The sun shined a little brighter on January 11, 2020. Al Vachon died at home in Kingston after a brave and inspiring 16-month journey with glioblastoma multiforme, an advanced form of brain cancer. Here is the story of Al; an amazing husband, father, brother, son and friend – a one-of-a-kind person who charted his own course. Al never did anything by the book. He embraced the unexpectedness of life by turning every moment, every turn in the road, into an adventure. He took the road less traveled whenever possible. When others were graduating high school, Al was back packing through Europe. When most of his peers were mid-way through traditional post-secondary education, Al was hawking outdoor adventure camping wares in Vancouver. After completing undergraduate education at Trent University, it was assumed that Al was finally going to enter the conventional workforce. That linear path was not for Al; instead he embraced his love of culture and language and moved to Japan, where he taught English for three years. Upon returning to Canada, Al pursued a Master’s degree at Carleton University. After graduation, when it appeared to everyone that he might continue his wandering ways, he chose instead a career with the federal public service, one in which he showed vision, candour and leadership. When everyone (Al included) thought that he was destined to be a lifelong bachelor, Al met his cherished soulmate and life partner, Anita Ng. True to form, Al did not even do romance by the book – Anita was eighteen years his junior (lucky man)! When everyone else in the federal public service was buying minivans and sedans, Al was motorcycling across Canada and the United States. The story of not doing anything by the book, does not end there. While most of their friends were advancing in their careers and starting families, Al and Anita rocked convention by moving to Prince Edward County to establish their dream farm. They created a highly successful bed & breakfast named Windhover County that for five years gave happiness to its many guests; offering them an eclectic mix of equines, sheep, chickens, great cuisine and their own special brand of hospitality. Al even planted five hundred heritage apple trees during the course of one spring (helped by dear family and friends); with the goal of eventually opening up his own craft cidery – an incredible feat! One of the best unexpected turns in the road for Al came when he and Anita decided to have a child. Their wonderful little Harrison came along two years ago and filled every corner of their lives with immeasurable joy, love and pride. When Al was diagnosed with glioblastoma in early September 2018, he remained a proud individual, unbowed by the disease. He pushed his doctors for thorough and candid answers, sought experimental treatment and was beautifully stubborn. His grace and optimism in the face of a grave diagnosis inspired everyone around him. His immense love for Anita and Harrison remained steadfast as he focused on securing the future for his young family, knowing that he would too soon leave them. Even in his disease, Al refused to follow the well-trod path – that even his disease would be rare and unusual was not a surprise for a man whose soul was so unique! As Al’s palliative care doctor pointed out, people die the way that they lived; Al was certainly no exception. Throughout Al’s journey with glioblastoma, he constantly sought the sunshine and avoided the darkness. In his final days, Al spoke intently of his plans to find a warm, sunny spot on a beautiful Hawaiian beach. His unwavering, bright and vivid positivity was sunshine itself, and his steady strength, throughout his journey inspired us all. Al taught us that the sun can always shine, no matter life’s storms, if you will it to be so. And so, the sun shined brighter on January 11, 2020, when Al thought it would finally be a good time to find that sunny spot on a beautiful Hawaiian beach where he waits for the rest of us. Al will always be remembered with much love and fondness by his entire family and his many friends. His undaunted spirit in the face of adversity reminds us to always look for life’s sunshine. We will see you on the beach, Al.
Utmost gratitude is extended to Dr. Lysa Lomax who was Al’s neurologist, Dr. François Jacques who was Al’s clinical trial doctor, and Dr. Leonie Herx who provided dedicated palliative care in the last week of Al’s life. Special thanks are extended to Dr. Chris Wallace, Dr. Danielle Kain and Dr. Chris Parker. Deep and heartfelt appreciation is extended to Dr. Stephen Archer. In honour of Al and the excellent and compassionate care he received, donations can be made to the Queen’s University Division of Neurology and the Queen’s University Division of Palliative Medicine.
Please join us in celebrating Al’s life on February 29, 2020. An extraordinary, not-by-the-book day for an absolutely extraordinary person. The celebration will take place at the Fort Henry Great Hall, 11am-2pm (1 Fort Henry Drive, Kingston). Guests will be invited to say a few words and share happy memories starting at 12pm. Delicious refreshments will be served; after all, Al would want us to enjoy ourselves!