The United Irish Societies of Montreal is going through a difficult time. Longtime historian Don Pidgeon passed away February 8. His funeral was celebrated February 20 at the historic St. Patrick’s Basilica. Earlier this week we were informed that another longtime member, Ken O’Donnell, passed away in hospital following a recent illness.
Ken was one of those guys happy to help wherever he could, serving as chairperson of the Greeter/Regalia/Masses committee for numerous years. He was happiest when greeting people, engaging in conversation, attending to the Selection Evening judges in the organization’s efforts to segregate the judges from the general population during the course of the selection evening.
Ken’s name first appears in the archives in the early to mid 1960s. He marshaled in the parade, as well. Adept at selling tickets to strangers, Ken was a master at selling tickets for the Christmas Draw for the benefit of the organization’s Christmas Basket program. He was also proficient at selling tickets for our friends, The Shriners, and their events such as their Sports Celebrity Dinner and the Shriners Circus.
Ken enjoyed the camaraderie of the marshals unit. Since the practice of taking a group photo was initiated in 2004 in the AMC Forum, Ken rarely missed a chance to stand with his fellow marshals for a photo. As his age crept up on him, Ken was no longer able to marshal in the parade. In recent years he formed part of the hospitality team on and around the reviewing stand. He chipped in to the best of his abilities.
At last year’s parade, a really really cold one, Ken was at the reviewing stand at an early hour against the advice of many. He managed to be interviewed by the Bell Media parade production, which I am sure made his day. A man of few words gets interviewed. What were the chances? He didn’t see the end of the parade, however. He fell ill due to the extreme cold and was taken away in an ambulance. Earlier that day I managed to snap a photo of Ken standing alone on the reviewing stand. I’m glad I brought my camera.
Ken was a member of the Karnak Shriners, passionate about volunteering at the hospital, a member of their Greeters’ Unit. He was also involved with the organization of the Canada Day Parade in Montreal, again acting as a greeter. Do you see a trend?
Quiet and unassuming, Ken would have been a candidate worthy of receiving the Simon McDonaugh Humanitarian Award or even the St. Patrick’s Society’s Community Award, in my estimation. Regretfully, neither happened. In April 2001 outgoing president Elizabeth Quinn presented Ken with Gold Card (Life) membership in the organization. On March 31, 2012 Ken was recognized by the organization for over 50 years of loyal and dedicated service. Unknown to him, his daughter Lonna and his granddaughter attended the Banquet to witness Ken receiving the richly deserved recognition, which made the evening all the more special.
The selection committee for the Point St. Charles Hall of Recognition selected Ken as one of its inductees in September 2014 with the likes of George Springate, Linda Cloutier, and Ian “Coach” Stevenson.
From the latter part of the last century to 2014 Margaret Healy and Ken O’Donnell volunteered their garage as ground zero for the assembly and distribution of the UIS Christmas Baskets. The lasting image I have of Ken from those years is of him quietly trying to get a handle on the many boxes that needed to be broken down for recycling. I will remember him walking around with a cup of coffee around the reviewing stand. I will remember him taking care of the Selection Evening judges’ refreshment needs. I will remember a man normally dressed in shirt and tie. I will remember a man who took the time on social occasions to dance with as many women as he could. I think most of all I will remember him standing at the back of St. John Brébeuf Church Hall doing what he did best, greeting people and welcoming them as they entered.
You’ve earned your rest Ken. We’ll see you on the other side.
Ken Quinn, Historian