Obituary of James Porter
Passed away peacefully on May 13, 2020 at 95 years of age. Jim was a bonnie son of Scotland, born in Alexandria on the banks of Loch Lomond in 1924. He drove a grocery truck at 16, and an ambulance at 17 during the blitz of Scottish shipyards. He later worked at the Blackburn aircraft factory in Dumbarton, Scotland. In the 1950s, he emigrated to Canada with the goal of a better life for his family. He found this in Toronto and later in St. Catharines, Ontario.
He is predeceased by his loving wife Margaret in 2000, and by his sisters Jean and Agnes and brothers David and John.
He is survived by his son David Alexander Porter (Joan Acosta) of Vancouver; granddaughter Erin Kathryn Porter (Leonardo Maia) of Boca Raton, Florida; and grandchildren Olivia, Luca, and Mateo. He is also survived by his partner of 17 years, Ada Wilson, his devoted caregiver and friend.
Jim will be lovingly remembered by nieces Nancy, Ann, and Dorothy and nephews Scott and Ronald. He will be fondly remembered for his work by comrades at Massey Ferguson, the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW), and later UNIFOR.org. Throughout his life Jim was a devoted unionist and believed deeply in making a better life for everyone in a prosperous country. He and his friend Gerry Michaud of Napanee, formerly of St. Catharines, were a dynamic duo in Ontario union circles.
He will be deeply missed by his friends, family, and all who knew him.
A small family service will be held at the George Darte Funeral Chapel in St. Catharines during the week of May 20, 2020. Due to the current COVID pandemic, a celebration of life will take place at a later date. Donations to the Salvation Army in the name of James Porter would be his fondest wish http://salvationarmystcatharines.com.
Because of the small size of our family service, we would welcome email wishes from friends and colleagues. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James Porter was born in Alexandria, Scotland on August 19, 1924. His birthplace was two miles from the famed Loch Lomond.
He was the youngest of five children, including sisters Jean and Agnes, and brothers John and David. His brothers lived their lives in Scotland and his sisters emigrated to the United States and lived mainly in New York State on Long Island, in NYC, in Tarrytown, and later in Ticonderoga. My cousins from my dad’s side of the family continue to live in Scotland and the US. My cousins Nancy, Ann and Scott from my mother’s side all live in Canada. Scott lives in Nova Scotia, and Nancy and Ann are joining us today for this service.
My dad grew up in Scotland during the Great Depression. His family was poor and he helped out by delivering baskets for a local grocer. He once told me that his schoolteacher worried about him and asked the local grocer to give him extra odd jobs to earn additional income for his family.
My dad described his older sister Jean as the backbone of the family. She ran the household until in her early 20s she emigrated to the US to find a better life. My dad’s two brothers worked in a local factory when he was growing up. His sister Agnes worked in service in large Downtown Abbey style country houses. She would later emigrate to the US to join her sister Jean where they both worked as housekeepers on the large estates of famous Americans such as the Rockefellers.
At 14, Dad was pulled out of school by his mother and started to work as a van boy delivering groceries to country houses all over the Highlands. In 1941, at age 17, when air raids were starting to be carried out over Scottish shipyards, he enlisted in the Air Raid Patrol and was certified to drive an ambulance.
At age 18, the day he enlisted in the RAF, the family got news that his brother David had been captured by the Japanese in Java, after his commanding officer and 5 men had sailed a boat from Malaya to the Dutch East Indies, only to find that the Dutch had surrendered in much the same way as the British surrendered in Singapore in the early days of WW II. Dad’s brother David was captured and spent the rest of the war years in a prison camp in Borneo before his release in 1945.
Dad was disappointed to be sent home on a medical discharge (tuberculosis) from the RAF in 1942 soon after his enlistment. He spent months in hospital, and never completed his training. His friend at the time, Jim McKean, said to him: “Well if you can’t fly them, let’s see if you can build them.”
After his release from hospital in 1943, Jim McKean’s dad found him a good job that put him in charge of a mechanical test lab at the Blackburn Aircraft factory in Dumbarton. At the factory, they built Sunderland flying boats that took off on the river Clyde in front of the factory.
Dad had several young women working for him in his crew. One of them was Margaret MacGregor. After a while the two started dating and things seem to be going well. However, one day they had a serious disagreement at work, and my mom stated emphatically that she was going to join the Army and leave Dumbarton to join her sister Sgt Jean Williamson in England. Dad replied that he doubted she had the guts to go through with it. Well, you can probably guess what happened next.
Several days later, mom boarded a train to join her sister Jean. Both served side by side in the Auxiliary Territorial Service at the Army Post Office in Nottingham, England, for the remainder of the war. Jean and Margaret were invited to march together in London in the parade that celebrated the war’s end. It was a proud moment for both sisters. Dad continued to work at Blackburn Aircraft which now turned its efforts to rebuilding after the war and instead of testing aircraft parts, he began testing concrete forms for pre-fabricated houses.
My dad and mom patched things up and got back together and on April 21, 1948, they married. Then in 1949, I was born.
During this period my dad rode a motorcycle with a side car and he told me he cycled in the rain from his workplace to be at my mom’s bedside at my birth. He remembered that he carried a bouquet of flowers for her inside a flight suit. Apparently, after a difficult birth, my mom’s first words were, “never again…” which explains why I am an only child.
In 1955, a sign advertising jobs in Canada for enterprising young people caught his eye. He decided to take the challenge and emigrated to Toronto in 1956 in search of greener pastures. My mother and I joined him in February 1957. Shortly thereafter Jim Williamson, who was married to Margaret’s sister Jean, also emigrated to Toronto. And just like my mom and me, Jean and her children followed.
Dad got a job in an aircraft parts test lab until the cancellation of the AVRO Arrow project. He then bagged groceries at a Dominion store on Bayview at York Mills for a year and a half before getting a job, with the help of my Uncle Jim, at Massey Ferguson. Dad rose through the ranks to become union president at Massey Ferguson, before accepting a job with the UAW as an international representative based in St. Catharines.
In 1982, my parents moved from Toronto to St. Catharines. And as most of you know, my dad was totally invested in his work for the United Auto Workers Union, and later CAW, and UNIFOR. He was well known and well liked in the community, and along with his pal Gerry Michaud, made some great strides in negotiating contracts for workers in the Niagara region.
For as long as I can remember, the most important thing in my parents’ life was to spend time with friends and family, including visits to Vancouver to visit Joan and me and their beloved granddaughter Erin. They loved parties, gatherings, singing, and dancing. Unfortunately, that all ended in the late 80s when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
She spent the last years of her life at Heritage Place in Virgil. During that time my dad was devoted to her care, visiting her care home every day for six years. The strain was enormous, and it took a toll on his outlook and mood.
Dad was fortunate to get re-acquainted with an old friend, Ada Wilson, after my mother’s death in 2000. My dad and Ada were friends from his days as union president and Ada’s work in staff benefits at Massey.
Dad and Ada were able to spend the past 17 years together, enjoying life in ways that had evaded my dad for a long time. They took wonderful trips to Nova Scotia, Scotland, Hawaii, and Florida. Dad enjoyed hosting dinners at home and at restaurants. Everyone learned never to reach for the cheque at a restaurant. He would always beat you to it!
Dad and Ada especially looked forward every August to their trip to Port Elgin, the CAW Camp. It was only when my dad felt he no longer could travel to Port Elgin that I knew he was on the final run.
Ada was his stalwart right hand and partner during his last few years. I recall my trips here twice a month and our outings to Red Lobster in Niagara Falls. There was no Admiral’s Feast that could tame dad. Bring on the crab claws, lobster tails and shrimp. He knew what he liked.
Thank you, Ada, for the love and care you showed dad. You were his fun-loving adventurer and companion during the early years, and his rock and support during more recent years. Joan and Erin and I want to thank you for your unwavering care and support. And thanks to Dwight and Shelley for their support in dad’s final few months.
In closing, I would like to thank you all for joining us to today for this celebration, and for your love and support of my dad and our family.
Gerry Michaud remembers Jim Porter
My apologies to you David and to Ada that we are unable to attend the service for Jim. Today is the first time in a few days that I've been able to crawl out of bed. I had hoped that I might recover by Thursday in order to be with you but that's not in the cards. The following are a few things that I'd like to say…
Jim Porter was my friend for close to 40 years and for most of that period he was my best friend. Those of you present know him as a father, life partner, uncle or just that nice old man who was Ada's partner. The Jim Porter I knew was a dynamic and powerful left wing trade unionist who led his local union through good times and bad. I first knew him as a fellow delegate to our old UAW Canadian Council. We were only nodding acquaintances then, but when he came to St. Catharines as International UAW rep I got to know Jim Porter the man and a better man would be hard to find. In contract negotiations with 14 bargaining units we hammered out progressive agreements for our members and had a lot of fun doing it together. He and Margaret were quickly adopted by my children as members of the family and by Marlene and I as dear friends. We took vacations together and we even got Margaret to march in her first Labour Day Parade!
Jim was quick to talk with pride about the accomplishments of his son David and his granddaughter, Erin, "the Wee Un".
He never ever refused to help with our local union projects; like serving on the first board of the St. Catharines and District Unemployed Health Centre and was a tremendous help in getting it off the ground. He had a way with people that made even his opposition across the bargaining table like and respect him and I swear when he first came to St. Catharines, after about 6 months he knew more people than this lifelong resident did. He was always there when someone needed a hand. He supported more charities than I have fingers on both hands,
When he went through the tremendous strain caused by Margaret's Alzheimer's disease, he showed what a devoted husband he was. Not many would have appeared at the nursing home every day without fail to spoon feed her, take her laundry home, wash it and return it the same day. During the tri-daily trips to home he noticed that the home's sound system was very much sub-par.
So of course, he bought them a new one; and following Margaret's death one of Margaret's nurse’s car failed...so...Jim gave her his car and bought a new one for himself. I'm surprised knowing him that he didn't do it the other way round.
I wasn't long after Margaret's death that Ada came permanently into Jim's life. A lot of men don't find one good woman during their lifetime. Like me, Jim found two. He and Ada knew each other from the days back at Massey Ferguson where she was the Company benefit rep and Jim was the local union president and like Jim's former secretary, became a friend of Margaret's as well. With my Marlene now dead, I was always grateful that Jim and Ada took my new wife Sharon into the inner circle of our friendship.
Jim and Ada formed a great partnership. It was fun to watch Ada make Jim look for bargains. He had always felt if he wanted something you just paid the asking price. Ada taught him differently.
She also gave him care in his final years that was above and beyond. As I told my children once, " I see you guys sporadically, a wife is here each and every day, 24/7 and deserves the credit and respect that she earns every day. She is the person I can rely on to be there when needed. And so it was with Margaret and Ada. Ada I am grateful to you for looking after my friend in his old age when he needed help most.
To David and Ada and the rest of the family Sharon and I extend our condolences on your loss. Jim was a great man in every sense of the word.
I shall miss the friend that taught me so much. In 40 years, the only argument we ever had was who was going to pick up the check. I once said at another funeral that the mark of a man is if he left this world a better place than it was when he came into it. By that standard and by any other that I can think of, Jim Porter was a man!
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