(Note: this was written shortly after Derek's accident on July 17th, 1999)
Derek was unique. He was a bigger than life character whose presence was unavoidable. Even though he was gruff and sometimes petulant, he was still universally liked. He was a hard working salt miner, beer drinker and bar stool philosopher. While most people assumed that Derek was British, he was in fact Canadian, hailing from St. Thomas Ontario. Years of living in England gave him a thick British accent that always made Derek stand out in a crowd of Canadians.
I met Derek in the Park House the summer of 1988 (as best as I can recall). I told him that I had been doing some paintings of Goderich. He insisted that I go to my car and bring them in for his "expert eye." Well his criticism was harsh, but on the money. Others at the bar were telling him to 'lighten up on me.' He then told me of his own art career. It turns out this critic was for several years a painter for Royal Wooster Porcelain. He also had a talent for oil portraits.
When the evening ended he asked where I was staying when I came to Goderich. I said that I was camping out at Point Farms Provincial park. He said that on my next visit that I could stay at his place.
Derek even visited me twice in Columbus with his friend from the mine, Fred. The two of them loved it here. They thought that while Columbus was a big city, it still had nice charming neighborhoods. And the two of them took them by storm. When I came back after teaching a class to pick the two of them up at a bar in Grandview, a guy at the bar asked them, "is he bothering you?" I said, "what's this all about? I'm their damn chaperone!!" Derek could make friends instantly anywhere he went. While visiting Columbus we spent several hours out in the county on the famous "Boot Hunt." The Boot Hunt was a multinational, decades long search for 'Farm and Ranch' boots (a bit more utilitarian than standard cowboy boots), that could tolerate, in his words, "salt brine, snow, and cow shit." Be sure to add a pint of ale to that list as well. We actually found a pair, and I'm sure as of a few days ago they rested alongside a wall full of these boots--all since worn and tired having done their time supporting his tall frame.
Most of our time together was spent in Goderich. Usually in the Park House, the Royal Canadian Legion Hall, or The Duke (and sometimes on Sunday's at Murphy's,...). Here we endured endless hours of lectures on all manner of subjects. Most of the time the subjects were work (the Sifto salt mine), women, cows, politics (a labor supporter), art, and travel. Derek was comfortable conversing on most any subject--and that fact struck terror in most of the other bar regulars! While he had a hard exterior and would publicly come off as a misanthrope and misogynist (and also a misogamist), he was actually neither. The hard shell was merely there to protect the soft but seldom seen inside. We always got on well because I knew the whole story. And in the end if it was a motorcycle that got the better of him, he would have wanted it that way. This was not a man that was going to go gently into that good night. It was only fitting that his end would be as bold and dramatic as was his life. When he left this world a piece of my soul went right along with him. I'll miss him. I know that he wouldn't want us to shed tears. He would rather we go down to the Park House and pour a pint of ale, light a cigarette and talk glowingly of him. I'll do that for you old boy.