A lucky number?

I turned 88 last month. I almost wrote that I ‘celebrated’ that birthday, but then wondered if that was the right word. Clearly I was happy to have survived to that age. Indeed, I am still puttering along. For my survival I give most credit to good gene and some to luck. However, on my birthday a good new friend told me that in China, 8 was a lucky number. We agreed two 8s were certain to be even luckier. Apparently, ‘Eight’ in Chinese is pronounced ‘ba’ and sounds similar to fa (发, trad. 發), meaning “well-off” or “getting rich in a short time”.  I am not Chinese but, truly, I have had much luck for most of my life. In this blog I share some examples in chronological order.  

1932-42 I was born to two loving parents and was raised in a simple home in downtown Toronto with grandparents and two uncles. It was lucky that everyone read so I joined the local public library on my fifth birthday. A few years later I had a total hearing loss in one ear — probably the result of mumps. But, the lucky part was that my other ear worked well and still does. 

40 Grange Avenue

1942-52 My high school years brought more luck. Two of my teachers, sisters, reinforced my love of reading. An Englishman who taught geography was fond of Gilbert and Sullivan (G and S) operettas which he conducted. He urged me to audition for the comic lead in the one he would next conduct. Over the next 4 years I performed this challenging role in The Pirates of Penzance, the Mikado, Iolanthe, and HMS Pinafore. This was fun, rewarding, and helped build my confidence. In my final year I failed French after having dropped Latin, so I had to repeat the year. However, I learned to type and had another year of G and S. During that decade I was hospitalized with polio, but emerged with only minor residua. 

KoKo in the Mikado

1952-62 In 1952 great good luck enabled me to be accepted in medical school even after registration had officially closed. The next 6 years were hard work but exhilarating, and I did well scholastically. I ran a concert series, was part of the school paper, and helped write and act in the annual Xmas entertainment. I spent a marvellous summer of discovery hitch-hiking through Europe. Most importantly, it was during this period that  I met my future wife, Ann, in a swimming pool at a hospital where we both worked.

Ann – on our honeymoon

1962 -72  We married in 1962 – a tribute to our persistence and good fortune. What followed was a long, happy marriage to a lovely, loving wife.  From 1963 to 65 we lived in a tiny convenient apartment in Boston, learned to sail, made friends, and went to galleries and concerts. Then we spent two glorious years in London before returning to live and work in Rochester. We found a wonderful house in an inner city neighbourhood and became involved in the civil rights movement, opposed the Vietnam war, and supported Democratic candidates.  During these years our three attractive, bright, healthy children were born.

Me, Ann, Alexander, Charles, Tamara

1972-82  Around 1973 I was promoted and tenured. My research flourished. Those years were a good time for a devout liberal to live in the United States. It was when we enjoyed the first of several wonderful sabbaticals. On the last of these I discovered the joys of a moped. In 1975 we moved back to Canada. Luckily I chose Montreal over Hamilton or Ottawa. We had the good fortune to find an affordable house that was perfectly located at the bottom of a hill, close to grocery stores, bus stops, lovely parks, a great library, and two swimming pools. Snow permitting I  biked to work. 

Tomos the Moped; joyful in London

1982-92  Good funding and academic success continued during the following decade. This came far more from luck than talent because many of the programs to which I applied were new and it was easy to break in. During that time I became one of the first National Health Scientists and Chair of the Canadian Institute of Child Health. As well, I managed to establish a national injury surveillance system (CHIRPP) that continues to flourish. In 1982, during a sabbatical in London, I celebrated my 50th birthday. Ann gave me a clarinet which continues to bring me great joy. It is, perhaps, the best gift I have ever received. 

The clarinet

1992-2002 My final sabbatical was in London where we found a marvellous flat in a perfect location. During this period I received many awards including membership in the Order of Canada. The luck behind these awards resulted from being in the right place at the right time, guided by the right people. In 1994 construction of our Nest began, thanks to finding a wonderful location at a good price and Alexander’s desire to build it. With Charles’ help and support and a large team of worker-friends the end result was perfect. In 1995 I helped launch a new Journal and served as editor for 13 years.

The Nest in the Adirondacks

2002-12  The most important event of this decade was the birth of all five grandchildren. Four were born in Montreal and in 2015 Tamara and her family moved to Montreal to help care for Ann. Having all one’s children and grandchildren in the same city is unusual and immensely fortunate. During these years, and for a long while before and afterwards, we spent wonderful summertimes together at our Nest. 

Grandchildren: Emma, Elias, Romeo, Ollie, Oscar (top left clockwise)

2012-20  I retired before Ann died so that I could have more time with her and better care for her. Afterwards, I kept busy and coped. It helped being able to stay in touch with old friends, making some new ones, including one special person. I am in reasonably good health — well enough to be able to swim most days, to walk a lot, read, listen to music, write, and do some scholarly work. I received an honorary doctorate in 2012 and was promoted to the rank of Officer in the Order of Canada in 2017. 

Gifts from the Governor General of Canada

Finale: When I reread this it sounds as if I am tooting my horn. Perhaps, even worse, it may come across as false modesty. Neither is true. I genuinely credit luck far more than any talents I may have for these happy events. As for the Chinese belief in the number 8?  I have had great luck certainly, but I don’t expect to get much richer any time soon unless I win the lottery. Given that I no longer buy tickets, this seems unlikely. I am certainly not complaining. PS.. If I do buy another ticket, do my readers advise I choose one with many 8s? 

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7 Responses to A lucky number?

  1. Louis Hugo Francescutti says:

    Barry,
    I just love reading about you and what you are thinking and how you are doing. Keep those writings coming you are so inspirational.
    Warmest regards,

  2. judithfern says:

    Very interesting – two things crossed my mind, maybe three:

    Not sure you can say you were “raised” . . . . with grandparents and two uncles. Firstly, not sure about the grammar. (Could be that the two uncles were also being raised – maybe even the grandparents! More importantly – do you believe that the raising of a child ends when “they” (I say they because I am au courant) are about 9 or 10 (i.e., in your case before we moved to Rusholme and then to Glencedar?

    Secondly, I guess it makes sense to leave mother’s death out because you are talking about luck.

    Finally, and this is a little ghoulish – or whatever – but your kids will be grateful for this blog as it will be a help when that day comes that you, you know what . . . and there’s a service to be held and a speech to be made!

    J

  3. Patricia Kirby says:

    You see, some people do read this… and enjoy it, even though they may have a criticism or two about grammar.

  4. Igor Radun says:

    Nice story Barry!
    Regards,
    Igor
    Ps. Interesting to realize that someone was riding Yugoslavian Tomos moped in London in 1980s:)

  5. Andre Rousseau says:

    Barry, I assume that one of the eight items on your bucket list reads: “Live a life worth living” ?
    You can check that one off now and get working on the seven other items!
    Good luck! 🙂

  6. Todd Ing says:

    Barry, As your Chinese roommate at the JÚNIOR interns’ residence of the Montreal General Hospital in 1959, I am very proud of your vast knowledge in the Chinese language. Most mighty congratulations to your exemplary achievements! Warmest wishes. Todd Ing.

  7. Ruth Stein says:

    Really enjoyed reading your version of your life story! Look forward to hearing about the next decade as well.

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