Caldwell lived a full life
Now that he’s gone, there’s debate as to whether Thomas Caldwell ever really worked a day in his life.
Sure, he was employed, and that employment had him interact with generations of athletes – professional and otherwise – in Orillia and across the country.
But his daughter, Leslie, would rib her father, particularly in his twilight years, that he never really held a job.
“He was drafted to the Ottawa Roughriders; the minute he left school, he was going to play pro football, but then the war got in the way,” Leslie Caldwell recalled recently. “He did sports his whole life. Pro football, pro curler; I used to say to Dad, ‘You never worked a day in your whole life. You played games all your life.’”
Caldwell died near the end of January at the age of 94. A rear gunner in the Second World War, he was known to many in Orillia for his contribution to athletics, be it as a golf pro at Couchiching Golf Club or the manager of the Orillia Curling Club.
He was also a member of the last Orillia rink to compete at what is now known as the Tim Hortons Brier, the men’s Canadian curling championship.
He was there in 1961, the year Leslie was born.
“My real name is actually Brier,” she said. “Dad left Mom nine months’ pregnant and went out and curled up in Calgary. He heard on TV he had a baby girl; he wasn’t even there for it. He was curling when I was born.”
He was devoted to his craft, throwing the rocks up and down the ice every day to become an elite curler. But as good of a curler as he was, he was a better father, Leslie remembers.
“He was the chaperone on every trip; he was always out on the street playing baseball, playing anything,” she recalled. “He had the freedom to be a dad. He was there for absolutely everything we did.”
He wasn’t there only for his children, but for other youth in the city who needed a place to go if they were in trouble and needed to get their act together.
“We weren’t a foster family, per se, but it was always known in town if you had a difficult kid or a kid in trouble, you gave it to Tom Caldwell,” Leslie said. “We always had a spare bedroom and kids would rotate in and out that room. I never really got to know them, but they’d be there for three to four months and seem to leave happier than when they came.”
Caldwell stayed sharp and competitive until near the end, Leslie said. He was still curling at 91, and jogged up to four miles a day until hearing trouble slowed him down. Competitive bridge helped him keep his wits, she added.
After his heart surgery, he moved into the Leacock Care Centre. More recently, he was at Spencer House, where he spent his final days. While he liked where he lived, he wasn’t fond of not being able to do all the things he could as a younger man. At Christmas, Leslie said her father joked he was “past his best-before date ... like a stale, old piece of bread.”
“He didn’t want to grow old, and I think growing old was pissing him off,” she said.
Caldwell’s passing was peaceful, but sudden.
“He’s in a better place,” she said. “I miss him like hell, but I think he was ready.”
He was married to his wife, Sally, for 56 years, until her death in 2010. They had two children, Tom and Leslie, and four grandchildren.