The last time I saw Dave “Lucas” McCord alive, he pulled out his phone to show me his latest claim to fame.
He’d made headlines in Iceland, where he was spending the summer, trading labour as a carpenter and driver for some paragliding friends in exchange for a place to stay.
He’d been on the front cover the Iceland newspaper’s Sunday section — profiled as “The Flying Grampa.” He didn’t know Icelandic, but the photos from the full page spread were beautiful. And, added bonus, the last line directed any interested single ladies to his Tinder account.
He was 68. Not that you would ever attach the word “elderly” to him, which is why the next time he made the newspaper, just three weeks later, the headline was so galling. “Elderly Canadian traveller dies in paragliding accident.”
You don’t understand! I wanted to say. He was the youngest older man I’ve ever known. But that’s what happens when a person is reduced to a line, a cause of death, an obituary. All of the richness and complexity of that life flows over, uncontainable, into the space beyond, into the space words can’t reach.
He’d been back to Pemberton for the Canadian Paragliding Nationals —not with any intention of competing, just to be around for the party, and check in with his West Coast people.
A global vagabond since he’d wound down his custom house building business in Ontario, McCord spent half the year in South Africa, where his daughter lives with her family, and helms her own non-profit, the South African Shark Conservancy. The rest of the year, he chased adventures, and thermals, occasionally swinging by Ontario to collect his pension cheques, and note with increasing determination his desire not to turn into a “fuddy-duddy” lingering around the golf clubhouse.
When he designed our house, he was 55, at the peak of his career. He’d mastered the art of minimizing waste, designing for the dimensions of the lumber and the lot, building a brilliant math into his layouts and always trying to improve energy efficiency.
Granted, his designs often incorporated weird features, like the freestanding glass encased shower in the middle of the room, that we opted not to install — something he bemoaned every time he visited.
He’d taken up paragliding when he came back out to Pemberton in 2012, to help our friends build their house. We found him a room and a bike to get around town, but mountain biking was not his bag. As he told Asdis Asgeirsdottir, the Icelandic journalist, about his first foray onto Pemberton trails, “I almost died on my way up and almost killed myself on my way down. I saw a few paragliders soaring in the air and asked my friends to introduce me to those people, because mountain biking was just too dangerous.”
When Corinne Orava taught him how to handle a wing, she set the hook for a passion that would take him to the world’s most beautiful places, using what she calls “the power of the earth breathing.”
Over the last few years, he’d given away a lot of his possessions, distilling it down to a few essentials in a storage locker in Ontario, and some camping kit in a truck here in Pemberton. He kept trying to convince us, and a host of other friends, to let him build a little 9x12 shed for him to live in.
No! we’d say. Every hitchhiker, partier and itinerant traveller you meet will be there, you’re the most extreme extrovert we’ve ever met, your bonfires burn longer than the Olympic flame. He was notorious for instigating parties, and then falling asleep in the corner. He was always ready with a glass of whiskey. He handed out mushrooms at his 60th birthday party, and at his daughter’s wedding, to make sure all the guests had a good time. And then took a great handful himself.
Then, in what still feels like the middle of the party, he fell from the Icelandic sky onto a black sand beach where 400 people were relaxing, possibly after having a massive heart attack. I choose to imagine that as his huge heart exploded open with bliss, his debaucherous, irreverent adventurous life flashed hyper-technicolour before his eyes like a rock ‘n’ roll music video.
A pirate flag flew at half-mast over his little shack in Vik, Iceland, on his passing. And around the world, the circles he’d created for himself, in his irrepressible, befriend-anyone way, gathered together, on launch sites and beaches, around bonfires and beverages, to celebrate a life seized and lived with fierce and head-shaking tenderness.
A week after his visit, I’d pitched the idea of writing a story about him to the Walrus magazine. The way he was reshaping the retirement experience. Thermals chaser. Global hobo. A nobody in Canada, a celebrity in Iceland: the editor was intrigued. “But what bigger story is it?” asked the editor, responding to my email yesterday.
Does this one man’s story or life say anything larger?
Yes, we are all asking ourselves that.
They say you die three times — when your heart stops, when your body is burned, and finally, when people stop saying your name. Grampa Dave, we’ll be telling your stories for a long time, so don’t worry. We’ll kick your party on.