Lloyd Donaldson (1963-2010) – Man with a Moustache on a Mission

Lloyd Donaldson, a journalist turned humanitarian, had a big and amazing moustache, and a big and amazing heart. I knew him for less than a year, but I cried my eyes out when I found out four weeks ago that he had died very unexpectedly, only 46 years old.


On my first day in the office in London last September, my supervisor introduced me to Lloyd and I was given the desk right beside his. I used to tell people how lucky I was to be given that desk, as Lloyd became a driving force in my internship experience and soon became a friend and my favourite Merlin staff member for his crazy work ethic, passion for life, determination to get things done, way of caring about people around him, and his way of caring about people in need of humanitarian aid in the distant countries whose maps plastered the columns around his desk.

In our very first conversation back in September 2009, when my logistics colleagues weren’t paying attention, Lloyd leaned over and told me that any time I had a question that I felt too stupid to ask to the logs, I should ask him and he would do his best to answer (which he did, many times). He also showed me the top drawer of his filing cabinet, where he kept his dark chocolate supply, and told me not to ask but just to take some whenever I wanted – Lloyd was very generous.

I spent many hours working with Lloyd on the Indonesia and Haiti emergency responses. He put a lot of faith in my abilities, gave me a lot of responsibility, and was always there to provide constructive criticism and lots of feel-good positive feedback. He taught me a huge amount during the time I was at head office. The example he set for everyone who worked with him was really amazing.

Lloyd hard at work in the middle of a very cold January night in Gatwick Airport Servisair Cargo Shed H, preparing to send seven tonnes of supplies including giant ROFI tents to be used as a life-saving surgical operating centre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti:


For his big moustache and his absolutely enormous heart, a lot of people will miss Lloyd for a long time, and I doubt any of us will ever stop appreciating what he did for each of us as individuals.

“Why do you do it?” he asked. I replied immediately, “Because we can.”
     – James Orbinski (former Intl President of MSF), An Imperfect Offering

I don’t know if Lloyd ever read that book, but he showed that same attitude, because I can (apparently, as a boy, Lloyd and his best friend used to bring tools to school and disassemble anything they could, then take the stuff home, “because they could,” so I guess he had that in him all along). When you boil down all the big words and philosophising on the question of why people become humanitarian and development workers, I reckon that’s about the most logical and human explanation anyone can come up with. He did it because he could.

I miss him a lot.

YouTube video: Lloyd Donaldson’s Life-Loving, by his friend and former business partner Gregory Kunis.

Goodbye to Granny

Granny raised 7 children and helped take care of 20 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren,

She played ping pong with us,

She came to graduations,

And more graduations,

She was a tremendous Scrabble player,

And she was perhaps the most beautiful person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

She died this past Saturday, June 20th, a little less than two months short of her 100th birthday. This is the eulogy my sister presented at the funeral this morning, by far the best eulogy I’ve ever heard:

“My name is Josephine Anderson. Agneta Wright was my Granny.

I was in Nova Scotia, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean when I got the phone call that Granny’s time had come. I thought of what it feels like to hug her. I’ve been hugging Granny for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I used to go over to Gran’s place after school. The rule became that the first of us five siblings to call dibs on Granny in the car ride home from school would get to go over. I usually blurted it out the fastest, and I remember visiting Granny as one of my fondest childhood memories.

Gran used to tell me that when I was a baby she’d hold me on her shoulder, and I’d fall asleep without a care in the world. I don’t remember this, but I think the feeling stuck, because to this day the most vivid feeling I have about Granny, the thing I miss the most, is nestling into Gran’s neck, giving her a great big hug, breathing in a whiff of her rose water scent, and feeling the best feeling in the world: true, genuine, unconditional love.

Granny had an extraordinary life. She lived through WWI and WWII. She contracted and survived the Spanish Flu. She witnessed the change from the telegraph to the cell phone. And still, at 99 years old, she had a dimpled, beautiful grin on her face as if she were entirely delighted. And after all these years, after bringing up 7 children, and living in England, Scotland, India, and Canada, and after reading hundreds of books, and crossing paths with thousands upon thousands of people in her lifetime, she still felt charmed by the world, still felt engaged and passionate, still felt full-hearted joy at the tiny details that made up a single day out of nearly 100 years lived.

Though I myself have only known Gran as a white haired beauty, she wasn’t always 99 years old. Once, she was a little girl with rosy cheeks and a penchant for getting into mischief with her siblings. She told us about the time her brother Jack convinced her to climb out of their landing window, onto the glass-roof passageway that joined their house with their father’s surgery. They didn’t manage to get away with it though; there was a huge clattering when Jack put his foot through the glass roof. Or the time that she and Jack snuck out of the house for an hour to go to the town gardens and play make-believe in a game called Conquest, sure that no one at home would notice their absence. They didn’t get away with that one either. Or there was the time Gran had had enough of a local boy, a “big lout” who’d been bullying her and her friends. She finally socked him one right in the face and gave him a bloody nose. Turned out the boy’s father was a patient of Granny’s father. Gran remembered her dad bringing it up the next night over dinner, and him chuckling a bit. She got away with that one.

Gran ripened well with age. She was tall and slim. She was an actress, a field hockey player, a children’s tutor, and a painter. She met a man named Henry who’d spotted her while she was acting on stage one night, and they soon fell in love. She remembered the time she returned to England from India with a lovely pair of tailored grey trousers, which she knew looked good even if she was the only woman around wearing pants.

She was a mother to Peter, Josephine, Cecilia, David, Raymund, Jim, and Rosemary. She managed to cook and care for all seven of them, and even became an impromptu secretary when her eldest son started up his business in their garage. Gran was very proud of her children, and loved to tell stories of when they were young. Like the time Uncle Peter locked her out of her house in Scotland so he could eat the Christmas cake. Gran was also very proud of her husband, and his abilities as an engineer, and often recalled to us how, during the war, he helped rebuild the very ship that later brought their family of nine from England to Canada.

When Granny was sadly predeceased by her beloved husband Harry and sons Peter and Raymund, she showed the remarkable strength and stoicism she was so well known for. Gran always took care of her family. Up until two weeks before her death, she looked forward to preparing dinner every single Friday night for my mom. And on trips to Bowen, while Uncle David worked hard to take care of the property, Granny would lovingly make him meals too.

Until three years ago, Granny attended daily mass here in this parish. She was well into her 88th year when she finally gave up her post as the Thursday Morning Mass reader. She was also a founding member of Saint Gerard’s Mission on Bowen Island. Granny’s faith guided every aspect of her life, from her love for her children, to her remarkable generosity and love for the poor.

Granny’s friend, Father Murray Abraham, who lives in Darjeeling, India, emailed my mom a few days ago to offer his condolences. He wrote, “If anyone deserves to enjoy the loving presence and joy of God your mother surely does. I feel a great sense of loss. It was so comforting to me to know your mother was ‘just there.’ She was so kind and so encouraging to me in my work for the poor. It was through friends like her that God gave me the strength and the kind of love that helps the poor most of all. It gives me great joy and gratitude to God that he arranged that it would be ‘through’ me that your mother fed the hungry and gave homes to the homeless. May she prepare a place for you—and me—when the time comes that God calls us.”

In her time as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Granny was the matriarch, the centre of our family. She was a very special person.

When I think of Granny I think of her laughing from the deepest reaches of her diaphragm when retelling one of her favourite old jokes. “What did the ear wig say when it fell off the wall?” “Eeeaaaar we go!” I think of her love of poetry, and the way that from time to time, she would spontaneously erupt with a piece of poetry she’d memorized in her youth. I think of the way she’d catch flies, ants and spiders in her bare hands without flinching. I think of how excited and happy she got when a deer would wander into the garden at Bowen. I think of the way she used to sit in the sunroom, looking out over the ocean so peacefully, with a lovely calmness, a contentedness.

I spoke to Granny on the phone from Nova Scotia the day before she passed away. I told her I’d seen a wild rabbit in the yard that morning; she said, “Just like I used to see when I was young.” I told her to reach out her arms because I was giving her a big hug, and she said “I’m imagining it now.” I told her I loved her, and I said “Goodbye my love.” And she said “Goodbye darling.” And it hit me that we were in two very different, yet similar, places.

I looked out at the Atlantic Ocean, while Granny rested within view of the Pacific Ocean. Gran sounded peaceful, happy, calm. Gran was at the end of a life well lived, a life full of love and laughter, a beautiful life. And we, her family and friends, remain here, to honour her, to share our love for her, to remember a little girl named ‘Neta who climbed trees with her brother and mischievously snuck mulberries from the orchard; to remember a mother who raised 7 caring children, who grew into a graceful woman with permanent laugh lines, whose eyes spoke with the wisdom of age, whose smile showed true beauty, whose laugh spoke love.

A couple of days ago Uncle David noticed a scrap of paper by Gran’s bed. As he looked closer, he realized Gran had written on it. In her dear handwriting was a quote she’d scrawled down. It said, “Live truly, and thy life shall be a great and noble creed.”

Now it is Gran’s time to leave this life. Granny, we love you. And we will try our best to live truly, as you did.”