Approximately eight months after receiving a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, Cecil William Robert Blackburn passed away in the presence of his family and surrounded by the love of many devoted friends. He is survived by his wife Donna Smith-Blackburn, daughters Kerry (Sean) Kennedy, and Shauna Blackburn-Cook (Jack), grandsons Aidan and Neil Kennedy, sisters Noelle (David) Fielding, Edith (Brian) McClatchie, Olivia (Frank) McKee, cousins Nora Hanna and Ken (Rita) Harper, and many nieces, nephews and cousins in Canada and abroad.
Cec was the eldest child and only son of James and Edith Blackburn of Monaghan, Ireland. In a talk given to guests at his 75th birthday party last year, Cec said of his background: “I came from a strong and supportive family. My mother Edith was a teacher and worked with my father, James Blackburn, on our farm. My father was a man of deep faith and my mother encouraged and enabled my education at Galway Grammar School. My parents and my sisters, all contributed to the good things that I have enjoyed in life”.
In 1954, Cec was sponsored as an immigrant to Canada by a relative, Richmond (Dick) Hanna, who was, at the time, the Liberal Member of Parliament for the Riding of Edmonton-Strathcona. His first days in the country were spent in the visitor’s gallery of the House of Commons, after which he travelled by train from Ottawa to Edmonton with Dick and other western MPs. It was at this time that he was re-christened as “Cec”, being assured that this and the disposition of his Irish accent would help him “fit in” to a new country. He remained closely bound to his Irish roots, and supported many relatives and friends in their immigration to Edmonton. Throughout his life, he was sensitive to the experience of immigrants and proud of his Canadian citizenship. He participated in all provincial and federal election campaigns on behalf of the Liberal Party whose values of tolerance and social justice were demonstrated in his own character and actions.
Cec developed his career in the insurance and financial services industry, beginning as a teller in the Canadian Imperial Bank, and progressing to managerial positions with the Farm Credit Corporation and Crown Life Insurance Co. A strong believer in regulation of the financial services industry and of lifelong learning, he achieved the designations of Chartered Life Underwriter, Chartered Financial Planner and Certified Employee Benefits Specialist.
In 1965, he married Barbara Thompson of Olds, Alberta. Together, they raised their beautiful and accomplished daughters. As a parent, Cec imparted a sense of curiosity and a model of self-discipline. He and his daughters shared adventures, travel, laughter and common interests. Their expressions of gratitude and loving companionship were particularly meaningful during the last months of his life. Cec was also proud of his sons-in-law: their characters and achievements in educational leadership, athletics and business; and their gentleness towards his daughters. Cec also delighted in the companionship, enthusiasm and affection of his grandsons.
As his career progressed, Cec established a number of independent businesses, some of which continue to bear his name. He was a founding member of the Nakamun Group, and a fellow member sent him this tribute: “When we first met in 1971, you were already a fixture in the insurance industry in Edmonton. Over almost 40 years I have admired your contributions to your industry and community. Your ability to identify changes and take advantage of them has always been your trademark. Very few individuals would be able to look back and have this track record!”
Cec served a number of local and national professional bodies: as Board Member and President of the Institute of Chartered Life Underwriters, Edmonton chapter; Vice President of the National Association of Chartered Life Underwriters; Board Member of the Alberta Insurance Council and the Alberta Insurance Council Appeals Board. He was also a Board member and President of the Estate Planning Council of Edmonton.
His many contributions to community boards and not-for-profit organizations included the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Shrine Clown Unit, the City of Edmonton Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and the Snow Valley Ski Club which he served as President and Life Member.
Following the example of his father and Dick Hanna, Cec was a lifelong member of the Masonic Order, Exemplar Lodge and Concordant bodies. Through his participation as Board member and President of the Masonic Foundation, he facilitated gifts to many charities.
The goals of Rotary – to establish world understanding and peace through concrete, community-level actions – were highly congruent with Cec’s personal philosophy.
He was a member and president of the Mayfair and Gateway Rotary Clubs and was appointed District Governor of Rotary International District 5370 for 2002-2003. In this role, his signature achievements were the chartering of new Rotary Clubs and leading the effort to raise over a million dollars for the eradication of polio in the world. He participated in medical missions to Guatemala and many other local and national projects. During the final months of his life, Cec particularly appreciated the special recognition he received for his “relentless dedication and loyalty to the objectives of Rotary”. Recently, he was made an honorary member of the Gateway and Southeast Rotary Clubs.
Cec loved the outdoors, and constantly tested himself and others in a variety of sports. He was a founding member of the Edmonton Leprechauns Rugby Club, and for many years enjoyed the camaraderie of the Millcreek Runners. He completed several Jasper-Banff relays, and one of his life’s proudest achievements was his participation in the Klondike Trail of ‘98 Road Relay in 1986. He sailed, cycled, skied and walked and knew every trail in Edmonton’s river valley.
Cec loved music of all kinds and without benefit of Karaoke he could sing along in any genre, including hymns, Irish ditties and parlour songs he recalled from his childhood. He was especially delighted that his grandsons were progressing in their abilities to play the piano and violin.
He loved the Alberta landscape, and it was fitting that in 2005 he received the Alberta Centennial Medal in recognition of outstanding service to the people and province of Alberta.
Cec had a wonderful sense of occasion. His grace and ability to be present to others were reflected in all facets of his life. He acknowledged and appreciated every considerate and thoughtful gesture. Characteristically, the words he spoke most frequently during the last months of his life were “thank you”.
When he left Ireland for Canada, Cec was given a Bible in which his minister had inscribed the five rules of Life: Think, Pray, Act, Hope, and Rejoice. Cec lived by these rules and continued to value his association with the church, most recently the congregation of First Presbyterian Church which he had also attended as a new immigrant. He had a long association with St. Stephen’s College, leading fundraising initiatives, and more recently, as a member of The Friends of St. Stephen’s College. A fellow member of this group remarked that “In the Friends’ meetings, Cec was usually very quiet, but when he had something to say, it was wise.” A Rotary colleague expressed the feelings of many when he wrote that, “it will be hard to think of Cec Blackburn as gone from this life because to us, he was, and is the consummate Rotarian, a constant friend, a supportive mentor and wise counsel. His presence and actions of many years will be remembered”.
Cec’s family express appreciation to our helper Mary Ann and to the many people who have supported Cec’s journey with them. Particular gratitude is expressed to Dr. Z. Chryznowski; Dr. Noush Mirhosseinini; professionals Michelle, Penny and Ragnar of the Palliative Home Care Program; and Rev. Currie, music directors, choir and the congregation of First Presbyterian Church.
A private family burial was held on July 26, 2011 at the Colchester Cemetery south of Sherwood Park, Alberta, followed by a memorial service on July 27, 2011 at the First Presbyterian Church in Edmonton, Alberta. Cec asked that any donations in his memory be made to either St. Stephen’s Theological College (in support of capital improvement) or to the Choir of First Presbyterian Church.