There was a wave of light over Albert and Birchbank Street.
Young children, teens, moms and dads, and seniors, some with their dogs on a leash, came to the Corunna corner Sunday – more than 100 of them – to say goodbye to John Wilson, the crossing guard who helped students safely across the street for over a year.
Wilson had quietly retired from his job at the corner a month-and-a-half ago. Recently, he passed away from complications of diabetes.
For many in the neighbourhood around St. Joseph’s School, Wilson’s smile, wave and words of encouragement were the highlight of their day. His death shocked the neighbourhood and prompted the Wave of Light – a time for families and friends of the beloved crossing guard, to light a candle and remember him.
Julie Dobson met Wilson – a former member of the military who lived in Mooretown and Courtright – 14 years ago, when she started driving bus.
She and Wilson shared a love of farming and tractors and Dobson said Wilson immediately knew she was in the wrong job. He felt she should be a manager.
Fourteen years, later, that’s exactly what she is doing.
“I’m telling you, you have never met anyone like John Wilson before. He quickly became like part of my family.”
Dobson told the crowd Wilson was a very private man, who loved and cared for his mother until her death.
And she admitted, Wilson would likely not have liked the candlelit tribute.
“He would love that he touched so many lives but he would hate the attention.
“He definitely was a private guy.”
Even though he only shared details of his life with a few, he was generous to others when their lives were difficult. “He helped me through the death of my father, the break up of my marriage a few health scares, he was there through it all.
“He made everyone he met feel like a part of his own family,” she says.
“This great man had a story to tell, it had a moral or a lesson but most definitely every story ended with a Wilson-ism.”
Ash Marsden organized the event hoping to get about 30 neighbours to come out on a cool Sunday night. She ended up calling St. Clair Township to close the road, because she was concerned so many people would be there to honour Wilson.
“When I heard John had died, I was truly heartbroken,” she says, her voice cracking with emotion, “a man I had barely knew but was such a huge part of my day.”
Marsden says he always seemed to know the right thing to say, even when she was about to loose control of her kids and her emotions.
“I was on the verge of tears I was so overwhelmed, I was carrying two bikes, pushing a stroller with a newborn, attempting to keep a two year-old out of traffic and attempting to prevent a full-blown five-year-old meltdown. In my head all I could think of was ‘Just get me home.’ But there he was, I had to fake that everything was fine. He got everyone across and he looked at me and smiled and said ‘Don’t worry kiddo, nothing lasts forever.’ Zero judgement, zero negativity just a pure simple sentence of support.
“No disrespect to John ….but some things do last forever, like the impact one man can have on a community.”
Wilson’s impact stretched beyond the corner of Albert and Birchbank, and the
Mooretown school bus route he drove. He also wrote poetry.
Chris Baertson, a teacher at St. Joseph’s School, read one about the children at the corner. He published it in one of his four books, .
“Every school day there are lots of good things happening at Albert and Birchbank. I am a blessed man for that. It is the kids I want to thank.”