Love, Duty and Loss

On July 19, 2015, in Uncategorized, by admin

When I look back over the past few years of writing about life in the Valley when the spirit has moved me, I realize that far too many entries are related to the loss of a fixture in the firmament of our community life.  I suspect that’s because, for most of us, life here is mostly to be lived, and we tend to stop to comment on it only when a particular event must be marked.

Last week, Waterville Valley was once again saddened by the loss of one of our own, when John McKinnon passed away suddenly of pancreatic cancer. John and his wife, Deb, and their two children, Eliza and Ian, have been a part of our lives practically forever.  Their family is a constant, volunteering and offering their support selflessly in just about every capacity.

I first met John and the McKinnon clan through the Waterville Valley Elementary School when we moved here as typically clueless mountain emigres.  Eliza and Ian were Big Kids, and John and Deb were welcoming parents who immediately made us feel at home.  It’s impossible to remember an event or a cause that John and Deb didn’t volunteer at or support in some way.

One way or another, though we were only casual friends, John McKinnon managed to play a role in the very best and very hardest moments of my life.

When generous friends scored a coveted evening at Chef Franz Dubach’s home and invited our tight circle for a once-in-a-lifetime night out, we enlisted John and his brainchild Waterville Valley Taxi to get us home safely.  If I stop to think about it for even a moment, I realize that there is no reason in the world John needed give up his own Saturday night and put up with a bunch of tipsy, giggling adults (or, for that matter, to allow me to sit in the folding chair he’d thoughtfully provided in the cargo area of his Honda Odyssey because we exceeded the capacity of his erstwhile cab).  John didn’t operate a taxi company because it was a high-profit business.  He did it out of a sense of duty, knowing that far too many of his friends ended up behind the wheel after a night out, when they shouldn’t be driving.

A few years later, when my father power-dived into severe dementia, I reached out to John to help me settle his affairs.  John listened solemnly to our somewhat complicated family situation, then provided me with thoughtful and just advice.  He made sure that all our affairs were in properly in order and, in retrospect, he barely charged me for his time.  He helped me feel in control of a situation that had spiraled so fast it still takes my breath away.  He had that capacity: to listen carefully, smile almost sadly, then to calmly lay out your options.  He’d give you the whole range, but he also had a way of making sure you knew what was the right choice, too.

I can honestly say, in a half century and counting on this planet, I’ve known very few families so attuned to the needs of others as the McKinnons.  John (and, of course, Deb and their children) have always embodied the spirit of noblesse oblige to me.  Whatever they’ve accomplished, earned, or were given in life, they’ve more than given back.  John McKinnon — father, husband, friend, talented multi sport athlete, attorney, and community leader — will be greatly missed.  I know I speak for all members of our community when I offer Deb, Eliza, and Ian our deepest sympathies.