“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.” — Winnie the Pooh
1940 – 2021
With sadness, I write to tell you that your friend and mine, Neil McBurney, passed away Monday, July 6th, 2021, in a medically-assisted death. He lived his life with thought and intention up until the very end. (If you’re interested in reading about Neil’s wake, you can do so here.)
Neil was well-loved by family and friends and by the people whose lives he touched through his career in the publishing business, as an English language teacher, as a volunteer in many non-profit organizations and as a devout member of the church of jazz. He will be missed by many.
To mark the first anniversary of his death, Neil’s personal village is invited to attend and be inspired by a life well-lived.
For the Love of Neil
A Memorial Tribute Like No Other
Sunday, July 10th, 2022 at 11 AM Vancouver. Doors open at 10:30 AM
2 PM Toronto | 7 PM London (UK)
Virtual Doors Open 15 min before start time.
(Not in Vancouver, Toronto or London? Check your time zone here.)
An in-person gathering will be held at a venue in East Vancouver. Space is limited.
RSVP to receive the venue address
and get more information on preparing for the gathering.
Those who are outside Vancouver, Canada, please join us virtually.
RSVP to receive more information and instructions on preparing
for the gathering.
There are no words to fully encapsulate Neil’s expansive life. Snippets of writing by Neil may give us a glimpse. Here is his reflection soon after his first round of chemo in May 2021:
I have enjoyed excellent health over the greater part of my life. Although, as a younger man, I accepted that fact unquestioningly without particularly following good dietary/exercise habits, I followed a healthier lifestyle in my career overseas. Hiking/walking became a fixed routine, the Mediterranean diet a goal.
My recent lung cancer diagnosis at age 80 came as a shock, especially as I’m a non-smoker. It took some time for the diagnosis to be arrived at. For the greater part of a year, I lived with the knowledge that something was not right, yet in large part, my normal daily activities were not much affected.
With a cancer diagnosis made at my age, I recognize that I have lived a significant chunk of an adult life already and feel fortunate with the outcomes of my life before the diagnosis. I have no sense of being ‘cut off in the prime of life’ with goals still to achieve. Ideally, I’d like to continue living for only as long as I find pleasure in doing so. I am not committed to outside demands on my time or energy. My hopes are as follows: to live, if possible, pain-free, to meet a small circle of friends socially from time to time, to read, to listen to music, to enjoy nature and the outdoors to the extent I remain mobile.
Neil was born in Huddersfield, England. His family emigrated to Canada when he was in his teens.
He lived in, worked in, or travelled to many places: Toronto, Norway, the U.K., South Korea, Japan, Germany, Spain, Rwanda, Thailand and of course, Vancouver.
For close to two decades in Vancouver, Neil was an active volunteer in many non-profit organizations for months and often years. He was a “language/culture buddy” to many recent immigrants. He recorded academic texts for vision-impaired students at UBC and participated in research studies at UBC Hospital. He also joined the World Beach Cleanup Day and raised funds for the Aga Khan’s Foundation by walking.
He performed in a few community-driven productions at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and danced in Joe Ink’s Move It! Project, and in the All Bodies Dance Project. (Can you spot Neil in this video?)
Neil is survived by his sisters, Wendy and Julie, his children, Dave and Jen, in-laws Surada Pawn and Pegg, nephews Tim and Phil, niece Joelle, grandchildren Shane, Sophia and Max, and his Vancouver “adopted” family Richard, iris (aka ks) and Malaya (aka Apo).
The depth and breadth of Neil’s friendships are difficult to measure. He had hundreds of friends and acquaintances from the local jazz scene, language meet-up groups, libraries, Britannia community pool, St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (for jazz vespers) and just about everywhere. He had friends from all walks of life, of various cultural, social and economic backgrounds. He had a tight circle of close friends collected from different stages of his life.
Much as he liked connecting with people, he also loved and fiercely protected his time alone. Reading (Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood were two of his favourites), writing, cooking, doing his laundry, yoga, trying the different restaurants on the Drive, hiking up the Capilano Trail to the Cleveland Dam, meditating, listening and dancing to his favourite jazz tunes!
Neil sought comfort in routines and bargains. He was a master at finding cost-effective ways of doing things. For example, grocery shopping in different stores depending on where deals are. He used to have an incredulous expression every time he knew friends were buying books, CDs or magazine/newspaper subscriptions. He used to scold us: You can get all those things from the Vancouver Public Library for FREE! When the annual jazz festival came around, he’d go to all the free concerts, walking or commuting from one venue to another. But make no mistake…he was willing to spend big bucks for a marquee concert!
Neil appreciated fine literature, art films, music, food, historical buildings, live performances, women and wine – not necessarily in that order. His sense of humour spanned from the dry and black to the pun-tastic, from the prurient to the scatological. He was an upstanding citizen with a progressive and open mind. An outstanding human being. Imperfect, genuine and generous.
To you who are reading this:
Whoever you are, whether you knew Neil personally or not, I hope you feel through the words and stories above that Neil McBurney was loved truly, madly, and deeply by his family and friends.
I hope you realize how he lived, really LIVED – until the moment that he died.
Most of all, I hope that you’ll feel inspired to live YOUR most authentic life.
I am certain that if Neil could read this now, he’d want me to shut up. He’d appreciate the love and acknowledge the intention but he’d hate the attention. Well… I’m not one to do what I’ve been told anyway. 😉
I miss Neil every day and will love him always and forever. It’s been a privilege for my husband Richard to have such a loyal, caring and thoughtful friend in Neil. A tremendous gift for my daughter Malaya (aka “Apo”) to have experienced a grandfather (aka “Lolo”) who adored and loved her beyond measure. Most of all, I am friggin’ lucky to call Neil my ks – kindred spirit.
Heartfelt gratitude to the excellent people
who were part of the last chapter of Neil’s life
- Dr. Ying Wang and all the outstanding nurses and staff at BC Cancer Agency
- The kind and helpful community nurses, especially Nurse Jen
- Neil’s primary health provider: Jasmine Paul of Care Point Clinic
- Nurse Cecil, hospice leader Vivien, and Dr. Jayaraman from Cottage Hospice for their exceptional and compassionate care
- Connie Jorsvik of Patient Pathways and Health Navigators
- Floyd Murphy for his help
- Aeron for her special soup (the only food that Neil was able to tolerate after his chemo);
- Bernhard and Aeron for being always responsive to Neil’s requests, big & small
- Ngaio and Emily for their full support and caring guidance
- Wade for his pastoral care
In Neil’s Memory
You may know that Neil had a close connection with the CUSO organization ever since he was an educational volunteer in Rwanda for them in 2008. Neil supported their work in various ways and, in fact, left a gift for CUSO in his will. I know he would be grateful if, instead of other contributions, you were to donate to CUSO in his memory if doing so appeals to you and as you are able. https://cusointernational.org/
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie the Pooh
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