Remembering Harold Parsonage

On the evening of December 15, 2017, the world lost one of its best. Pilot Harold Parsonage flying his plane back to Baldur from Gillam, Manitoba, where he had flown an errand for a friend, crashed into the woods in a ravine painfully close to his home runway.  He did not survive the impact. Following are a few of my thoughts about Harold, the man I knew for many years.

 Remembering Harold Parsonage

In 1971, I met Harold who would have been 14 at the time. We got along well and it wasn’t long before I realized that he was above average smart. Not in the academic sense of smart where folks with PhD’s can talk in language that many of us don’t understand. No, Harold was street smart, tools smart, mechanically smart, life smart and on top of all that, he was a genuine nice guy. Most who knew him were aware of those traits of his. And we all know how it was so genuine.

School: Harold didn’t really care much for the school curriculum. When he was in grade 11 after harvest, he attended school but wasn’t too impressed by it. In reality he was bored. So after Christmas he stopped attending. But when he ran into his principal on the street, he was encouraged to come back and at least write his Easter exams. Harold did, and his average at the time I believe was 74%. Imagine if he had attended and took an interest in the courses!! Dare I say 100%? He did not go back to high school again.

But later that year in the fall I got a call. Harold has decided he wants to take the Aggie Diploma program at the U of M. Could I check it out? So, I found out that without a high school diploma he would have to appear before a panel to be interviewed. And the very next day was his last opportunity to get into the program that year. So he rushes into Winnipeg, meets before the panel and they allow him to take his diploma. One of the questions he was asked was, “What do you think of politics?” Quick as a wink Harold replies, “I don’t follow politics very much but my Dad votes Liberal so I guess that’s good enough for me.” This was a clever answer for a 17 year old. And it must have impressed the panelists.

One of the things you noticed about Harold when you first met him was his uncanny ability to fix things. So you’d always be able to find him in the shop tinkering. He honed his skills in repairing machinery or car or tractor engines or welding something or creating some practical thing. All done well of course. Many folks brought stuff to be fixed by Harold. Always done cheerily.

Harold’s nickname at the time was Evil after the daredevil Evel Knieval. He liked to push limits and folks were aware of it. He liked to ride his motorcycles hard, sometimes ending up in the ditch. One night in Winnipeg we got a call from Harold. Could we pick him up? So here he was waiting for us at the overpass at Jubilee and Pembina. What happened we asked? “Oh I slipped off the downside of the curve, I must have been going a little too fast.” says Harold. He was injured a bit but certainly wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. The next morning, he went back and retrieved the bike.

First airplane: One time when I was out at the farm, I learned Harold was taking his pilot’s license. He’d drive up to Gladstone for ground school and flying time. And in typical Harold fashion, he ended up teaching the next class of ground school before he even had his own pilot’s license. That was Harold.

My first ride in his first plane that he had purchased from Gladstone Air was interesting. We go up for a ride and he says look down and lo and behold, there is the word EVIL standing as plain as day in the field below. How did it get there? Harold had taken extra fertilizer, paced off the letters and created his own logo in the field below. Cleverly done, the letters were straight and even. That was Harold.

When his sister Lily and I were living at Birtle, we knew Harold was coming up to visit. We were expecting a phone call at any moment to say he’d arrived and we were prepared to go into town to pick him up. The next thing we know, Harold is disembarking from his plane in our yard. How had he done that? By using the road as a runway of course. And that became a trademark. Before going into the spraying business, do I dare say he used more roads as runways than he did actual runways? He knew the limits and used them to advantage. That was Harold.

In 1979 Harold made his way out to Vancouver B.C. He landed a job working at a paper mill as a millwright. But he soon realized that his journeyman counterparts were making more dollars/hr. than he was, for doing the same work. Did he whine about it? No, in typical Harold way, he figured out a way to get the extra pay. He’d challenge the welder’s examination that would enable him to get his journeyman’s papers and hence the extra salary. So when he asked the foreman if he could challenge, the first question was how much welding have you done? Knowing that you have to apprentice for 5 years in order to qualify for journeyman’s papers, he immediately replied (in Harold’s typical straight-up way) “It must be 5-6 years now back in Manitoba.” So he was allowed to challenge the exam and you know the end result. He passed of course and started getting the higher wages.

What wasn’t stated was that the welding he’d done back home was “farm” welding. And you know farm welding; a bit today, a lot in a week, nothing more for a month maybe. (And a lot of the time not much in the winter.) But that information was neither asked nor implied and it didn’t matter. That was Harold.

But Harold realized that he did not like being surrounded by mountains. Being a prairie boy, he yearned for the wide-open spaces. So he left the job, came home and applied for EI or Unemployment Insurance as it was called back then. He qualified of course but they wanted him to prove he was looking for jobs he could do. He was sent to a company that specialized in TIG welding. Did he get the job? No! That was hard to believe. Here is a guy who could do anything and he failed his test. When he was asked how come he failed the test, in his inimitable way and with a smile, Harold said, “I flubbed the test on purpose. Anyone can do it but I didn’t want to sit there all day with a TIG welder in my hand. That work is so boring.” That was Harold.

So EI asked what else he’d like to do and Harold learned he could keep collecting if he attended an institution of higher learning. His next step then was to sign up to take carpentry at Red River College. But you can almost guess what happened next? Harold’s neighbour Caesar DeJaegher came along and asked Harold if he’d build him a house. He had a corner lot in Baldur and he wanted a house on it. And there was only “one” person he wanted to build it. Everyone who knew Caesar, knew he was a bit fussy and he didn’t want just anyone to build his house, it had to be Harold. Most of us would have said, “if you can wait until I’m done my course at Red River I’ll work on your house then.” But this was Harold we were referring to. He accepted the request as a new challenge and for a time, worked on the house on weekends while attending classes. But the weekends became longer and Harold spent more time on the house than at class. So once again in his life, Harold had an educator questioning his attendance in class. In the end, Harold got his carpentry certificate from Red River when he was able to convince his instructors that building a house was as valuable as sitting in class trying to learn how to build one.  And in the end Caesar had a nice new comfortable house in Baldur. That was Harold.

Flying:

Back in the day, when Harold’s plane was at a neighbour’s yard north of Baldur, I went up with him. And as was his nature, he turned the controls over to me. I thought it would only be for a minute or 2 but that wasn’t Harold’s way. Once you had the controls, the plane was yours to fly. The consummate teacher, he was as patient and relaxed as only Harold could be and we had a nice flight. Upon approaching the landing strip, I was ready to turn the controls back to Harold a lot sooner than he thought I should. He kept me flying the plane, right over a big hydro line and only took the controls just before landing. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous because I was with the best instructor a person could be flying with. That was Harold.

Back in the day when I was travelling around the countryside for work, I’d drop into the farm and stay overnight. One of the first things I discovered was a flight simulator hooked to the TV and run through the computer. All of Harold’s young family were capable of landing big passenger planes at O’Hare in Chicago, at LaGuardia or JFK in New York, LA International or Orly in France. I soon learned that I was capable of crashing on my approach to O’Hare in Chicago, at LaGuardia or JFK in New York, LA International or Orly in France. That was typical of Harold. If he could teach his kids to fly into big cities on the computer, they wouldn’t be afraid to fly in the relatively uncluttered air space around Baldur. That was Harold.

I was not surprised when I heard that Harold had started a “crop dusting” business. Flying was a strong passion and with son Riley on board and the rest of the family, he created a successful aerial application business (Air Greenway Ltd.) that has gained a lot of respect in the community.

The Tragedy:

When I heard last December that Harold’s plane was down and he hadn’t come home, I prayed that he would just calmly come walking out of a nearby bush and say, “What’s all the fuss about?” That would have been Harold’s way. But sadly not this time!!

“Good buddy, now you can fly as high as you want and sometime when I get there, I want to go on another flight with you while you gently guide me on the controls.”

Written by Larry Gompf  - Harold’s friend