The Columbia Valley has lost a beacon of goodwill and friendship. John Norman Nicholson, the oldest senior in the province supported by Community Living BC, passed away from pneumonia at the age of 92 on Thursday, January 31st.
“John’s longevity is surely a reflection of his being embraced by his community, the supports he received and his feeling of being included, which are key factors to a good quality of life for all people,” said Jennifer Terwood, the Kootenay Region manager of Community Living BC.
John’s life story is a success for the community living concept, in which developmentally delayed adults are encouraged to live and work in the community, rather than staying in relative isolation.
“For the first time we have a larger population of people with developmental disabilities aging in the community, and living longer,” she said.
A resident at Mt. Nelson Place care facility since 1988, Mr. Nicholson was born with an educational disability, but is remembered as a man with emotional intelligence far above average and a legacy we can all learn from.
“John touched the lives of many people with his vibrant smile and great sense of humor,” said Donna Jefferson, manager of Mt. Nelson Place. “He was a good friend to many and a valued member of our community. He can teach us all to be kind and to love one another.”
Born on November 27th, 1920 to parents Albert and Vera Nicholson in the community of Swamp Point in northern B.C., John spent much of his life in institutions with his younger brother, Allan, who also shares his brother’s educational disability.
The two lived together from 1933 to 1959 at New Westminster’s Woodlands School, a facility documented in a 2001 administrative review by former B.C. Ombudsman Dulcie McCallum as being a centre of systematic violence and abuse.
From 1959 to 1972, John and Allen would live at the Tranquille facility outside of Kamloops. Despite sharing rough addresses in their earlier years, the brothers would eventually find peace in their new mountain home of Invermere.
Living at Pynelogs Cultural Centre until 1989, which was then a facility for the developmentally delayed, John and Allen would get the stability they craved at Mt. Nelson Place later that year.
“John finally had his own bedroom,” Ms. Jefferson added. “His walls were adorned with wolf pictures and keepsakes that he collected over the years. He spent hours in his room doodling and cutting out papers and Allan and him would sit side-by-side watching sports or the news together.”
With a new home and support from dedicated staff came new adventures and opportunities. John developed a love for sports and was talented at bowling, Ms. Jefferson added.
“He would often walk to the baseball diamonds or watch the local hockey games,” she said. “John bowled right up to his 90s; he had an incredibly strong throw and always had a consistent score.”
Although he loved recreation, John was also instilled with a strong work ethic and sense of community pride. The local man worked at the Achievement Centre in Athalmer, where he assisted at the greenhouse and used his creative skills to participate in woodworking projects. During the mid 1980s, John took on more responsibility by accepting a position as a courier, delivering documents for the Invermere & District Hospital.
“He took great pride in this position,” Ms. Jefferson added. “The ladies in the hospital office always made a fuss over John, buying him chocolates for each birthday. Just recently, they shared with me that John reminded them weeks ahead that his birthday was fast approaching.”
Always a ladies man, the Invermere local was known for his chivalrous attitude.
“He was such a gentleman; every time we went out he was out there holding the door for all the gals,” she added.
John was also keen to cultivate spiritually. He was proud of his Christian faith and would rarely miss Sunday service at Valley Christian Assembly.
“He loved the music and the church people,” She said. “He was a member of their family and they always treated him very kind and he embraced them.”
A memorial service was held for John at Valley Christian Assembly on Saturday, February 4. He is survived by his brother Allan, who continues to keep his legacy of warmth and positivity alive.
“It was the most intimate little service with about 40 people and nobody wanted to get up and talk, but all of a sudden this little group of people started talking,” she added. “There were 15 people at the end of the service that mentioned some little thing they remembered about Johnny. His smile was brought up in every conversation to remember the kind of wonderful person that he was.”