Garry Spotowski: A Tribute

Remembering a long-term community member and volunteer.

  • Garry Spotowski Supplied  

  • Garry delivering signs, via bicycle, during Janis Irwin’s campaign in 2015. Janis Irwin

  • A portrait of Garry painted by his friend, Natasha Laurence. Supplied  

  • Garry during a tour of Mont Blanc in the Alps in 2008. Supplied

One month after his brother Doug passed away, Garry Spotowski died suddenly, at his home, here in McCauley, on August 6.

Remaining members of the Spotowski family, and so many others, are enduring heavy losses with the departure of these close brothers: two stellar individuals.

Garry was widely loved: the people that he knew are reeling in a maelstrom of disbelief. Garry had a heart issue that was remedied with a stent a few years ago and he claimed that his doctor said that he now had the “heart of a twenty year old.” A mountain-bike excursion enthusiast, Garry cycled everywhere and anywhere.

He sold his car recently – didn’t need it.

He was also a hiker, cross country skier, and an unstoppable paddler canoeing down a river in France, kayaking along a stretch of the west coast with a group of virtual strangers, participating in the commemorative David Thompson Voyageur Brigade re-enactment (2008) on the mighty rivers of the Great Plains.

He wrote for, edited, photographed, and even delivered our neighbourhood newspaper, the Boyle McCauley News under the nom de plume Arnold Waxwing, and attended community town hall meetings about zoning/land use policies and bylaws.

Garry was, for many years, The City of Edmonton Waste Management Branch’s Education Program Coordinator (this city has a highly advanced recycle and re-use mandate and a world-class waste management infrastructure.) One of Garry’s brainchildren was (is) the Edmonton Re-Use Centre. He became Edmonton’s first certified Master Composter/Recycler, once proudly raising red wigglers in a box of compost in his basement. In 2010, he did a few guest spots as “Garry the Garbage Guy” on U of A’s CJSR radio program, Terra Informa.

Garry had recently retired from his post with the City of Edmonton and undertook – seemingly on a whim – a long drive (in an Audi that he owned for a short time) all the way to New Orleans, where, of course, he rented a bicycle as transportation – his way of gaining a more intimate understanding of that famous city. The photo log of his passage through Wyoming on the way to his destination is stark and . . . artsy. Garry was, for a decade or two, one among a clutch of Edmonton formalist welded steel sculptors. He had taken sculpture at the University of Alberta and fabricated rough’n’ready abstract sculptures in a studio located in an industrial area of Strathcona. He was the University of Alberta’s Fine Arts Sculpture Department’s technician for a while. He also earned a Bachelor of Education degree and was a teacher with the Edmonton Public School Board.

When I first met him 36 or so years ago, Garry was working – like a number of my young Edmontonian acquaintances – for CN Rail. After that, he became a waste collector and drove a Curbster, which led, eventually, to more meaningful civic duties.

G-Spot (as he sometimes referred to himself) was a live music enthusiast, hiring bands to play in his dining room at amazing house parties. He was a regular at the Edmonton Folk Fest, Jazz City, Interstellar Rodeo, The Yardbird Suite, and every concert hall in town. Garry was also an amateur local historian, harbouring a peculiar morbid fascination with the demolition of old landmark buildings. He felt that it was important to bear witness to their razing.

And he was our neighbour. So often did I see him around here, that I sometimes avoided initiating any sort of on-the-street dialogue because we would invariably stand somewhere inconvenient, like the middle of the street, and chat . . . gossip . . . kvetch. “Beeep!” Because when one bumped into Garry, the rest of the world kind of disappeared. He was an engaging conversationalist. Erudite, affable, churlish, funny, and damned interesting. He cared deeply about this community, supporting it in many ways. Garry Spotowski was a golden figure. He made anywhere he was a better place. He will be sorely missed.

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Boyle McCauley News asked people who knew and loved Garry to contribute their thoughts and memories about him. Here are some of their words about a man who has left us far too soon.

“How do you begin to write about your family member who has passed away too soon?

It pains me to write about a man who just lost his best friend and brother a month earlier. How did this happen? Why so soon? My uncles were best friends on earth and I firmly believe they are in Heaven together, riding bikes somewhere.

Garry had just spent countless months with his brother Doug who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. They both lived to the fullest. They both choose not to live on the sidelines. They were adventurous, always seeking a certain calmness within themselves, and they used Mother Nature to her fullest to find that calmness.

Garry was my Godfather. I grew up in Catholic schools and practice the religion to this day. However, Garry wasn’t the Godfather type from a religious aspect – he was a Godfather from a “live life to the maximum” aspect.

Many of you know Garry wasn’t a flashy guy, he was simple like his father. They worked hard, saved, and both retired early. This simplicity gave Garry the freedom to explore the world. After finishing grade 12 he packed his bags and told his dad he would see him in a year, going to literally travel around the world and has been traveling ever since.

This simple practice of calmness was a trait of Garry’s I admired. At so many family functions Garry’s laid-back approach to life was intriguing to be around. That being said, he was intelligent and insightful. You could have long debates, and he would do it with a smile.

Garry was always willing to help any family member or friend within his scope. The only way he couldn’t help was if he was cycling in Portugal, or kayaking in Paris, or on his bike in the mountains.

Garry loved music, all kinds. Any time there was a jazz festival he was there, with his laid-back vibe truly enjoying the moment.

Gary was so unique, he helped create the recycling program for the City of Edmonton. He made a trailer for his bike to pull his hockey equipment around the city. Only a bike enthusiast like Gary would do that.

I remember many things about Garry, I could keep writing for a long time. A funny things I recall:

I was playing hockey in Switzerland and the best brand of skates, Graf, were made there. So, I came home with several pairs. I gave Garry a pair of Graf skates and you’d think I gave him the keys to a Ferrari. It gets better – about 10 years later I asked him how hockey was going. He says its going great and those skates I gave him were still so fast. I said, “What? It’s been 10 years!” His response was, “It’s the best piece of gear I’ve ever had. They’ll last forever.” That was so Garry.

Garry truly loved to be around our family and his friends. He enjoyed and appreciated our family members, and, of course, the amazing homemade cooking.

His passing should remind us to live and not stand on the sidelines!

I will miss him dearly until the day I pass away, until we can all ride our bikes together again one day!” – Zac Boyer (Garry’s Nephew and Godson)

“I will miss his healthy dose of cynicism, ensuring we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and his eclectic taste for adventure. In his quest to paddle many a river, I was privileged to join him on a paddling trip floating down the Missouri! Not to be forgotten as a friend and neighbour!” – Rosalie Gelderman

“I was hanging out at the Fringe in the summer of 2005, when I received a phone call from Garry Spotowski, who was then the editor of Boyle McCauley News. He was going to be taking a leave of absence from the position, and invited me to send my resume directly to him, so he would make sure it was seen by the proper people. He was going through the resumes of previous applicants, and told me he did not know why I had never received an interview in the first place! Long story made short, Garry decided not to return to the paper as editor, and a few months later I started my position there. Eleven years later, Garry remained an active volunteer as a contributor and Block Carrier. I always enjoyed running into him in Little Italy, as well as at events and music festivals. His passing is a sad loss for the McCauley community, and all who knew him.” – Paula Kirman

“I met Garry in 1997 when I signed up for the Master Composter program. He was great. I recall him coming in late and flustered because he’d been on a date the previous night that apparently went well. I just loved how he shattered my perception of public servants. He was so real, so kind, so committed. An absolute gem of a human being.” – Cynthia Strawson

“Garry always had a smile on his face whenever I saw him and a wickedly playful sense of humour. A big loss for our neighbourhood.” – Gary Garrison

“His mix of sarcasm and good intentions are a rare and fine combination we will miss.” – Miranda Ringma

“Always enjoyed having a conversation with you and a laugh. You will be missed and the community won’t be the same without you.” – Dan Glugosh

“Great conversations every time I bumped into you! Always great insights with healthy dose of cynicism.” – Heidi Veluw

“Such a kind person. Always had a smile and a love for his community. He will be missed!” – Cora Shaw

“Garry was a kind, authentic man. He made my MCR [Master Composter Recycler] training very special.” – Bonnie Jean Nicholas

“Garry travelled with me and many others to the wet and wonderful corners of the world, in Baja California and Vancouver Island, on sea kayaking trips with Gabriola Cycle and Kayak and Gabriola Sea Kayaking. One of the things I loved about Garry was his wicked sense of humour.

One particular story stands out in my mind, of a trip that he did in Baja, with Jen Smith and Ashley Rowe, many years ago. On our drive down to Baja that fall, Jen and I had collected all these strange and peculiar religious pamphlets – flyers from cults and communes, self–help brochures, postcards, and assorted items that we found strange or amusing with no particular use in mind. One evening in Loreto, before a long kayak trip down the famous Baja coast from Lorteo to LaPaz, upon which Garry was about to embark, Jo Hagar, a good friend of Garry’s and a sea kayak guide, and I sat around a table and plotted a practical joke on Garry.

We decided that we would put these pamphlets and other items, in envelopes, addressed to Garry, and always from a fictional character named ‘Phillip.’ In each of these flyers, we would circle a particularly odd or bizarre, comment or line and write something like ‘maybe you should think about this Garry….’ or something like that. We were in absolute hysterics, imagining Garry’s response to the sordid array of reading material along with bottles of Viva Villa, bon bons, tins of mini Vienna Sausages and Jesus candles – all from ‘Phillip.’

While on the trip, Jen’s job was to secretly sneak the envelope or package into Garry’s tent at random times each day. When Jen finally fessed up to it, Garry thought it was absolutely hilarious and relieved to know the ‘gifts’ were not ‘some psycho admirer’ on the trip. The last bottle of cheap cane liquor was shared with the group and everybody had a good laugh. Garry, Jen, and myself have had many good laughs about this, over the years and it still cracks me up, every time I tell the story.

Garry, you will surely be missed by all of the friends you have made on the water, over the years and we will think of you often.” – Matt Bowes (along with Jen Smith and the old Baja gang from Gabriola Cycle and Kayak, and Gabriola Sea Kayaking)

“We felt so lucky to have such a cool neighbor next door. Our over the fence chats will be greatly missed.” – Jody Johnson

“Garry lived across the alley from me. While I didn’t get to know him well, we had numerous conversations about things happening in our neighbourhood, and he was always caring and concerned for the welfare of others and for our community. He was always kind and respectful, and will be greatly missed.” – Joanne McNeal

A celebration of Garry’s life will take place on Sunday, September 10 at 2 p.m. (doors at 1 p.m.) at the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex (9615-153 Avenue). In lieu of flowers, Garry would encourage donations to Terra Centre.

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