Remembering Brent Cuthbertson

 BRENT CUTHBERTSON'S EULOGY - October 30, 2014 by Connie Russell

A number of people requested a copy of the eulogy I gave at Brent's service today, so I have attached it below. For those of you not able to attend, you should know that the room was jam-packed with family, friends, students, and colleagues. It was in a large hotel ballroom and still was standing room only - staff estimated there was at least 350 people there. The service was filled with tears, laughter, music, poetry, and stories. It was a wonderful celebration of Brent's life. 

It is wonderful to see so many of you here today to celebrate the life of Dr. Brent Cuthbertson. I am not remotely surprised to see such a large crowd, because I know that Brent touched and inspired many in his too short life. Thank you all for coming.

If anyone had suggested two weeks ago that I would be here today giving Brent’s eulogy, I would have scoffed. How absurd! Brent was so healthy, so full of life, such a vital presence that it was impossible to imagine a world without him. Yet here we are.

As you all know, Brent passed away peacefully on Tuesday, October 28 in the presence of loved ones. In the last week of his life, he took those of us who were members of what we came to call “Team Brent” on an epic journey. 

I was reflecting yesterday on how this journey was led in true Brent fashion. Brent was very intrigued by “map-less travel” – indeed, he loved heading into the wild without a map. He felt that there was much to learn about oneself as well as one’s relationship to other people, and to nature, through such travel. And last week, he took us on another map-less journey. For much of the time, we did not know where we were heading. Later, after we did have a sense of our destination, we were not really sure how we were going to get there and Brent, being a master teacher, ensured there were a few twists and turns still in store for us. And on this journey, we found ourselves needing to pay attention to group dynamics, to be compassionate with one another and with ourselves, and to lean on each other. As I spoke with the other folks on the journey, it became abundantly clear to me that each of us had learned something important this last week thanks to Brent. I, for one, had to learn, yet again, to let go of my need to plan and to manage; this journey remained unpredictable and uncontrollable to the very end, and I just had to go with Brent’s flow. 

This would no doubt make Brent chuckle.
But, now, let us focus on Brent’s life rather than his death. Brent was born on June 2, 1961 in Northern Rhodesia, in what is now Zambia. His family moved to Canada when he was a young boy and he lived in Canada for most of his childhood and adolescence. I gather from the stories that his parents Bruce and Ann told me that he was a spirited yet gentle child, a kind soul with just a wee bit of mischief in him. His brother Alan told me what a generous boy Brent was and his sister Debbie described him as her protector.

Brent’s love of the outdoors was evident from early on. A pivotal time for him was clearly his Camp Stephens days where he went first as a camper and later joined the staff. I was struck by how many of the postings on Facebook and on the online condolences site mentioned experiences with “Chase” (which was his nickname at that time). That he formed, and maintained, strong bonds with people at Camp Stephens is not a surprise given who Brent was. Indeed, he was the sort of person who, once you had him in your life, you wanted to keep him in your life.

Brent went on to earn a BEd in 1989 from the University of Winnipeg, an MA in Outdoor Education in 1992 from the University of Alberta, and a PhD in Outdoor Education in 1999, also from the University of Alberta. Brent joined the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism at Lakehead University in 1996 and was the Director of the School between 2007 and 2011. He was also an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Education.
Brent was the author of two textbooks and numerous articles, and he also wrote very good short stories and poetry on the side. He was internationally recognized for his expertise in outdoor leadership. His overarching concerns were our relationship to the natural world and our relationships with each other. As such, he was deeply committed to the flourishing of both natural and human communities and he saw these as intimately intertwined. Drawing inspiration from environmental philosophy, he urged outdoor leaders, and all of us, to consider the ethical and material implications of the choices we make – in how we travel, how we educate, what we eat, how we live.

Brent himself lived simply and was particularly critical of our society’s rampant consumerism. One could see that in the clothes he wore! He seemed to have what one might say was a rather limited rotation of clothing - I’ve seen quite a few comments about that blue Lake Superior sweater of his, for example. I also saw mention of his penchant for wearing socks in his Birkenstock sandals, which reminds me of the time he and I went to see one of the Shrek movies (Brent and I went to many movies together over the years and we both particularly enjoyed action flicks and cartoons). Anyway, in this movie, the wizard Merlin appears and is portrayed as a stereotypical male professor who wears socks in his sandals. Brent and I took one look at each other and started howling in laughter because, yes indeed, that was precisely what he had on his feet at that moment.

Brent lived in a very deliberate way, trying as much as he could to live his life in congruence with his values. He was humble about this attempt, knowing full well that we are all creatures rife with contradictions and that we often stumble, but that it is important that we continue trying to do the best that we can. This was a key concept he wanted to share with his students and I can see from the statements by his former students that this message was heard.
Students also speak of Brent as a brilliant instructor. He was clearly revered by his students. Indeed, many former students have shared how he impacted them, both professionally and personally. Many are now educators themselves in one setting or another and have described how Brent has been a role model for them. Others have talked about how he inspired them to think deeply and critically about a whole range of topics, to be compassionate, and to live deliberately. He has impacted hundreds of people over the years through his teaching and they, in turn, have impacted many others. What an amazing legacy!

In the tributes I have seen to Brent over this past week, a number of words pop up frequently: smart, kind, gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, ethical, genuine, playful, funny, inspiring. What a wonderful list. There also has been much mention of his warm smile, his wicked sense of humour, and his infectious laugh. All of these remembrances ring true for me. As well, for me, Brent was also a loyal and trusted friend. We had a brief stint as roommates when he kindly invited me to live with him in his home when I needed a place to stay. I recall those days very fondly. Cooking together, laughing together, drinking tea by the fireplace, with dogs Tinder and Pagan and cat Fisher listening to our philosophical chats about important stuff like our place in the natural world, religion, politics, and the relative merits of heavy metal and folk music.

Another word I would use to describe Brent now is happy. Seven years ago, Brent met Kim, the person he called his “greatest love.” Theirs truly was a fairytale romance and it warmed his friends’ hearts to see him so very, very happy. While Brent and Kim were married just a few short months ago, on July 7, 2014, they have packed a lifetime worth of good memories into their seven years together. Kim, thank you so much for making Brent so happy.
I want to share a poem that one of Kim’s dear friends sent her a couple of days ago. It sums up the gift Brent gave to Kim and to so many of us:
“The best kind of people are the ones who come into your life
and make you see the sun where you once saw clouds.
The people who believe you in so much, you start to believe in you too.
The people who love you for simply being you.
The once in a lifetime kind of people.”
Brent most certainly was one of those “once in a lifetime kind of people” for Kim and for many of us.
I want to close now with an excerpt from a favourite poem of Brent’s, Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day. In it, she asks, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This question resonated deeply with Brent and was one he asked not only of himself, but also of his friends and his students. As a way of honouring Brent’s life and memory, then, I challenge each of you to ask that question of yourself not only today, but in the days ahead, especially when you find yourself just going through the motions or being caught up in the demands of daily life. Let me repeat the question: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Dearest Brent, you did so very much with your own wild and precious life. You taught us. You inspired us. You made us better people. We love you and we will miss you and you will live on in our hearts.

Kat Elizabeth Connie, this is a stunning eulogy! I am so very thankful for all you have done for the people near and far from Brent and Thunder Bay. You are a gracious woman; no wonder Brent and you were such great friends. Thank you! xo

Zoë Herbert Routh Thank you for sharing the eulogy. He and all of you have been in heart and thoughts today.

Les Robinson Connie, it was an honour to attend today's gathering and listen to you present your wonderful Eulogy to Brent. So very nice to meet you and hear everyone's stories and remembrances first hand.

Gregory Hecky Beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with those of us who could not make the trip.

Alan Cuthbertson For those of Brent's friends who attended and supported my family from Thunderbay I thank you in this sad time. For those who travelled a long way to say farewell to a dynamic individual I thank you. For those who have been life long friends and have supported my family through this I thank you. For my family who have lost so much but have stood strong I thank you. Most of all to Kim Leach Cuthbertson who made my brother Brent Cuthbertson so very happy I can not thank you enough. It is a pleasure and an honour to know each and every one of you.

by Chase (Brent) Cuthbertson

The colour of life, of growth; the colour of young fiddlehead ferns under a layer of last year’s leaves or a new marsh lily beginning to uncurl and reach for surface sunlight; the colour of the majestic spruce and pines which stand as silent witnesses and pay little tribute to the passage of three canoes through a vast wilderness.

The colour of a windless sky and its shimmering reflection across the miles of water; the colour which describes so well the sheer expanse of the earth stretching in all directions to forever.

The colours of opposites, and yet somehow always found together. With the calm destroyed by rising gales, the lake turns to a deep darkness topped with the purest white spray. Long, tangled, wind-whipped hair flies sternward as muscles struggle for position. Eyes are fixed straight ahead, focused on the lee of some island a half-mile away while the mind is occupied with gaining the next 10 yards.

The colours of fire; the colours that reach out in regret of another day past, or that explode into view for the one who waits silently for morning’s new promise; both sunrise and sunset using whatever clouds are available to weave a pattern so beautiful, so breathtaking, so brief.

But these colours meld with each other and make up the moods, and the people of the trip: the green serenity of pure appreciation, the deep blue of laughter and good times, the black and white determination that reduces hard times to good memories, and the fire of friendship that smoulders, burns, and bursts into flames at different times. For these are all part of the whole and the trip cannot be without all of its colours together.
Chase wrote this poem to describe Camp Stephens Canoe Trips. We began using it for the Six Week Return Ceremony Benediction in the mid-80’s.


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