting the wood stove for heat.
“T” is for “Tiller of the Soil”
Stewart was a farmer, but of course there is no letter “F” in his name. The closest I could get was “tiller”. The word farmer appears only once in the King James Bible, but “till, tiller, tilleth and tillest” appears numerous times. Stewart loved farming and it showed. His farm was meticulous. He was very laid back, but worked very hard the same time. I remember 11 years ago when I helped Stewart out with haying for a day. He was 79, and the year before he retired from farming. I was in the hay mow, Stewart was outside at the wagon loading the bales onto the elevator. I literally could not keep up with him. “T” also was for “trainer”, as Stewart wanted to train and teach his grandkids how to farm. They learned painting fences, cutting grass, chopping wood, picking potatoes, and learning to drive a tractor and standard transmission truck as young as eight years old.
“E” is for “Employer”
Stewart worked for 25 years at Hillsdale Potato Farms. It was a huge operation comprising of 1800 acres. Stewart was an “employee”, but I’m using the word “employer” because he was pretty much in charge of the potato growing end of the whole operation, supervising a crew which swelled during potato harvest each year. I would have loved to have had him as my boss. And people returned year after year for the potato harvest.
“E” is Also For “Elder”
There are not very many people who would faithfully attend the same church for 90 years straight, but Stewart was one of them. And for decades Stewart carried out his God given role as Elder. The Bible has very specific requirements for an elder which are listed in 1 Timothy 3:2-3 “Temperate, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to much wine, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money”. It goes on in verse 7 “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders”. You cannot find a better description of Stewart. I have never seen him get angry. Always kind, gentle and welcoming with everyone.
“W” is for “Warm”
Stewart was always so warm and welcoming towards others. His face would light up, and he would give this great big smile when he recognised you. This was followed by a handshake. He had this genuine interest to get to know you better, and to remember people’s names for those he had just met. If you look closely in the picture below at Stewart’s pocket you will see the very top of his famous notepad. After Stewart would finish a conversation with someone new, he would take out the notepad and write their name down. I thought it was something that was only used at church. But the family assured me, Stewart had his notepad with him everywhere. (During the funeral it was really cool seeing so many faces light up and give nods of acknowledgement when I mentioned “the notepad”)
“A” is For “Authenticity”
It is one thing for someone to be so warm, kind and gentle out in the world. But where the “rubber meets the road” what was he like at home? Three family members shared. There was Stewart’s daughter Patsy, and his two grandsons Preston and Michael. It would not have been easy to be experiencing such a fresh loss of a father and grandfather, and share before such a large gathering. The one word that jumped out at me from which all three family shared, and that was the word “loving”. (Patsy also shared some verses from the “love chapter in 1st Corinthians 13). Stewart as a father and grandfather was very loving at home. He was authentic.
“R” is for “Responsible”
Operating a home farm, and also supervising staff at an 1800 acre potato farm carries with it huge responsibilities. Particularly in Canada, where your timeline for getting crops like potatoes in before heavy frosts and winter are very short. Stewart was an extremely laid back man. But he got things done in a timely manner. Machinery would break down. He was very mechanical, and would find a way to fix it. How he managed all of this like he did still has me scratching my head. But he did it. Stewart was also very responsible with looking after this church building. If something was broken, or something needed upgrading, he was on it. As his health became frailer it was difficult for him to see stuff that needed to be done around the church, but physically he was not able to anymore.
“T” is for “Time Has Come”
Psalm 39:4 reads as follows, “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered. How fleeting my life is”. Yes, at 90 years old Stewart lived a good, long life. Compared to eternity, this life on earth is so very short. Stewart was responsible at home, responsible to keep this church building fixed and presentable. But I also believe he showed great responsibility to prepare himself for eternity. He was ready to enter his eternal home.
John 3:16 say, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son. That whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. These last couple of years Stewart’s body became more and more frail. And Alzheimer disease had robbed him of so many names and memories. But right to just about a month ago, when Stewart went into Sara Vista nursing home, he still wanted to come here to this church. Sunday was his favourite day, and his favourite thing about that day was coming to church to worship God. Myrtle and Stewart were such a beautiful couple, and Myrtle would help him get dressed and bring him. He needed a lot of help on those stairs, but Stewart was so determined. Church was a reprieve from that terrible Alzheimer disease. The scripture Stewart would listen along, the hymns he would try and mouth the words. Ninety years faithfully attending this church, maybe missing one or two Sundays a year due to being away for holidays.
I visited Stewart in the nursing home shortly after he was admitted. I was coming home from work and took a spur of the moment detour. He seemed very confused when I arrived, with the Alzheimer disease bringing him back to his days on the farm. He was looking for his tools to “fix” a locked doorknob on a custodial closet at the nursing home. He kept leaving his walker and wandering into others room looking for his tools. He was so desperate to find those tools. Stewart didn’t have the strength to leave his walker and I was so frightened he was going to fall. Amazing the timing; a worker making his rounds came pushing a cart with the evening refreshments. Stewart chose a cookie and some grape juice.
We walked back to the dining room together with Steward calmly pushing his walker with the juice and cookie on top. Sitting him down, I quietly watched him enjoy his cookie and juice. As I started rubbing his back I asked him, “Stewart, do you know who I am”? He screwed up his face, trying so hard to place me and he shook his head “no”. I said “I’m Carl, your pastor”. It took a few seconds, but his face lit up with the biggest smile. I asked “Would you like to have prayer together, and he said “yes”. And as I prayed and continue to rub his back I could feel the tension melt away. He was communing with Jesus. We spent some more time together visiting, and when it was it was time to go, as I headed out I looked back for one last look and Stewart had such a look of peace on his face.
Little did I realize, this would be the last time I would have a conversation with Stewart. There was a flu outbreak in the nursing home, and a quarantine and I was not able to visit. Last Saturday my wife received a text from a family member that Stewart’s health was really going downhill that day (not flu related). I asked if we were needed and it was suggested just to come after church the next day. But I had that “gut feeling” that tomorrow would be too late, so my wife Lynne and I went over right away. Gathering around Steward’s bed with the required masks over our faces we prayed for strength and peace for Stewart and the family. And that night at around 2:00 am the angels ushered Steward into glory. The staff shared he died peacefully. It was a Sunday, Stewart’s favourite day of the week, “Absent from the body and into the presence of the Lord”. I really do miss Stewart, but I only think of those smiles up in heaven. No more pain, no more memory loss, and to hear those words, “Well done thou good and faithful steward”.