Goodbye Baloo – a robust and authentic leader of Surrey youth

Baloo, Akela and Bagheera and Cubs Scouts at Guildford mall, circa 1979
Baloo (C), Akela (R) and Bagheera (L) and various Cubs Scouts (including Gordon Manson and Dave Olson)  at Guildford mall, circa 1979 (photo by Mike Peters i think, provided by Gordon Manson, cropped for clarity by me)

I knew Michael as Baloo (and/or DonM.), as that was his Cub Scout leader name, named after the big friendly bear in the classic “jungle book” story by Rudyard Kipling.

But, before he was a Cub Scout leader, I knew him from the neighborhood growing up in Guilford in the 70s. Gordon and I were childhood friends, involved in all sorts of little activities like making “secret club”, building tree houses and romping around “Guilford mews” condo complex.

Later, the family join the same church my parents belong to and so I was friends with Gordon both at elementary school and at church.

One of my favorite memories of Michael was when he took us to the PNE in an old Pinto car. After he loaded us up, he explained that the brakes were shot on the car. Somehow I wasn’t worried at all! I watched him as he drove a stick shift and explained to me carefully how he was downshifting to slow the car down to “save the brakes.” He expertly and gently used the stick shift and handbrake to get us there safely for a day of fun. Later on in life when I had an old Volkswagen bus with the same conundrum, I would think about him as I would downshift and expertly and gently slow my jalopy van safely through traffic.

As Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader, he took on the task of teaching us karate. Of course an unruly group of boys thought we would be breaking bricks after the first half an hour but, instead, he explained to us all that we had to learn to meditate. Imagine a room full of us “trying“ to sit still and be quiet. It wasn’t entirely successful! But then, to show that he was in charge and knew what he was doing, he challenged us to all punch him as hard as we could to see if we can make him flinch. All of us thought we were so tough as we would try to so I came out and land a solid punch in the gut and he just laughed heartily at us. It put us all in our place, and we were much more attentive after that.

He also often brought his guitar, especially on scout outings, and would lead sing-alongs. We were all amazed by his versatility and thought it was super cool that “we” had a leader who play guitar.

Maybe you’ve seen the photo of the whole gaggle of us, with my dear, recently deceased mother and third leg of their leadership tripod Mickey Gladstone, with Michael front and center with his guitar and mustache. I am leaning on his left shoulder with my glasses and goofy childhood grin. The whole pack of us looked at him as our protector and “bonus uncle” knowing that while he was a big friendly bear, he would protect us at any cost.

The measure of a man can often be judged in their children, and garden resurfaced in my life a few years ago and we realized we were at in similar industry and were able to “talk shop“. You could tell the big heart was passed on when he arrived at my 42nd birthday party with an entire roast beef wrapped in aluminum foil he cooked for the occasion. “Just in case there’s not enough food” he said. And dear Sherri, as I’ve gone through some health challenges of my own these past few years, she’s been there so very often with a kind word of support and encouragement. It means so very much to me. Truly his quality lives on through his offspring.

Indeed, diseases can be very cruel and seeing Michael deteriorate physically to a shadow of his former robust self was a bit shocking at first as he was such a robust and powerful man – I witnessed something similar with my own dad‘s journey with dreaded cancer though it was a six week or deal from news to death – however I was comforted to know that his mental faculties stayed intact and he was able to show his children affection until the end, spared the ravages of dementia.

Dear Michael, know that you were a “big fish” to a gaggle of us kids growing up in (rather rough and tumble) Guilford in the 1970s and your protective spirit will linger on and all of us for decades to come.

Gratefully and respectfully, Davey Olson, Cub Scout pack member