It was an afternoon of sombre reflection and celebration at Western Financial Place on Saturday, as friends, family and the community gathered to pay tribute to Clayton Murrell and Joan MacKinnon.
Family members, friends and coworkers each had the opportunity to reminisce and share their memories of both Murrell — a local fire captain with Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services — and MacKinnon, who worked as the aquatics coordinator for the city’s Community Services Department.
Both tragically passed away in a highway accident two weeks ago east of Yahk.
The ceremony began with a march of firefighters, police and emergency personnel — some who came from as far away as Manitoba — to Western Financial Place. Family and friends then shared memories of both Murrell and MacKinnon, which centred on their love for each other and their children, their shared enthusiasm for equine activities and their dedication to their respective careers.
The ceremony also included a slide show, Amazing Grace from the Kimberley, Calgary and Surrey Pipe Band and presentations of sentimental items to family members.
From an early age, MacKinnon was always around the swimming pool, and even managed to convince her older brother Rick, to drive her to the pool in Terrace at 5:30 a.m. in the morning to swim laps before school.
Her affinity for water made it a natural extension to get trained as a lifeguard when she was just 16 years old. Stephanie Lloyd Jones, a high school friend, described how she would act as a dummy so Joan could practice setting splints when she began her lifeguard training.
In 2000, she moved to Cranbrook and was one of the first lifeguards hired on at the Cranbrook Aquatic Centre after it finished construction in 2001.
“She not only inspired me when she became a life guard, a coach, a swim instructor, an instructor for other instructors — she has inspired and encouraged hundreds and hundreds of people young and old to get in the water and enjoy it,” said Rick MacKinnon.
Joan advanced through the department to reach her role as aquatic coordinator and worked closely with Chris New, Cranbrook’s Director of Leisure Services. New described how little things — even something as simple as going into each others’ offices and saying ‘good morning’ — mattered to Joan.
“It would mean so much,” New said. “And that just became a thing we shared.”
In addition to her role with the aquatics centre, Joan also volunteered with Cranbrook Special Olympics for 13 years and served as the head coach for the last seven of those years.
Aaron and Andrew Moldenhauer, Joan’s two sons, paid tribute to their mom, with Andrew pointing out how Joan and Clay’s life changed when they became grandparents.
“I’ve never seen my mother smile as brightly, or laugh as loudly as she did when she was playing with her grandkids,” said Aaron, speaking on behalf of Andrew. “She loved them as she loved all four of us children with a fervour and passion for life.”
Aaron noted that he knew his mother in three ways as Joan, mom and Nana.
“My mom has always been my greatest mentor and I’ve always walked in her footsteps,” he said. “I know I’ve made her proud with what I’ve done, and I can only hope that I continue to do so.”
Ted Murrell, Clayton’s brother, spoke of how proud he was when Clayton joined Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services in 1990, rising through the ranks and earning promotions to Lieutenant in 2005 and Captain in 2009.
The Murrells were avid backcountry adventurers who like to hunt, fish and ride horses and ATVs at a family cabin in the Flathead Valley. Clayton was also a musician who liked to play guitar and sing.
It was with his guitar that he sang ‘Could I Have This Dance For the Rest of My Life’ to Joan while on a houseboat vacation on Lake Koocanusa, promptly proposing thereafter in 2005.
But it’s impossible to talk about Clayton and Joan without talking about their shared love of everything equine and their steeds — as Clay rode HP and Joan rode Charlie.
Scott Holt, Clay’s roping partner with the Pine Ridge Roping Club, noted that no matter what happened in the arena, both Clay and Joan would never lose their composure with the horses and were a steadying and calming influence, all the while mostly avoiding major equine-related injuries or accidents.
“It feels like we’ve all just lost today not just a thumb or a bruise or a broken ego, we’ve lost a part of ourselves, a part of our body, a part of our hearts,” said Holt. “We have a Joan and Clayton-sized hole in our hearts.”
Dysen, Clay’s son, said his father was always one to joke around and get a laugh, but that he could be serious if he needed to be, adding that it was a sign if his moustache twitched.
“He wouldn’t have to say a word, ever,” said Dysen.
Clayton’s daughter, Kirsten, told a story of how a day after surgery on a torn bicep, he was out swinging an axe one-handed to split firewood for the stove. The two even completed a Tough Mudder endurance race together when his arm was supposed to be in a sling from that same surgery.
‘He was my best friend, my life coach, the keeper of my secrets and the man who knew how to effectively embarrass me in any situation,” wrote Kirsten, in remarks read by Rev. Jack Linquist. “To put it simply and understate it: My dad was, and always will be, my world and my everything.
Growing up, I wanted to be everything my dad was — strong, humble, smart, gentle, funny and loving. I wanted to resemble my father in every way I could, minus the moustache.”
Kirsten described Joan as the perfect balance between a mother and a friend.
“She was the most bubbly, fun-loving and adventurous person ever,” wrote Kirsten.
Clayton served many positions in Local 1253 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, including president as the union’s point of contact with Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services management.
“Clay was a voice of reason; he always maintained calm, whether it was on the fire line or in union/management discussions,” said Wayne Price, Director for CFES.
D’Arcy Kennedy, the Training Coordinator with CFES department, said Clayton always put the welfare of his firefighters above his own.
Kennedy recalls asking some officer advice from Clayton, which yielded three important nuggets: make sure everyone gets home from the shift, don’t create any more paper work than necessary and try not to end up on Youtube.
“So how to we honour this man?” asked Kennedy. “We do this by the little things in life. We try to be a little nicer. We try to hold that thought just a little longer. We try to say I love you a little more often and laugh a little louder.”
In lieu of flowers, the families for Murrell and MacKinnon ask that donations in Clayton and Joan’s memories be forwarded to the BC Burn Fund, the Pine Ridge Roping Club and the Special Olympics in Cranbrook.