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Remembering Don Ross (1953-2018)

Posted on October 7th, 2018 by Eugen

Don Ross passed away peacefully on Wednesday, October 3, 2018 after a long illness which he fought patiently and bravely. Many who knew Don weren’t very aware that he was ill, that is how quietly he dealt with his struggle, a very admirable trait.

We write this note from memory and from conversations we had with Don over the years, and the spirit of what is written here is absolutely genuine while, hopefully, most of the specific facts/dates we quote are primarily correct. Don would have given us this kind of leeway in remembering him.

And to be remembered, yes, absolutely Don Ross should be, for a wide range of reasons. Not least of which he was a passionate, intelligent man who loved learning, the outdoors, the occasional beer and the frequent road trips. Don was raised in Nova Scotia and after undergraduate days at Acadia University, moved to Hamilton to study for his Masters in an area of the biological sciences. It was around this time that Don got involved in orienteering, after already having established himself as an ultimate backroads wanderer. There was nothing more quintessential to Don’s spirit than going off the beaten track, locally near Hamilton, further afield in rural Ontario or the Canadian Shield country, or further away in Canada or virtually anywhere in the US. I recall Don once driving to the West Coast via Arkansas or Louisiana, as part of his ongoing attempt to visit all of the 50 U.S. states. Wow. And to think that much of this was done in the 1980s, in Don’s shiny, light blue Dodge Omni.

I further recall Don on a drive with two or three young people in tow, orienteers from Europe, driving on a long trip through the Catskills or some backroads in central New York State, with his car running on literally three cylinders, clunking along but always getting to where he was headed. And though Don was magic with a map (he was Canadian Champion in his age category several times, including one awesome race in Alberta that I recall), he also loved to throw it away and intuit a route, whether in city or country (but especially the country) by nature of the compass, or the sun, or just plain luck. Unfortunately, we ran out of luck on one trip back from New Brunswick in the mid 1980s, I believe, on the Quebec – Maine border, where our instincts and lack of a detailed topographic map had us winding up a mountain top road in the pouring rain. After fording, literally, a couple washout streams, we decided we couldn’t go on further, and doubled back only to sleep uncomfortably in the car at a roadside stop somewhere near Riviere du Loup. What great memories.

As regards to orienteering, Don was active in the sport, both competing and organizing from an early stage, since about 1980. He was committed to the Toronto Orienteering Club, after an initial stint as part of the Hamilton King’s Foresters. He organized events right up to the highest level, including the 1994 World Cup events at the Ganaraska Forest.

He was also a course setter for the World Masters Games in Edmonton in 2005. Don was an avid, if amateur, map maker, and loved the minute details of orienteering as so many of us do. Again, if there was a time Don would love us to remember him by in regards to orienteering, I would say it was his runs in the mid to late 1980s and into the 1990s while running “semi-elite” at places like Smoky Lake Alberta and beyond. When Don was on target, and while he could still be fast, he was hard to beat in technical terrain.  On the other hand, Don’s favourite saying was ‘all the different route choices end up to be the same, anyway.’

I believe not too many people remember that for a period of timehe had a column called “Just Ask Don” in the TOSIO Times where he would seriously answer the silliest orienteering questions people asked.

Don’s work life was efficient, and he was very valued in his accountancy roles at the insurance companies he worked with (including Lombard, later Northbridge). Don always amused me because he would politely explain how he had to very carefully schedule vacations since no one else in his department was capable of duplicating the work he did while he was absent! And I don’t think he was kidding.

In recent years, Don was still as active as ever in the orienteering, scrabble and trivia league communities, though he would complain about not being as fast or sharp as he once was. And as already outlined, Don was ultimately a positive soul, a trooper, right through to his last days fighting his illness. Every trip and journey now without Don is one that is less rich, and he will be very much missed.

Svatka’s comment: We did lots of hiking on Bruce trail and other trails, with Don always carrying his book of plants.  He would get all excited by some totally unremarkable little plant, barely visible, exclaiming “I haven’t seen this species yet. I have to add it to my list.” Another quote, “Plants are easier to identify than birds. Birds tend to fly away before you have a chance to examine them.” After many two car hikes, I suggested that Don experience hiking in Europe, where you hike literally from pub to pub (because every little village has one) and on top of every hill is a refreshment place with two basic supplies: beer and sausages.  Luckily, he experienced it a year or so ago with Rudy Chroust and myself and thoroughly enjoyed it.

To quote a piece of Don’s navigation advice, which seems somewhat apt in the circumstances ‘why not make things easier by choosing a route which is fool proof and leads more certainly to your final destination’. In a way, I believe that is what Don may have been thinking as his great, friendly, intelligent and eventful life drew to a close. Chose the best route to your final destination.

Cheers to Don Ross, and a great life lived

Written by Eugene Mlynczyk with the help of Svatka Hermanekand Raymond Chung