Friday, May 15, 2009

For Walter

Today my family and I are at Whistler for the dedication of the Cheakamus River Bridge to my late grandfather, Walter Zebrowski. Here is the unabridged text to my speech.

Soon after my grandfather died, I changed my name. Before his death in 1996, I had been Stefan Rubin (although legally I had always been Stefan Zebrowski-Rubin). With his passing, I felt it was time to finally take my full legal name and honour my heritage, even if it meant plummeting to the end of the alphabet.

When I think of my grandfather, I remember all the words others have used to describe him: a Polish man of humble roots, a valiant WWII soldier, a Canadian immigrant, an egg farmer in British Columbia. And while he never lost his thick Polish accent, these things are not at the core of my personal memories of Walter. When I think of my grandfather, Whistler is inextricably linked with his memory.

Every year, we would come to Whistler, ski and visit Walter at his cabin on Cavendish Way. I remember a slightly imposing figure but a gentle soul. And a stubborn man, a true Polish trait that continues to run in the family. But above all he was a man who loved Whistler, his second home.

In our basement hang two frames. One, from 1975, written in elegant script recounts the dedication of a lake, Lake Eva, in honour of Walter’s daughter, my mother. The other, a black and white photograph, shows a man standing on top of a mountain, proudly posed with one arm on top of a fridge. In delicate handwriting, Walter has written: 1970 little Sproatt mountain, elevation 6650 feet, TV Rebroadcasting Station. Here he has captured his accomplishment - in a very modest way - adding little to the name of a sizeable peak and housing his TV rebroadcasting station in a refrigerator.

Regardless, you can see his pride. And I have always associated my grandfather with this proud accomplished outdoorsman and pioneering entrepreneur. Whistler was Walter’s home, he was excited to be a part of shaping the community and found his way of making meaningful contributions. While we in the family know a part of Walter will always be here, since his ashes are spread atop Sproatt mountain; today, we make a meaningful public dedication in his memory, so that a part of him will always be remembered at Whistler, his beloved home.


Jessica, Katy, Laura said...

never really knew WHY you had two last names ... now the beautiful picture that is stefan is more complete. sending kisses and sunshine from laos xxjca

Jim said...

yeah, Stefan--it is good to finally understand why you have two last names.....what a sweet and moving tribute to a man you loved very much and who left a great impact on your life. Thanks for sharing this with all ov us

Elizabeth said...

touching words! and a peaceful picture. having never known any of my grandfathers, it's great to see someone with such fond memories of his. :)