A Farewell to Uncle Neil – John McKenty

A Farewell to Uncle Neil – John McKenty

I am very honoured and humbled today to speak a few words on behalf of my brothers Mike and Bob and myself who were Neil’s nephews.

For three young boys growing up in Kingston, Ontario, our Uncle Neil could be an imposing and at times intimidating figure – the deep voice, the wide-ranging intellect, the stellar reputation as a teacher and as a writer.

We first knew our uncle as a priest and when he came to visit us in Kingston, he’d stay at Regiopolis College the Jesuit high school. Should a Sunday occur during his stay, he’d say Mass in the small chapel at the school. When that happened, our mom and dad would gather up us three boys and off we’d go to the chapel. Because we were altar boys, uncle Neil expected us to serve Mass. The problem was that the McKenty boys weren’t all that good as altar servers. But despite the fact that we’d often flub the odd line of Latin, Uncle Neil would tell us we were the best altar boys he ever had.

Last evening my brother Mike reminded me that in the McKenty household Uncle Neil took precedence over even Santa Claus because should one of his visits occur during Christmas, there would be no presents opened until we had been to the chapel and back.

As the years went by, Neil continued to live a life that was the stuff of legend in the McKenty household – his work with Special Olympics, his marriage to the most wonderful Catharine & his growing reputation as a radio and T.V. broadcaster.

I can recall one time, my wife, Zeta, and I went to visit Catharine and Neil. That evening they took us down to enjoy the night life in old Montreal. It was wonderful with musicians, magicians etc. and when it was all over Neil hailed a cab. “66 Somerville Ave.,” said Neil from the back seat, and without missing a beat or turning his head, the cabbie said, “Hey I know you. You’re McKenty Live!” Now it’s one thing to be reporter in a small town like Hastings and have people know your name, but I knew it was quite another to be in a city of six million and have them know it.

Like his brother Stafford before him & indeed the McKenty boys who follow him, Neil had his demons to battle. Like Father Paul I believe it was those very struggles that allowed Neil to understand and empathize so fully with the struggles of those around him.

Today on behalf of my brothers and myself, I’d like to say how proud we are of the life our uncle lived and how grateful we are for the legacy that he left us.

Now his earthly journey has come to an end and I’d like to close with the words of another well known gentleman from Westmount, Quebec, Mr. Leonard Cohen.

Going home without my sorrow

Going home sometime tomorrow

Going home to where it’s better than before

Going home without my burden

Going home behind the curtain

Going home without this costume that I wore

Leonard Cohen, “Going Home” from Old Ideas, 2012

1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Neil Stephenson Says:

    I was pleased and honoured to attend Neil’s final sendoff on a beautiful spring weekend in Montreal. My name is Neil Stephenson and I am Neil’s cousin. I always felt quite close to Neil, not only because I was named after him- but because I attended McGill in the early 80s and used to see Neil almost every week. I usually had dinner with both Neil and Catherine at their cozy Westmount home on Sunday nights. I studied political science at McGill and so Neil and I always had lots to talk about and debate about! He was a kind mentor figure to me and I will always love him and remember him for that. My brother Mark and I drove down for the service and it was amazing to see the crowd at his memorial service and the wake. Neil was a good soul who lived a good life- despite its fair share of suffering and challenges. I always get a bit nostalgic when I visit Montreal as my years at McGill were among the happiest in my life- and I always think of Neil when I go there. I had also had the great pleasure on this last trip to reconnect with one of my favorite professors at McGill – John Shingler- who got me interested in South African politics 30 years ago. I wish you well Catherine and I look forward to seeing you in either Toronto or Montreal soon. You are a wonderful woman and Neil was lucky to have you as his wife for all those years.

    Neil Stephenson

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