GORE BAY—If the measure of our time on earth is how much we love and are loved, then Ted Culgin was a successful man indeed. Even a stranger walking in on his funeral at the Gore Bay Community Hall on January 19 could see that clearly.
But there weren’t any strangers in the hall that day. Although more than 150 people filled the place, everyone had their own reason for honouring Ted’s life. Those reasons were as diverse as Ted himself. If you’d arrived early enough before the 11 am service, you’d know something was up when a trailer from The Rock motorcycle shop in Sudbury backed in behind the hall. Out rolled Ted’s green trike, brought in especially for the event. Like a faithful steed, it stood outside the front steps of the community hall in the rain, waiting patiently. It was still there after the guests left.
You’d be hard pressed to think of a funeral with a more diverse mix of people in the seats. Like Ted himself, it was a patchwork quilt made more interesting by its variety. Suits, ties, dresses, casual clothes, leather vests and biker colours—people of all kinds were there. Barb Culgin, Ted’s wife, was so strong, together and elegant. Andy, Dawn and Willow, Barb and Ted’s son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, were in the front row next to Barb. No one could believe how much Willow had grown. Mary Jane Culgin and Sean Ronan, Ted’s sister and brother-in-law, were there too, plus nephew Ben. Mary Jane brought a recording of Ted’s 90-year-old mother, Aileen, playing the Music Box Dancer on piano, offered on behalf of her and her husband Bill Peppler.
Attending in spirit were Ted’s nephew Jack and Barb’s brother Bob, his wife Bev and their sons Mark and Michael and families from Leamington; as well as Barb’s brother Barry and his wife Linda from British Columbia. Ted also leaves behind his beloved furry, grandbaby dog, Finn O’Malley Culgin.
Barb and Ted became permanent residents of Gore Bay in October, 1987, after Ted accepted a position at the Gore Bay funeral home in what’s now the My Ol’ Blues building. One of the remarkable things Ted and Barb did for Gore Bay was to become entrepreneurs, transforming an old, rough, vacant building across town into one of the most comfortable, beautiful, spacious and inviting funeral homes anywhere. The Culgin Funeral Home opened in April, 1995.
“Ted loved funeral work,” Barb explained. “It was his first love. Ted opened his heart to everyone who walked into our funeral home.” How many hearts did he connect with? Ted conducted more than 1,400 funeral services during his career.
“I was new to funeral work when I married Ted,” says Barb, “and he always told me that you have to keep a sense of humour or else you can’t do your job. Because of his good nature, and his sense of humour, he made things easier for everyone around him, whether making funeral arrangements or facing another round of chemo.”
One of the remarkable things about Ted was his courage and humour as he battled cancer. That battle began in 2007, and though the cancer went into remission, it never went away.
“Ted was surrounded with so much love from his family, his friends, biker buddies, colleagues and the people of Manitoulin Island,” remembers Barb. “I believe this love transformed into his strength. Ted’s faith, as well as his complete trust and respect for all doctors, made each decision about his treatment much easier. If a doctor said, ‘more chemo,’ Ted said, ‘when do we start?’ He was the strength that lifted us all and carried us through.”
Pastor Joel Lock led the ceremony on stage at the front of the hall, but it was really a group effort. Larry Morrison, Ted’s best friend since moving to Gore Bay, shared memories as did Lyle Dewar, a pastor from Providence Bay that Barb and Ted met while renovating the funeral home. Gail Brown, the Culgins’ close friend of 40 years, came from Chatham to speak. Mary Jane Culgin, Ted’s beloved sister, also spoke, reminding us all that Ted was, “waiting for us, for an interval, somewhere, very near, just around the corner.”
Robbie Shawana, president of the local chapter of the Redrum Motorcycle Club and one of Ted’s dearest friends spoke too and left everyone with a moving rendition of that famous tune from the Byrd’s ‘Turn, Turn, Turn.’ It tells of a passage from the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes, one that Barb and Ted had chosen especially for the funeral.
One of the most moving parts of the service was when Joel Lock remembered the story of how Ted showed up at Joel’s house one evening before Christmas in 2011, dressed as Santa at a time in Joel’s life when things were especially hard. Ted took the time to dress up and drive out to Joel’s place to deliver hope and joy in a surprising, quirky and very “Ted” sort of way. A lot of people were working hard to hold back tears at that moment. Many did not succeed.
Even people who knew Ted well probably found surprising and interesting things from his life on display at the north side of the hall. There was the very 1970s photo of Barb and Ted together, the black and white photo of a boyhood Ted sitting on hay baler and a Redrum cap from the motorcycle club Ted rode with.
More than anything else, the item that probably hit people hardest was Ted’s Santa suit. Not all Santa suits are created equal, but Ted’s is superb. It hung, carefully arranged, and obviously the suit of a man who took his role as Santa very seriously. You have to wonder about the last time Ted wore that suit. Did he know it would be his last? Though the cloth and beard hung empty in the middle of Ted’s memorial display, it will always be full of memories.
“As the years progressed,” remembers Barb, “the children who came to visit Santa Ted in the early years were now bringing their own children. That never failed to warm Ted’s heart, year after year.”
If Harley Davidson made caskets, it would look a lot like the one Ted was in—large, powerful, confident and filled with things from his life. Whoever orchestrated that part of the funeral reflected the heart perfectly. Ted’s motorcycle helmet, his trusty walking canes, a white t-shirt full of farewell signatures of friends, families and admirers, it was a small, temporary shrine to a man who loved, was loved and will be remembered in Gore Bay for a long time.
Of all the things said at Ted’s funeral, perhaps the most appropriate came from Barb Culgin: “What one does for one’s self, at the moment of his death, these things die with him. What one does for others lasts forever.” If there’s something Ted would have us remember, could anything be more appropriate than this?”