Book Review: 10263 Don Lovell Recounts His Life Story
Review by 12570 Mike Kennedy
As we prepare to close out what is no doubt destined to be an unforgettable year for everyone, for my final book review of the season I am offering what I believe will be a refreshing change of pace. Like a great many others who have passed through the Canadian Military Colleges at some point over the years, 10263 Don Lovell has had an interesting and varied life. In a slim (69 pages in total) volume entitled Gramps….Was Your Hair Always Grey, Don reviews the highlights of his life journey for his grandchildren. It’s a story that would also no doubt make enjoyable reading for a great many of his fellow Ex-Cadets.
Donald Wayne Lovell was born into modest circumstances in London, Ontario, in March 1951. His father, Gerald Lovell, had served in the RCAF during the Second World War, where he had attained the rank of Sergeant, and following his discharge from the service he spent the remainder of his working life as skilled tradesman at the CNR car shops in London. Don’s mother, Marie, had met her future husband while working in a local factory during the war. Years later, at the age of 50, she qualified as a dental assistant, specializing in working with young children. The couple were married in May 1944, and in 1949, they purchased their first home in London, and that same year welcomed their first child, Don’s elder sister Lorraine.
Judging by the events recounted in his book, Don did not always have an easy time growing up. As a young child he suffered through numerous illnesses, and as he got older, multiple allergies limited his ability to participate in sports. As a small, slightly built youngster, at times Don was bullied by local toughs, which may help to explain his later interest in martial arts, which he studied for the better part of 20 years, eventually achieving a black belt at the age of 52.
Notwithstanding the fragile state of his health, by the time Don had reached his late teens, he had apparently become sufficiently robust to be accepted for enlistment in the reserve battalion of the RCR, which he joined as a Private in late 1968. Twenty months later he arrived as a recruit at Royal Roads, where he spent two years before proceeding on to RMC, from which he graduated with a degree in history as a member of the Class of 1974. While at Roads, Don had met his future wife Charmaine, and the two exchanged wedding vows shortly after his graduation from RMC. That same summer, he reported to 1 PPCLI as a newly- commissioned platoon commander, and in the spring of 1977, he was promoted to Captain.
Don’s decision to attend military college and pursue a career in the infantry was the result of a lifelong fascination with soldiering, and looking at his family history, it would appear that he came by this interest honestly. In addition to his father’s wartime service in the RCAF, both of his grandfathers had served overseas in the Canadian Corps during the Great War, and one had participated in several major battles, including Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Amiens, and Canal du Nord. As well, two of his mother Marie’s uncles had served; one in the Great War, where he was killed in the summer of 1916; and the other in the Second World War, where he saw action in Sicily and Italy.
Don was the only member of his family to attain officer rank, and by the time he received his commission, Canada was deep into the Cold War. The Canadian Forces had been reduced to a pale shadow of their former wartime strength, and were focused mainly on preparing for an attack by the Warsaw Pact which thankfully never came. As a result, Don’s time in the Regular Force consisted mainly of peacetime duty and training. Highlights of his career that are mentioned in the book include taking a jump course in the spring of 1975, helping to provide security at the Montreal Olympics during the summer of 1976, and being appointed as the Senior Subaltern at the parade in May 1977 where the PPCLI were presented with new colours, a ceremony attended by Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
As the 1970’s drew to a close, after nearly ten years’ service in the Regular Force Don decided that he was ready to pursue a change. A lifelong interest in architecture prompted him to enroll at the University of Manitoba, from which he graduated in 1983. From there, his subsequent career took him to Nanaimo, Yellowknife, and finally in 1990 to Victoria, where he worked first for the University of Victoria and latterly for the provincial government, up until his retirement in 2015.
Along the way, Don and Charmaine had four children – daughters Gillian, Hillary, and Claire, and son Josh – and today they are the proud parents of five grandchildren.
As his book shows, even after leaving the service Don still managed to have a few hair-raising experiences. One of these situations happened at the time he was in his mid-50’s, when his teenage son Josh was robbed on his way home from work at the local Subway restaurant. After instructing the boy to call the police, Don managed to track down and confront the culprits, ordering them to stay where they were until the law arrived. The punks were foolish enough to disregard his instructions, with the end result that Don – who by then had earned a black belt in karate – was forced to put his hard-earned skills to use.
When the cops finally arrived on the scene, they found one of hoodlums lying unconscious at Don’s feet. They promptly arrested Don for assault, but as soon as the Duty Sergeant was informed of the full story, the charges were promptly dropped, and the Sergeant offered his compliments to Don, informing him that he had taught the thieves a lesson “better than the courts could”.
In addition to his obviously formidable pugilistic skills, throughout his adult life Don has been active in a variety of other athletic pursuits. He was an accomplished runner, with a total of nearly 40 half or full marathons to his credit. In his later years, he gradually gave up karate to focus on powerlifting. In 2019, by which time he was in his late 60’s, Don set a provincial record for the deadlift, hefting over 400 pounds. It’s a pretty impressive record of achievement for a guy who spent much of his childhood battling a variety of illnesses, and who today still weighs in at less than 150 pounds.
The other defining theme of Don and Charmaine’s lives has been their strong Christian faith. While Don was serving with the PPCLI the couple were confirmed in the Anglican Church, and later, as he was attending the University of Manitoba, the two became regular participants in a weekly bible study group run by a fellow student. Don notes the importance that his religious beliefs have played in his life, writing that, “In January 1980 I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Saviour, and I have tried to follow him ever since.”
Reading this book, perhaps the most important larger theme that emerges is that Don Lovell’s life has been one of service – to his country, to his family, to the community, and to his spiritual beliefs. Written in comic-book style that’s reminiscent of Hergé’s classic Tintin serial, the book presents an engaging and entertaining look at life that has been eventful, and certainly, one that has been well lived. As Don looks forward to celebrating his 70th birthday this coming March, he can look back with pride on a journey where he’s accomplished a great deal, and one where he has much to be thankful for.
Truly, Don’s life – much like those of so many others at some time in their lives have worn the pillbox and scarlet tunic, and pounded the College parade square – is one that epitomizes the values of “Truth, Duty, Valour”. For those who have an interest, this book is well worth a read. Copies may be obtained by contacting Don directly at [email protected].
Best wishes to everyone for the holiday season, and for a Happy (and healthy) New Year in 2021.