Hundreds gathered last Wednesday at St. Dunstan’s, Fredericton’s largest church, to celebrate the life of Dr. John McKendy and find a way to move forward after his passing. Every pew was filled, and the walls were lined with students, colleagues, family and friends who payed tribute to the mentor who inspired them so deeply.
“John would flee the spotlight anytime someone tried to honour him,” said Vince ?, a fellow Quaker, during one of the afternoon’s many rhetorics. “This time, I say, too bad John.”
He said McKendy was continuously working to eradicate violence from everyday life. He also said that in the weeks leading up to his death, McKendy asked people to pray for Baker, his former son in law and the suspect in his murder.
“He knew the risks of unconditional love,” Vince ? said. “Is loving one another too much a fault? I believe John knew what kinds of risks he took.”
The Quaker ceremony was far from a conventional mourning- rather than having one formal eulogy, many members of McKendy’s immediate and extended family approached the podium to share their fondest memories of him.
Sylvia Hale, a friend and colleague, said that McKendy represented the best of what St. Thomas has to offer.
“He helped us to hold fast to the notion that we are one as a community,” she said.
“This tragedy is drawing us closer together,” Vince ? said. “We’ll patch the hole as best we can by drawing into it. But we can never replace John, or the lavish love and sacrifice he doled out.”
A song written and recorded by McKendy’s daughter Laura, as a farewell before his next volunteer trip to the third world, was played during the service.
St. Thomas president Dr. Higgins said that the memorial was a chance to celebrate Dr. McKendy’s life, rather than mourn his death.
“It’s cathartic, it’s a wonderful occasion for us all to come together and bring our emotions to the surface.” Higgins said.
Higgins added that there is always a rift left when someone dies, particularly when that death is violent.
“But that loss is compounded when it happens to somebody who was so deeply loved and whose whole life was, ironically, devoted to non-violence,” he said. “We’re left to wonder what life is going to be like now that he’s gone, as we try to put the pieces back together. But an event like this helps us find some answers to that question, and some early closure.”
“How do we avoid panic, hysteria, easy judgements, the kinds of things John would have wanted us to avoid?” Higgins added. “He would have been measured, he would have been non judgmental, he would have looked carefully and tried to discern the causes before finding the best way to move forward.”
Hale agreed that McKendy would have wanted only a positive outcome from such a tragedy.
“He taught us enormous ways of better relating to one another,” she said. “Nothing about how he died affects that, and I remember him with great joy.”