Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another Goodbye, To Another Good Friend - In Memoriam ~ Jack Norman Van Hove

R.I.P. Jacko
August 26, 1944 - February 22, 2008

I gave a eulogy at a funeral memorial for my best friend today.

Eulogy by Jett Britnell
March 15, 2008

Good afternoon everybody. First, to Alex and members of Jack’s family, our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences go out to you.

It is an honour for me to speak today about the life of Jack Van Hove. Shock. Disbelief. Sadness. Tragedy. Words we have all uttered in recent weeks to express our profound grief and deep sorrow over the sudden passing of a dear friend. His passing was unexpected, sudden, untimely and seemingly so unfair. Dearly loved by so many, Jack was one of a kind; the older of two children, a devoted son, beloved husband to Maureen and a loving father to Alex. We've all lost someone who was very special. And Jack being Jack… well, you know he would just tell us all not to make a fuss.

I cannot tell you much about what Jack did with his life before we met. I always told him that whatever he did before didn’t really matter because his life truly only began the day we met. He would always counter that by saying that he “rescued me from my dreary little life”. I know that he spent many hours as pilot flying a DC3 in Peru. He was trying to log enough hours to become a commercial airline pilot. He later changed his mind and for a time ran a restaurant before getting into the hot tub /spa business.

As you all know, Jack was a kind and decent man. He was a compassionate soul who possessed a great intellect, chuckling humor and in many respects…he was a genius. He abhorred violence and believed in the goodness of others. What is it that we remember when we think of Jack? I think everyone who knew him would agree with me on this…his sense of humor. His humor was infectious. He could make us laugh and he always endevoured to make others happy.

A Jack of all trades, he could converse knowledgably about Druids, plate tectonics, Walt Disney, or just about any topic you could possibly imagine. He was a voracious reader who literally devoured books with his mind. A sharp wit, he was like the cat that ate the canary. There was nothing Jack could not master when he put his mind to it. He was a world traveler, videographer, beekeeper, horse owner, carpenter, builder, restauranteur, electrician, scuba diver, airline pilot, boat sinker, boat floater, treasure hunt organizer, chef, underwater model and inventor. Scuba divers who are here today will, of course, remember such infamous inventions as the prawn gun, an underwater device for harvesting prawns and the legendary MF Light. The MF light was essentially a battery powered car headlight that divers could take underwater. It was years ahead of the compact high-powered underwater lights we can easily purchase off the shelf today. And almost 15 years before Plasma large screen TV’s were readily available, Jack had the biggest Sony TV any of us had ever seen.

No doubt there are a few here today who may be feeling that Jack was their best friend. As far as I could tell, Jack never really treated anyone differently from anyone else. It's that laugh, too, that lingers with us, right? Always welcoming and helpful, you could count on him for anything, at any time. Evidence supporting this fact arrived yesterday to me in an email. I will share with you sentiments expressed by our mutual friend, Dave Fleetham. Today, Dave lives in Maui and is one of the world’s top underwater photographers. Here is what Dave had to say about Jack…

“It is difficult, if not impossible to measure the influence of a life on another, we all do what we do without any real idea as to its effect on each other or the world at large. Sometimes, as in the case of Jack, we know the influence is great, but still lack, and will forever lack, the depth of that influence. For each of you here today Jack’s presence in our lives was dramatic, yet different, characterized by our own perspectives and relationship to him. As a loving father and husband to wife Maureen and son Alex, his relationships were one thing, all very personal and really known only to them.

Yet, within those varied realms of love there existed a common theme, one that we all experienced, though we each absorbed differently. Jack’s positive nature affected us all from family to friends alike. It was contagious, for him everything was possible. It was this unrelenting attitude that good things were always just around the corner that endeared him to us all. It was this unbridled enthusiasm that attracted the circle of friends that are gathered here now. Many years ago I came to Jack at his old home/business that I remember well. I had some sort of a problem with a camera housing that I could not find an answer to. I kept saying no…Jack kept saying yes…yes I can do it…yes it is no problem…yes it will work…yes, yes, yes. Yes to it all. Yes to life. In a world with far too many no’s, Jack was an anomaly, I don’t remember hearing that word from him. Your mark is on me Jack, as it is on all of us who have spent time with you. It is the mark of yes! Yes to life in all its adventures, in all its sorrows and now to all of its grief."

David Fleetham
Maui, Hawaii – March 14, 2008

When Jack met Maureen, he began living in two worlds. One was the undersea world of scuba diving, the other world was what he affectionately referred to as being the Sport of Kings…or as he would put it…the horsey world. For those of you who are here today from the horsey world, please allow me some slack as my history with Jack is from that other world of reefs, sharks, seahorses and shipwrecks.

Scuba diving was one of Jack’s great passions. He was one of the best divers I have ever plumbed the ocean depths with. Although, I never would have guessed this when, on our first dive together, I watched him really struggling to dress into his dry suit. I figured it out about ten seconds before he did that he was trying to force his head through the sleeve of his dry suit. As Jack realized what he was doing…you could see him stop and quickly whip his head out the suit…and look around to see if anyone was watching. And what does he see?, me grinning like a Cheshire cat. That was 25 years ago. I have known Jack for half my lifetime.

Soon enough, Jack invited me to come to one of his infamous slide parties. Jack’s slide parties offered a venue wherein scuba divers and their friends could watch some of the best local underwater photographers display their most recent images. These almost monthly events held at Jack’s loft apartment provided a setting for many of us here to develop what has turned out to be lifelong friendships. These were the best of times... and Jack was the unifier, the heart and soul who brought so many of us together. Our friendship flourished…

One day, Jack arranged for a group of us to go skiing at Blackcomb Mountain. When I told him I was not going because I didn’t know how to ski, Jack would hear none of it and said he would teach me. Jack was an excellent skier who had skied in Europe in his younger days. Jack taught me to ski in only one day. He spent an entire morning with me on the bunny hill teaching me two skills. How to turn and how to stop. Just before noon he says rather nonchalant, “OK, you’re ready, let’s go up to the top of the mountain.” I was not so sure that I was ready…and figured this was all just a ploy to have lunch up top. But Jack seemed convinced that the fruits of his morning labour would be rewarded. Much to my surprise, by the end of that day, Jack and I were skiing down from the peak of Blackcomb mountain.

Soon…Jack’s altruistic interests seemed to turn to wanting to teach me how to travel. So we hatched a scheme to go diving together for three weeks in the Caribbean. In January 1985, we set off on a three-week island-hopping scuba diving vacation to the Caribbean. Jack proved to be a wonderful traveling companion and we experienced sheer delight tin each other’s company.

On the Dutch island of Bonaire we figuratively dived our brains out. While most diving guests could only last 30 or 40 minutes underwater, Jack and I were stretching our dives out for more than an hour and a half. After a full day of diving and a leisurely dinner, we would go night diving and would be underwater well past midnight. One afternoon, Jack was scribbling on a postcard and looked up and asked me…”How do you spell Maureen?” I told him M.a.u.r.e.e.n. However, he insisted, it was M.o.r.e.e.n. A lively debate ensued and the more Jack insisted his spelling was correct, the more my ribs were splitting from laughter.

From Bonaire we traveled to the French island of Martinique where we happened to dive with an experienced older man from Paris who proclaimed numerous times that…”I was not the first, but I dove with the first”. He was referring to the fact that while he was not with Jacques Cousteau when he stared diving, but that he had dived with Cousteau. Jack would always repeat this line to me and smile one of those smiles that only I would understand. Our friendship changed during that Caribbean adventure. We were no longer friends; we were more like brothers after that. I paraphrase that time in our lives as “We were not the first, but we dived with the best!”

If I may recount another diving episode that further strengthened the bond between us. The year was 1987 and Jack, Gary Bridges, Neil McDaniel and I were on a liveaboard dive adventure to the Central Pacific. We were diving a remote pacific atoll hundreds of miles from anywhere. I happened to see a shark swim into a cave and decided to follow it in. It was an immense cave about the size of a living room. Jack followed me in. The shark had settled on the sea floor at the back of the cave. I wanted to get a picture of that shark and tagged Jack to be the underwater model. Jack settled into safe position, but I motioned him to move in closer. He moved about 6 inches. I shook my head and motioned for him to move closer to the shark. Again, shaking my head…I motioned for him to move closer. Scuba divers learn to speak with their eyes and I cannot repeat what Jack’s eyes were saying to me at that moment. So he moves closer… which was too close for the shark. Something strange and wonderful happens between two men in an underwater cave when an agitated shark is snapping its jaws while swimming in furious circles around them looking for an exit. The shark eventually found it’s way out leaving Jack and I both unscathed. When we surfaced, the first words out of my mouth were “Why did you have to get so close?” I can still hear him ranting back at me between the laughter today…

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In one picture on this poster here up front, there is one of Jack and I together. The picture was taken in the late 80’s soon after a dive with six-gill sharks at Hornby Island. I have kept this picture in my office since the day it was taken. I feel it epitomizes my relationship with Jack. He’s saying something to me with that wry grin of his, and I’m shaking my head. It was always like that with us…

We also shared some grand moments above water. Jack was the best man at my wedding and I was the best man at his and Maureen’s nuptials. Actually, Jack had three best men at his wedding. Jed Edmonson and Tom Matthews also stood up for Jack. Jack and Maureen were God Parents to my son, Danen. I remember visiting Jack and Maureen outside the delivery room when their son, Alex, was born. Our lives were so intertwined… Jack recently told me over lunch, how much he and Maureen had loved each other. He was not one prone to exaggerate; he would say to me that whenever they encountered any rough spots in their marriage, they just worked it out. And after Alex was born, can anyone remember a time when Alex was not in tow? The Van Hove’s went everywhere together.

On December 1, 2007, several weeks after my actual birthday on November 13th, many of you here today gathered at my home to celebrate my 50th birthday party. It was a surprise party arranged by my fiancée, Katie. The snow was falling and Katie wondered if anyone would show as the driving conditions were worsening by the hour. My mom told Katie, “Don’t worry, they’re all scuba divers, they will show”. And most everyone did show up. Including Jack, and his family. They had the farthest to travel…and he showed up. I’m forever grateful for that evening. Not necessarily for the fact that I had turned 50, but that it was an opportunity for Jack to socialize with his friends. And Jack, being Jack, seized that magical moment to tell Katie all the sordid details about that scoundrel she is going to marry. It was perfect.

On Super Bowl day in early February, Katie, and I visited Jack and Alex at their farm. We spent several hours with Jack walking the grounds and discussing the future. When it came time for us to leave, Jack and I hugged each other goodbye. I don’t recall when we started doing that. It was something we always did… we were like brothers in arms.

Many people make the mistake of judging someone’s life by its length rather than by its depth, by its problems rather than its promises. Seeing death as the end of life is like seeing the horizon as the end of the ocean. To live in the hearts and minds of those we leave behind is not to die. An ocean is both deep and wide. Jack has left us… but in his wake he leaves behind so much for us all to be grateful for…so much to cherish… and we are all beneficiaries of his infinite grace. He personified the true meaning of loyalty and friendship.
On Thursday, March 6, Alex had a private service at the grave site were he said his goodbyes to his dad. Jack’s ashes were interned next to his one true love, Maureen, along with his diving regulator and a fine piece of cedar. Jack would have loved that...

I spoke to Jack on the phone about one week before his accident. He was in good spirits and he was the Jack I have always known and loved. We were already making plans to get together with both him and Alex… and he spoke about wanting to go diving with me. It was just like Dave Fleetham stated in his email to me… ”Within those varied realms of love there existed a common theme.”

Jack knew that death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. Jack would want for all of us to embrace life and live it to our fullest potential. He would say… be kind to one another…and always… strive to be the best we can be. Always try to say yes, instead of no. And to never, ever, forget to put on your dive fins before you leap overboard…


marvin vargas said...

My name is Marvin Vargas.I thank you for your wondefull description of Jack, I miss him so much and I'm very gratefull that I met such a loving human being.Untill We meet again I'll keep trying to be as good of a man as he was.

Jocelyn Adamson said...

Jett, What a wonderful tribute to Jack. You captured him. Incredible. I was part of those dive trips and slide nights for a couple of years before I moved to the Okanagan. In fact I believe Jack and I had dinner at your place many years ago (before any of us were married). I just found out tonight that he died. And maureen...So very sad. And such a huge loss for their son.
Jocelyn (Munro) Adamson