Pictou Advocate sports

The pilot who came ‘of a good stock’


My parents’ generation used to have a saying that was quite common in conversations back in the post-war years.

A specific person, they would suggest, “comes of a good stock.” It was a way of describing someone from a family of distinct character. It was meant as a meaningful compliment.

I thought of it recently.

First came the bulletin that a Canadian Forces helicopter, flying from the warship HMCS Fredericton, had crashed in the Mediterranean Sea off Greece with six people aboard.

Nova Scotians, already reeling from the life-changing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dreadful shooting rampage that scarred forever the lovely landscape in Colchester County, couldn’t possibly be prepared for more bad news.

It wasn’t long before we learned the Halifax-based crew never had a chance.

The question jumped out in everybody’s mind: Were more Nova Scotians involved? We couldn’t help but fear the worst. Sure enough, that’s what was soon confirmed. Nova Scotians did die in another tragedy. Later, we were told one of the victims was from New Glasgow.

It was a MacDonald.

I knew as soon as I learned his identity, if I didn’t know Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, I surely would have known someone in his family. That’s usually the way it is with Pictou County MacDonalds.

No, I didn’t recognize his name. That didn’t surprise me since I’ve lived away from God’s country for 51 years. In fact, I realized I didn’t even know Brenden’s dad, school teacher Peter.

A couple phone calls to acquaintances in New Glasgow and, yes indeed, I knew the family. That’s when I found out Brenden, who grew up on the west side, was definitely from “a good stock” — the grandson of the late Harold and Irene MacDonald.

Harold was a dear friend that I spent a lot of time with during my working years in the county. His wife Irene’s and my wife Jane’s nursing careers crossed at the Aberdeen Hospital just over 50 years ago.

I wasn’t at all surprised when I started hearing and reading good things about Brenden. One newspaper account quoted one of his instructors as saying he was “a natural pilot.” A comment by another officer said Brenden “exemplified the best of the best.”

That’s what got me thinking of his grandfather.

Harold, who died in 2003 at age 82, had been a long-time car salesman for Vee-Eight Motors, the old Ford dealership on Archimedes Street that had a bowling alley upstairs.

Selling cars wasn’t just a day job to him. He loved the car business. I could understand that since my father had been the Chrysler-Plymouth dealer in New Glasgow for four decades.

And, wow, did Harold ever love sports — especially volunteering for any challenges that came his way.

One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Harold is how happy he was helping leagues, teams and athletes.

Thank goodness for people like him. If you were around the county in the 1950s and ’60s, you would know what I mean.

Harold never said “no” to any requests for help.

He was president of the Pictou County High School Hockey League when it was in its finest years. He loved high school sports.

I first got to know Harold when the Stellarton Albions were in the Halifax and District Baseball League in the ’50s. He was always helping in any way he could. When the H&D loop folded and was replaced by the Pictou County Twilight Baseball League, he and I worked together on the executive. When I joined that group, Harold was the first person to offer any assistance he could give.

When the New Glasgow Rangers were in senior hockey in the 1960s, we were again side by side, helping the club in any position offered to us. After the Rangers — and senior hockey itself — folded, Harold was one of the first volunteers starting the Northumberland Junior B Hockey League, the forerunner of the current Maritime Junior A circuit.

His love for local sports was always noticed, even by people who didn’t know him personally.

If you felt all his free time was in sports, you were mistaken. Other things also benefitted from his contributions.

He was very involved with Branch 34 of the Royal Canadian Legion. He helped the Scotia Rink Commission in various ways.

His efforts weren’t overlooked. In 1993, he got a well-deserved honour when he was inducted into the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame as a builder.

So here we are, 17 years since his passing, wondering if our county and province can suffer anymore tragic events.

The coronavirus forced many Nova Scotians to temporarily lose their jobs, close their businesses, stay in their homes, keep at least six feet from others, and wash their hands more than we ever imagined.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was the wild shooting rampage that claimed 22 innocent lives at a time when families couldn’t even hold proper funeral services or proper burials for their loved ones.

Capt. MacDonald, of course, wasn’t the only Nova Scotian losing his life when the Cyclone helicopter went down. Sub.-Lieut. Matthew Pyke, a naval weapons officer, was from Truro, Sub.-Lieut. Abbigail Cowbrough was living in Dartmouth.

But back to Brenden MacDonald’s family.

That “good stock” label I attached to his grandfather could just as easily be attached to his grandmother. Irene, the love of Harold’s life for 60 years, was also a kind, caring person who loved to help others. For a long time, she was a very important part of the Aberdeen’s nursing staff.

I may not have known Brenden — or his parents — but I certainly knew that Harold and Irene were a couple to be admired by everyone around them. Obviously they handed down their finest qualities to their offspring.

My condolences to the family.