Remembering Gordo

Gordon Clarke Debney, 1984-2014

Gordon Clarke Debney (left), 1984-2014

On August 21, 2014, a very dear and long time friend of mine lost his battle with depression.  His story now joins others in a cry for Mental Illness to be removed of its stigmas and legitimized not only as a disease, but a treatable one.  Our mutual friend Steve spoke beautifully to this point, and had a much better understanding of how Gord suffered with it.  Today was our final goodbyes to Gord, mine is below.

I want to thank you all for coming and showing your support for Gordo’s family and friends today. Responses online and in person, as you can see, have been overwhelming. They speak endlessly to the character and person that Gordon was.

My first memories of Gord go way back to when the Debney’s first came to Cambridge Citadel and we attended church together. I don’t recall what my first impression or meeting with Gordo was, but I know we very quickly became regular friends. We didn’t go to the same elementary school, so a lot of our chats were comparing notes and talking about friends we had in either place. We were also often the frustration of our Sunday school teacher, George. Gord and I shared a lot of life together growing up through high school and well beyond. Some of my favourite college memories were the all nights of video games we would have. Another great chapter in my friendship with Gordon were the road trips to Florida we took. There were more than one of those trips, but every one of them has become infamous in its own way.

Florida trips (first and many)

Gordo was part of what came to be known as the “original four” Florida road trippers. Several other road trips down to Kissimmee happened after, of which he came along all of them, but he was one of the first. That first time we travelled to Sarasota and stayed in a hotel. There are countless memories and stories from out trips together. It was during this trip that we were introduced to what became a somewhat informal tradition for any road trips we took. When we finally arrived in Sarasota and found our room we all unpacked. After doing so, Gord disappeared into the bathroom. He emerged and mumbled he may have broken the toilet. In fact, if I remember right, it was so thoroughly broken that hotel staff declared it couldn’t be immediately fixed and moved us to a different room. I’d like to say this event was unique to this trip, but it wasn’t. It seemed nearly every vacation with Gord started with a broken toilet.

Gord also loved to partake in another time honoured tradition when it came to travelling with him; wrestling. Usually for church related events he and Brian would wrestle for hours. I would enjoy watching from the sidelines while they battled endlessly for no reason. Our third trip to Florida was when I joined the elite ranks of those who were wrestled by attack Gordo while on vacation.

Gord made a great road tripper, he rarely was one to complain about the condition of the hotel or lack of a kitchen. He was simply grateful to be away and to be with friends in a country that wasn’t cold. Gord did, however, suffer from the smallest bladder of the four of us, and his frequent pee breaks – no doubt a result of his pop consumption habits – earned him the nickname Glenda. Our drive was full of bizarre happenings; our van becoming possessed with weird electrical problems the least of them. I really liked vacations with Gord because we both shared the same key vacation principles: Do as close to nothing as possible, swimming aside, and golf.

One of Gord’s other unique past times has started to get some limelight recently. It’s something known as knee skiing.   Gord and I used his knee skiing to distribute Halloween candy.

Halloween knee skiing

See, Gord and I spent a few Halloweens handing candy out at my house. I had never really enjoyed the task but Gord and I always came up with some creative and interesting ways to distribute the candy. One year he used a strange Donald duck type noise he could make. Using a hidden baby monitor we would scare people as they came to the porch by loudly broadcasting his noise. Another year we decided on something different. We left the outside lights on, the hallway light on and the front door open. Only a closed storm door stood between candy seekers and him. To the observer, it appeared that nobody was home. However, once the doorbell was rung, he would make his presence known by knee skiing down the stairs to the front hallway, grabbing the candy dish and stumbling to the front door in one poorly coordinated motion. It was a neat trick and brought some very funny reactions.

One thing about Gordon I love was his loyalty. His allegiance to teams, most of which seemed to have losing records, never faltered, even when he said it would. He was just as loyal to his friends and family as well. He also cared for his friends, especially his close ones, and he often did the hard, but right things when they needed to be done.

Letter written revealing the bike locks

During high school a group of us got into playing with the locks on bikes. I came to discover that I was quite adept at figuring out the more basic bike locks and unlocking them. This was, of course, of great interest to some of our more peripheral friends who weren’t just having fun. I was swept up in things and found myself unlocking bikes for them. I didn’t know this at the time, but Gord was very upset by this. He didn’t like seeing his friend being used like this nor the path I was taking. Gord chose to take action in a bold way. Our operation got busted by an anonymous letter sent to the school. I got in a lot of trouble and was, momentarily, very mad at the person who had blown the whistle. I was even more upset when it came to light that it had been Gordo. I was upset that he had prevented me from looking cool in the eyes of these other guys but, in truth, he had done me a great favour. It didn’t take me long to see that and be thankful my friend was willing to do the hard things to protect me.

Back to road trips, some that I had the pleasure of enjoying with Gord one on one.

Trips to the habs game, playing NHL on the building next to us.

Gordo loved hockey. Anybody that spent more than five minutes with him knows this. One thing he and I enjoyed on a few occasions was travelling to Montreal to watch the Leafs play the Habs at the hallowed Bell Center. Our first year there we stayed with my great uncle at his home in the suburbs of Montreal. On the second we shelled out some money and landed a room in the Sheridan right across from the Bell Centre. Our swanky hotel room was contrasted by the top of the rim seats we had at the Bell Center, and cost about the same. We could see the stadium and gleefully watched the poor suckers below fighting for parking spaces in the impossible one way streets of Montreal as we sipped on our pops in the Sheridan Plus lounge.One of his favourite things to do when we travelled to see hockey games was to play hockey games on whatever video game console we had. In this case it was an Xbox 360. I had brought a projector along with us with the intention of creating a larger screen than most hotel rooms came with. The suggestion was made to try shooting it out the window onto the building next to us and see if it worked. It did, but not really. Gord insisted, however, to try a round of the new penalty shot mode in the latest version of NHL. You could almost just make out the characters on the building next to us. He excitedly tried again much later at night, once the city had begun to sleep and several hundred rounds of penalty shots. It still didn’t work.

Car shows: VW bad blood, Locking Steve in the trunk of a car and leaving.

I’ve enjoyed going to many Car shows with Gord in the past. Loving cars and disagreeing about the best ones was another passion we enjoyed. He always insisted on the supremacy of the Dodge Viper while I was more enamoured with Porsches. We loved going to the auto show and playing around in cars, often wondering how it would be like to drive them to Florida or how road worthy they were. On one occasion we were in a Volkswagen performing one of these many tests when Gord got a paper cut from a user manual. The indifference and lack of aid we received from the exhibitors and car show staff was worrisome as we tried to source the first aid. We were in a rush for first aid because, in true Gordo style, this wasn’t a regular paper cut. This one chose to bleed a lot and everywhere, including on the new VW. It was nearly 30 minutes and many, many confusing directions before we finally found the first aid station in the basement level of the show.

The legacy of a man’s life comes through the things that they leave behind to people. Gord’s legacy is massive and touches many people. How it looks is different for each of us. For me, his legacy is the countless little pieces of wisdom his life teaches me as I look back. He never sat down and laid out wisdom in a point form document, nor did he take me through a series of one on ones. Gord’s lessons came the way lessons are best taught; by living them out. With each memory of him I remember, a small piece of wisdom reveals itself to me.

His memories teach me how important it is to be generous. To be generous with all the resources at my disposal, whether that be my time, money or possessions. He taught me to be generous no matter if it’s convenient at the moment or if I feel like it or not. Countless times he offered his time to give rides to people who found themselves in a bind. He was always quick to be generous. I never knew him to hesitate when someone he knew needed something.

Gord teaches me what it is to be passionate about something. His passion for sports, hockey, is infectious. He showed how that passion could be channeled into relationships as well. That strong, unrelenting and loyal passion means even after you have a massive fight with him, and we had several, he’ll still be there when you come to apologize later on. He taught me that when the moment and cause are right, you should throw yourself completely into something.

He teaches me that being kind is not a weakness, it’s a massive strength. People are attracted to those who are kind, drawn to them. He teaches me to be kind even when some people will take advantage of it. When I’m kind it inspires kindness in others. It spreads out like the waves in water. Kindness is one of those funny things that can’t be held on to, it longs to escape from your hands into somebody else’s, leaping from person to person. Gord showed me how pleasant it is to be with someone who is the source of kindness, how rewarding it is to do life with them.

And Gord teaches me that it’s OK to be off the wall, unpredictably, unabashedly goofy. He teaches me that the best cure for the stress of life is to be completely uncharacteristic and to throw everything that is convention out the window. Whether it be homework, work, the daily grind or just the stuff of life, few things help blow off the steam better than completely random goofiness.

Smashing Chris’ feet with his fist

One last memory. Gord was known for going through many phases in his extremely random actions. There was a phase in our high school lives then nobody’s feet were safe. Gord had taken it upon himself, while inconspicuously sitting on the floor, to, from nowhere, smash our feet with his fist. None of our group of friends were safe from the foot smashing menace, but nobody fell into the trap more often than our friend Chris. One of my favourite moments comes when the three of us were at my parents’ house. I had gone downstairs to my room for one reason or another. The living room is directly above where my bedroom was. Suddenly above me I heard the thud of Gord’s thor’s hammer of a fist coming down on the floor. And then again. There was a short pause before another, louder yet muted thud echoed in the basement. His third strike was quickly followed by Chris’ scream of pain mixed with Gord’s name. Though his foot hurt, Chris still laughed at Gord’s goofiness, after they wrestled of course.

I’ve done a lot of praying in days that have passed. In the car while driving to Cambridge that Thursday night I cried out my emotions, laying them before God’s feet. I didn’t know what else to do at the time. That night Rachel also received a devotional which contained a verse. They were the perfect words for that moment:

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. John 1:4-5

Jesus is the light in this verse. He is the light of, and in, all of us. This light was evident in all the memories I have of Gordon.  The darkness has not overcome. It was in that moment I felt in my spirit God tell me that Gord’s soul was safe with Him. I firmly believe that in faith.

So this isn’t goodbye Gordon, this is just bye for now.

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