Tom Macfarlane has played his last hand, but for the countless people he guided and became friends with over the years, he will always have a seat at the bridge table.
Macfarlane was a master of the complicated card game, but he was also a World War II veteran, a generous donor to several causes, and a proud and active member of Ottawa’s LGBTQ community – a significant achievement for a man who had not done so. could always live his life in the open air.
Macfarlane died Saturday at his nursing home in Glebe. He was 96.
Hugh Thomas Macfarlane – just Tom or Tommy for his many friends – was born in 1925 in Montreal, where his family owned the Macfarlane Shoe Co., known in its early days for high-end children’s footwear.
Macfarlane’s father died when he was only a boy. He would later tell friends to go out with his mother to deliver sandwiches to unemployed men during the Great Depression, an experience that may have helped shape his philanthropy later in life.
He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force towards the end of World War II and began training as a tail shooter, while his friend Archie Church trained to become a navigator, but the war ended before they saw action.
After the war, Macfarlane graduated from the university and taught mathematics and English at the same religious school where Church was principal. The two men would continue to have a relationship that spans more than five decades, but because of their profession and because of the time they lived in, they had to be extremely careful.
“At the moment, I think they were as out as they could be without being fired or ostracized,” said Mike Hutton, who would meet Macfarlane in Ottawa many years later.
His friends believe that the stress of that double life may have contributed to a serious heart disease that forced Macfarlane to withdraw from teaching in the 1950s. He later underwent a risky bypass operation, and while he survived, his doctor gave him no more than five years to live.
Instead, Macfarlane would continue to survive many of his peers, including the Church.
“He just kept coming back. He was incorruptible in some respects,” said Nanda Na Champassak, who met Macfarlane about 10 years ago.
In Ottawa, Macfarlane became a founding member of a gay bridge club in the 1990s, an activity that would form the basis of his social life for years to come. As bridge master, Macfarlane introduced many new players to the game he loved.
“Tom really became my bridge teacher, bridgementor, friend and select family grandfather,” said former CBC producer Lisa Hébert, who met Macfarlane through a mutual connection in the early 2000s.
“He was very inspiring, he was very patient with me,” said Chad Buffel, Macfarlane’s bridge partner at Outgames in Montreal in 2006, and in Germany four years later. The pair took home gold from both competitions.
Even after moving into the Villagia retirement home in Glebe, where Hutton said his friend behaved more “like a Walmart greeting” than a resident, Macfarlane continued to host weekly bridge parties.
“He was just a very social person and he did a lot of being in touch with everyone,” Na Champassak recalled.
Macfarlane became heavily involved in the Capital Rainbow Refuge, a group that sponsors LGBTQ refugees from countries where they are persecuted because of their sexuality. At a meeting when the group decided they would have to raise $ 5,000 to set up a gift fund, Macfarlane withdrew his checkbook instead of covering the entire amount.
Friends say he also donated generously to Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Center.
‘A great legacy’
Na Champassak said that when sponsored couples arrived, Macfarlane would insist on being at the airport to greet them.
“He has always wanted to be a part of that welcome committee,” she said. “He was always very present.”
“It’s a great legacy for him,” said Buffel, the group’s treasurer.
Macfarlane had its quirks. Friends say that just as generous as he was to others, he tended to be frugal when it came to himself.
“He wore these old clothes that had been torn and sometimes with blood stains and holes in them, and he was so proud of that,” Hébert remembered. “He had this huge bank account, and he dressed like a poor man, and he really enjoyed being stingy.”
Macfarlane was also exposed to accidents, and can be seen in many pictures with a neckband or black eye. Sometimes both.
“He fell constantly or got into accidents,” Hébert said.
Friends said they began to notice that he slowed down in recent months as Macfarlane went from using a cane to a walker to a scooter, but he never lost his wit or his warmth.
“His body just gave out,” said Na Champassak, who visited him a few days before he died. Macfarlane’s death was not related to COVID-19.
Although he never had his own children, Macfarlane’s friends say the lifelong connections he made in Ottawa were all the family he needed, especially after Church’s death.
“We were there for each other and have been as a family, and for me that was what Tom was,” Hébert said.