MEMORY LANE: Moustache man continues to fill a need

Dedicated volunteer serves family at Silver Harbour

North Vancouver’s most luxuriant and elaborate arrangement of facial adornment will soon be history.  

After 27 years on this side of the inlet, James Mead is moving to New Westminster and he’s taking his beard and handlebar mustache with him.

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James’s current handlebar is conservative compared to others he has cultivated over the years. One can only imagine the three-curl version he describes. At 17 inches on each side, it could be tied at the back of his head.

James grew his first handlebar, modelled on one his father sported, when he was 25, working and training in nursing at Regina General Hospital.

“I keep it for the movies,” he explains. “I’m the old guy at the end of the bar.” James has appeared as an extra in more than 100 film and television productions since he retired from nursing at Lions Gate Hospital.

A farm boy, James was born and raised on the Saskatchewan prairie. Every year at freeze-up, the Mead family moved to the hamlet of Ogema, returning to their farm at Easter.

“Mother was a baseball player, and with eight siblings, we had a team,” James recalls. “In the winter we were skating and curling at the ice rink every evening. And all year round there were dances in the community halls and one-room schools on the outskirts of Ogema.”

Television and transistor radios opened up the world of art and culture for James. Nursing turned out to be the perfect job for a man with his interests.
After working and saving, off he’d go on another tour of Europe’s castles and cathedrals.

In 1968, the same year the handlebar mustache made its appearance, James visited family in British Columbia. “It was in the autumn and I thought, I don’t have to go back to the snow and ice.”  

He moved from the city to North Vancouver in 1988 and started work at Lions Gate Hospital.

Work as an extra is on the extensive resumé he’s developed since retiring. He’s a housesitter and house cleaner, a dog walker and a caregiver. Also a stamp collector, calligrapher, needle worker (one embroidered shirt won James a prize at the PNE) and one of Silver Harbour Seniors’ Activity Centre’s invaluable volunteers.

James joined Silver Harbour thanks to his friend and square-dance partner Mae Thomson (profiled here Jan. 12, 2014), who gave him a tour of the centre. He found familiar faces from the neighbourhood and colleagues from the hospital, and “traded one job for another,” he says with a laugh.

At Silver Harbour’s cafeteria one day, a friend stops by, another retired nurse, with an update on his wife’s health. A few minutes later, a woman brings him cupcakes. “She’s a baker. I gave her several packages of cupcake papers and I get cupcakes whenever she bakes for a worthy cause. It’s a big family here at Silver Harbour,” says James, “at least for me.” He plans to keep up his volunteer duties, and his friendships, at Silver Harbour.

“James has been volunteering at Silver Harbour for 12 years, essentially ever since he set foot in the centre. James is the kind of person to see a need and fill a need, so he can be found volunteering for Silver Harbour in many ways,” says Annwen Loverin, the centre’s executive director.

“He spends countless hours in our garden pruning, weeding, replanting. Every spring, James manages the very large task of taking spent flower bulbs and turning them into a fundraiser for Silver Harbour.”  

It comes from growing up on a farm, James says, where there is always something that needs to be done. “My dad would say, ‘While you’re resting, we’ll be doing this.’”  

The ability to “see a need and fill a need” is a rare quality, and an asset in a volunteer. For community centres and service organizations everywhere it may be the most valuable contribution their volunteers can make.  

With B.C. Volunteer Week in the rear view until April of next year, let us recognize and appreciate James Mead and all volunteers for their contributions to our communities.

Join James at Silver Harbour on Saturday, May 7 for bulbs and much more at the annual Spring Sale.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. 778-279-2275 seniorsconnect@shaw.ca

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