In Memoriam

Roger Warner, Red Deer, 1950A few days before my dad died we had a boring conversation about Charles Dickens.

This was in the Intensive Care Unit at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary. My dad was propped up in his hospital bed, trailing rubber hoses in every direction, and I was perched uncomfortably on the arm of a chair near his good ear.

I mentioned how on my trip to the UK a couple years back I’d made a project of picking up all Dickens’s novels in hardcover as I found them in used bookstores. I’d thought my collection was complete, but only a few weeks before, while looking at my bookshelf, it had suddenly occurred to me that I’d overlooked Little Dorrit.

That was it. Not my most enthralling story, you see. But we had a lot of time to kill during dad’s final week in the hospital, so he didn’t seem to mind.

My story reminded him that he’d once taken a copy of Little Dorrit along on a date with a girl in Red Deer. They were having a picnic, it started to rain, they hurriedly gathered their things and ran for shelter, and it was only later that dad realized he’d left his book on the grass at the picnic site. He trudged through the rain to retrieve the book and found it irremediably soaked through.

Roger and Michael Warner(His story reminded me, in turn, of the leaky roof that once destroyed a whole shelf of books at his house in Craven, so we talked about that crazy house for a while.)

Dad’s Little Dorrit story was almost as boring as mine. It’s obvious why it had never occurred to him to share it before. He probably hadn’t thought about that ruined book in fifty years.

Whenever I think of him being gone, I think of that Little Dorrit story, and all the equally mundane memories locked inside his head that I never got to hear. Memories that waited half a century or more to be triggered by the right combination of words or sensations, that waited like long-unconsulted volumes in the library’s loneliest stacks for someone to come along and riffle their pages, only to crumble to dust before their big moment arrived.

I’d like us to use this website, those of us who knew and loved my father, to preserve a few dusty volumes against obliteration. Use the comments section below to share your memories of my dad – the mundane  as well as the extraordinary ones.

-Michael.

Roger Warner Vancouver

Jan 24, 2013. If you have any good photos of my dad, especially from a period not already represented among the photos on the Life page, please email them to me. If you don’t have my email, leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch with you.

Jan 25, 2013. I’ve added a new page with dad’s Farewell message to his friends. There were some people on his contact list that I wasn’t able to reach because of missing or out-of-date emails. Please ensure all dad’s friends get the news of his passing.

Feb 13, 2013. Added a page of miscellaneous Photos. Any more good ones out there?

Mar 9, 2013. Added two more early stories to the page of Roger’s Selected writings.

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14 thoughts on “In Memoriam

  1. There are so many stories I have that Roger shared a big part in. I remember the stories he would tell. I also remember sometimes having to think really hard to try and figure out if they were true or just for entertainment. One time when my friend Leila was over for a visit, during one of Roger’s many stays with us, he started telling her about the ‘snow snakes’ that live in Saskatchewan and only in Saskatchewan. Leila was hooked and the more she listened the more outrageous Roger’s tale became. I’m sure that at some point each and everyone of us there were convinced that ‘Saskatchewan Snow Snakes’ were real! Roger and Leila formed a bond that day. Roger had a way with telling stories that always made me feel like I was there, like I was part of the story. When he would come to visit Roger and I would stay up until 3 and 4 in the morning, most of the time he was telling me stories about 43 rd avenue and the adventures he had there, about his travels across Canada, the different jobs he’d had or in true Roger tradition total bull shit. I will miss hearing his voice but I’ll always be glad that we shared those times together, loving and laughing.

  2. I remember when Roger was a young boy and we were playing “ghost”. Mom and Dad were out. Roger would put on sheets and raced through the house trying to scare his younger siblings. I, of course, was not scared! You bet I was! Even though I had helped Roger put on the sheets, He was so convincing that I sometimes thought it was real.

    Or there was the time when Roger, being mad at something Earl did, took a swing at him. Earl ducked and Roger put his hand through the window. He came calmly downstairs to where I was and with his other hand covering the main cut asked me what should he do about it. There was a very small cut on his finger, which was the only one I could see, and I said “Don’t be such a baby. It just a small cut I’ll put a bandage on it.” He calmly removed his hand that was covering the cut and said “Not that one. This one!”. There was blood gusting out of his hand everywhere. I couldn’t believe he was so calm about it. We taped it up but he had that scar on his hand for years and years to come.

    Another of the fond memories I have of him is when he tried to be an entrepreneur. The Harlem Globetrotters were in Red Deer at the high school and he decided that we (note the WE meaning mainly me) would make and sell popcorn at the game. He corraled some oher friends to help us and we make pot after pot after pot of popcorn. We had a hard time keeping up with him. (He was doing the selling.) I’m not sure how he did it but in his usual persuasive manner he convinced me that I had earned .50 cents for my efforts and that he had to use the rest for his “expenses”. He could almost talk me into anything in those days.

    I could go on and on about my memories of him when we were younger and growing up on 43rd Avenue and I will be back to tell you some more later. I just know that I will miss him and think of him often.

  3. Karen and Russell Workun on January 25, 2013 at 12:54 am said:

    We have been fortunate to know Roger since 1998, having all migrated to the Fairview region and joined the college around the same time. Since then we have shared countless stories, indulged in visiting most of the Chinese restaurants of the neighboring communities, exchanged books, and opened up about our lives, loves and regrets. Especially after his leave from the college, he often ended up at our house, his ‘place of refuge’ as he called it, always in the same chair at the table pontificating on the solutions to any number of the world’s problems. In addition to his flair for the English language and his appreciation of the pun, Roger’s pride would shine brightest when telling us of Michael’s most current accomplishment or of their latest vacation together. Never afraid to shy away from a good, boisterous hoot; one particular daytrip he and Karen took to Fort St. John fashioned side-splitting laughter every time they recalled a certain, very private, episode along their route. We are especially pleased to have recently spent the better part of a day with him in Calgary; continuing our stories from where we last left off, simply adding another chapter to our novel of life, not certain if it was fiction, historical, or somewhere in the comic section. We miss his wit, his laugh and his sincerity. Roger will occupy a special consignment in the space reserved in our memory for true friends.
    Karen and Russell Workun

  4. I met Roger while he was working on a proposal for his position at Fairview College (a task that, characteristically, took over walls, floors and every flat surface in his apartment in North Vancouver). I worked for and with him for over 10 years at the college – mostly long-distance.
    He was an inspired idea man who could – and did – make the impossible happen.
    He was a consummate diplomat with a honeyed radio voice backed up by a brilliant mind.
    He was a talented journalist in both voice and print media.
    He loved his work – and put his heart, soul and a great many overtime hours into it.
    He could keep a fascinating conversation going between dusk and dawn – and often did.
    He was a unashamed foodie and knew where the best was to be found – and loved to share that knowledge.
    He was a gentleman, a humanitarian, and a stalwart friend.
    He was larger than life, in every way.
    He has left a very big hole, but one that will collect fond memories from everyone who knew him.
    In one of his emails, not long after he moved to Calgary, he told me: “The sad truth is that the days do slip by and you crawl into bed promising yourself you’ll phone/write your friend tomorrow, by noon, if not earlier.”
    Alas, I am just as guilty. The days go by too quickly and life gets ever more complicated. One always assumes one’s friends will be there. I must do better, in his memory.
    If anyone reading this would like to contact me, please email me at comoxburns at gmail dot com

  5. **Many thanks to dad’s colleague at Fairview College, Cheryl Frank, who emailed me the 2002 photo I’ve added to the “Life” page. I’d also like to thank Don Whiteford of Grande Prairie, who emailed me the following memories, which he said I was welcome to post on the website.**

    This is Don Whiteford in Grande Prairie—a friend of your dad’s for the past 15 years. I’m so sorry to hear the news about your dad’s passing but certainly appreciate that you let me know.

    Thank you so much for including his final message to his friends in your email. Your father always had a beautiful way with words and in my mind’s ear, I could hear his voice reading them aloud. As I read them, I realized I was both smiling and crying at the same time.

    As a sales rep for CKYL in Peace River, I originally knew your dad as a client, since he did all the advertising bookings for Fairview College. In short order, though, we became good friends, partly because of our shared media background, but more because we both liked to hear and tell good stories…and your dad could tell some doozies!

    I had lunch with Roger just before he moved to Calgary and I wondered at the time if I’d ever see him again. Sadly, the answer was no. Please accept my condolences and know that you are in my thoughts and prayers at this time.

    Roger was a good friend and I will miss him.

  6. I too, worked with Roger when he was with the Fairview College. We collaborated on many projects together for the town, from events with the Forgotten Jewels of the Peace tourism initiative to events with the Chamber of Commerce. I found him so creative/passionate in terms of marketing and promotion. I remember on one occassion we were working at the trade show booth together for the Chamber of Commerce. There were a basket of these colourful water-filled balls on the end of a rubberband. The kids at the trade show were buying them up and Roger was out in front of the booth demonstrating how to use it or something to that effect! It was so much fun to be around him and his positiveness was infectious. I missed Roger a lot when I moved on to another position and he left the college. There will never be another person like him and I was blessed to have met and gotten to know him for a brief time.

  7. Thanks Michael for providing this opportunity.

    Roger thought and acted “outside the box”. Fairview College hoped for the world with only a shoe-string budget. Roger realized it made economic and reader sense to advertise in the classified adds of newspapers for program recruitment. No glamour or glitz but very likely as effective as expensive ads.

    Without Roger’s encouragement and persistence I would never have thought it possible to narrate a series of radio ads referred to as the Green Space series and broadcast on CKYL radio in Peace River with sponsorship from Canadian Tire. These one minute gardening tips taught me a tremendous amount about radio, editing and message clarity. These were all second nature to Roger.

    And then there was the time I met Roger across from the Credit Union. He asked if I might give him a lift back to the College. I was driving a Pontiac Sunbird and said sure while at the same time wondering how he might fit into the front seat and more importantly how he might extricate himself once we arrived on campus. It was not the most comfortable ride but it beat the alternative of walking.

    Roger will remain a very memorable part of the Fairview chapter in my life.

  8. Garry (my husband) encountered Roger in the college cafeteria the first day that Roger came on campus and they enjoyed many a breakfast together. I met Roger when he invited Garry and me to a lunch at the Dunvegan Inn shortly after he had become Director of College and Community Relations. In March of the following year I started working for Roger and continued for the next 5 years until the merger with NAIT.
    Roger had a way of bringing out talents in his staff that they themselves hardly suspected they had. To this end he encouraged and supported me in taking many management courses, marketing and advertising seminars as well as learning website design and structure so that I was able to build and maintain our in-house website for Fairview College. Roger had a management style that few people are able to emulate; he always gave credit where credit was due and took responsibility for any mishaps that occurred. Roger was instrumental in starting a co-op program with Mount Royal College and subsequently colleges in the Maritimes. Thus we had energetic, creative young people in our department for four months at a time; Roger mentored them and provided a co-op experience second to none. Where we started with one or two Public Relations students applying for a position with us, we subsequently had 15 or more applicants vying for positions – not too shabby for a small college in Northern Alberta.
    One of the more memorable moments – the college had been charged with increasing our FLE’s (full learning equivalents) to a particular number (that I don’t now remember) within 4 years – we accomplished this in two (the how is open to conjecture). To celebrate this feat, a play was written by Paul Hunt, then Vice President and presented to the college community. As part of the play, every time the word FLE was mentioned, pronounced Flea, an amazing, behind the actors, scene would play out. Alfred Nikolai, Roger and Kenda Lubeck dressed all in black but with crinoline tutus and antennae on their heads would tiptoe across the stage. I don’t think I heard a word of dialogue; I was so convulsed with laughter. Unfortunately , any video or still photos of this event somehow never surfaced.
    There were a number of occasions when Roger and I would be in Edmonton, liaising with Edmonton Garrison, attending the AWNA conference, attending seminars, etc. and would plan to meet for supper – this would generally turn into a 2 – 3 hour long visit as to be with Roger was to enjoy wonderful conversation. His breadth of knowledge was astounding – a formidable Trivial Pursuit player – may he find a worthy opponent in the next world.

  9. I met Roger in 2001 when I was an interviewee and he was one of the interviewers for the Institutional Researcher position at Fairview College. During the 3 years that Roger was my boss, I remember:
    • Roger’s passion for creating marketing campaigns to entice applicants to Fairview College
    • Emanating from the office next to mine, the noise of a computer keyboard as emails and marketing materials were composed. I’d never heard a keyboard being attacked like that, as if it were a manual typewriter!
    • Cursing when technology wouldn’t cooperate to send mass emails for press releases, and calls for help to Bev and Deb and Bob
    • His support and encouragement for employee training and professional development
    • The stories we told about life in Saskatchewan (each of us had lived there for several years; and yes, there are snow snakes in Saskatchewan!)
    • Roger’s consumption of endless cups of black coffee
    • The sight of him “dancing” in a tutu on the stage of Fairview College’s theatre while performing in a skit about FLEs (a play on the acronym used by Alberta Learning for enrolment statistics; FLEs = Full Learner Equivalents)
    Roger was the most caring boss I’ve ever had. I miss that and the lengthy discussions we had about all sorts of things. He was articulate and knowledgeable on a wide range of topics.

  10. Roger and I met in the early eighties [80’s] while working with Owen Anderson in the Saskatchewan Region of Indian & Northern Affairs. Roger had taken on the unenviable task of heading up communications & public relations for a part of the federal government that few respected and even fewer liked. He was remarkable. He probably did more in his time there with us than the totality of people in similar positions in the department across all the nation. He was funny, he did have great stories, he could write, he could mentor…but the thing I remember most was his incredible ability to pick up and develop a more interesting focus than that which would seem most likely or expected. On numerous occasions he assisted us in the Education program by reporting on the conversations that were happening between Aboriginal leadership and our office rather than simply hammering away at a recent policy we were trying to develop or gain approval for.
    After INAC he and I worked in a number of consultative ventures, including the development of a film on an educational project I was pushing — getting northern students, as part of their curriculum, to spend time in the Barren Lands participating in the caribou hunt. He also helped launch an educational consulting project that was a partnership with the Meadowlake District chiefs. When he moved to the west coast (where I had returned several years before) he and Ray Statham carried out a number of communications tasks related to Aboriginal Independent Schools we were launching. In all of these ventures, Roger’s professionalism and his dogged determination to get things right gave me constant assurance that the job would be completed better than I had even designed it. He was so good that at times, when I would connect him with someone who needed his help, the potential client would be overwhelmed with Roger’s ideas. Roger never worried, if a person couldn’t use his talents, he’d find another client… I liked that about Roger: if you don’t want the job down in an excellent fashion, don’t ask Roger!!
    The last time I worked with Roger is when he came up to Fairview to assist me in a couple of p.r. challenges while I was Vice-President Academic…it was a short time but it provided lots of laughs:
    I was shortly thereafter fired by the President, but he kept Roger on and eventually hired him (as has been noted above in other comments) — our last business deal was Roger buying most of my furniture so I didn’t have to move it…
    There was one [1] other passion that Roger and I shared — our love of the CFL. He was a die-hard Edmonton Eskimo fan and occasionally I would give him my seats. One year, I got him an Esks jacket as I was attending all the games at that time…he said it was a great gesture but tickets were more practical: typical Roger…in the moment, for the moment, often THE MOMENT…

    I have one [1] regret about our relationship…when I drove across the country this Christmas I went through Edmonton, not Calgary, as I needed to visit my Mother in Cold Lake (who was about to turn 96 in January). He and I had exchanged phone numbers and I had said I would call when I came through Calgary on my way back east in the spring. We said we would get together. He didn’t tell me he was ill; so I assumed our date in the spring was secure…I wish I had gone down to Calgary — it would have been great to exchange football stories one [1] more time…

    Roger Warner…an individual, an icon, a friend…

  11. I very much enjoyed working for Roger (for about five years when we were NAIT Fairview Campus). He was a unique, generous and special person. I knew him as a caring boss as well as a friend. I will always remember and be thankful for the encouragement and support he gave me.
    He nudged me towards my current position of graphic designer by letting me know that I really could do it and providing opportunities for training. I would likely not be doing this job that I love if not for him.
    He taught me to stretch the limits of what I thought I could do and was there to back me up if I needed it. I couldn’t count the number of times, he would say “just tell them I told you to do it” so he would take the blame if something went wrong.
    Shortly after starting to work together, we took a course about personality types. You won’t be surprised to learn that Roger was an extrovert who had to “think out loud.” I was an introvert who thought about stuff for a long while before speaking out about it. It was a relief to figure out that 90% of what he was talking about doing (and I was envisioning myself trying to do) were simply ideas!
    You would think that being almost opposite personality types would have made for an awkward working relationship. Not at all, Roger and I made a great team with our strengths balancing each others’ weaknesses.
    Roger, I will miss you.
    Cheryl

  12. Michael – My parents lived across the road from your Dad when he had that house in Craven, and I worked for him briefly in the summer and fall of 1985 out at the place above Gibsons, BC, on the Sunshine Coast, while I was at student at the U of R. In those days I had journalistic aspirations, and Roger was kind enough to take me under his wing and teach me a great deal, despite my relentless determination not to learn. You and a friend were out there for part of that summer, as I recall. I remember Roger on a stool in a bar up the highway, holding court while the entire room sat listening to him tell one story after another. Once he started talking, he owned that room, as he tended to do. Once, on the way back from Regina to BC via the Yellowhead, we realized we were in the blackout area for a Saskatchewan – Edmonton football game, so we headed south until we got to a town (Rimbie, Alta, as it happens) that was outside the blackout area so we could drink beer and watch the game. The Riders won – I, cheering noisily despite the obvious displeasure of room full of Edmonton fans – and realizing we had no money for a hotel, we drove down to Calgary and then all through the night to make the ferry to Sechelt the next day. I lost track of Roger after I went to UBC in 1993. On occasion since then I have taken a moment to do a little hunting on the internet for him, with no success until today. I am indeed sorry to read of his death.

    • Thanks, Jeff. My dad always remembered you and your parents with fondness. Whenever he visited Saskatchewan and happened to be on the road between Saskatoon and Regina, he would go out of his way to drive through Craven and gaze for a moment at his old house. But I don’t think he ever stopped to ask about the people he’d known while living there. Occasionally in his later years he would express a vague intention of maybe looking you up someday. It’s too bad he never did, as you seem to be readily Googleable.

      I remember you too. You once told me and my friend Steven that you didn’t find *Night of the Living Dead* all that scary because you knew, from playing Dungeons & Dragons, that zombies were in fact pushovers. To us this seemed pretty impressively grown-up.

      Michael.

  13. Michael…….your dad was very well respected for so many reasons. My husband and I knew your dad through work at the college but also had a couple of nice evenings of visiting in the Workun home. My swimming partner, Louise and I also had many lively debates around world issues while in the pool. He was well versed and informed about many issues and had the strength of character to say what he thought…..and justify it. He was quite able to agree to disagree. It was always a pleasure. He spoke of meeting you in various cities and described the great restaurants and delicious food so well that we always left the conversation hungry. 🙂 You could hear the fondness and pride in his voice when he spoke of you. His determination and dedication to his workout was inspiring. Your dad was a good guy and we were fortunate he passed our way. I suspect he changed everyone he touched forever.

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