Lifelong Pemberton resident Ronayne remembered

Local farmer a key figure in development of virus-free seed

As a rugged outdoorsman with a strong work ethic, green thumb and deep connection to the land and mountains, Clifford Ronayne embodied just about all of the qualities you might expect from a typical Pemberton Valley resident.

More than 150 people attended a memorial service held Sunday (March 11) at St. David's United Church in Pemberton to honour Ronayne, who died March 1 at the age of 93.

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Several friends and family members spoke fondly about the lifelong Pemberton resident, who was the fourth of five children born to a family of Irish immigrants that were among the first to settle in the Spud Valley.

Daughter Clara Ronayne described Clifford as a kind-hearted, humble and practical man with strong values and convictions.

"He didn't say a lot he was a quiet guy," said Clara. "He was generous, but he didn't broadcast it around."

He is survived by wife Mollie, other children Joe, Tom and Sally, as well as seven grandchildren.

Clifford was also key to the development of the virus-free seed potato business in B.C. In 1968, a team from the University of British Columbia planted virus-free seeds on Clifford's Ryan Creek Farm, which yielded a huge crop that helped make the seed available for commercial growers by the early 1970s.

Those seeds were exported across Canada and the Western U.S. for several years, while the UBC program remained operating on his farm for a long time as well.

"He and his quiet sense of humour will be greatly missed in our industry," said a statement from the B.C. Certified Seed Potato Growers Association. "A true gentleman, he will not be forgotten."

Pemberton farmer Doug Helmer echoed Clara Ronayne's sentiments about Clifford being generous man, as he was a big help to the Helmer family when they ventured into organic potato-growing about 20 years ago.

"He was very kind," said Helmer. "At that time they had the plot where they would keep 250-plus varieties going, all virus-free, and that's what we were interested in. He encouraged us to try all these different varieties as we tried to find out which ones we wanted to grow for our markets.

"Nobody else had that type of help, really, in the province."

Clifford remained hard at work on the farm into his later years, continuing to check on his irrigation system even after his 90th birthday. But beyond all of his efforts on the farm, Clifford was also known for many adventures into the wilderness.

During her eulogy at Sunday's service, niece Alma Lewis described how her uncle once made a two-day walking trip to Lillooet, overnighting at the Bralorne mine bunkhouse along the way. He cheated death more than once, surviving a bullet in the back from a hunter shooting at a deer carcass Clifford was carrying home, as well as being born during the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed two other women and a nurse in the room where he was delivered.

When his kids were young, Clifford was popular among young people in the area for flooding a level part of the field near his house to create a skating rink in the winter, or for taking them on hikes into the backcountry or up to Tenquille Lake.

His outdoor excursions didn't end in his later years, either, said Clara.

"Up until two or three years ago, they'd still be out in the car looking for (huckleberry) patches," she said.

No matter which anecdotes come up when Clifford's name is mentioned to other longtime Pemberton residents, it's clear that he was a well-respected individual who will be missed.

"He will be remembered by everyone as a fine human being," Lewis said Sunday. "But most important of all, his children say he was a good father and his wife says he was a very good husband. It seems there is no greater tribute than that."

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