IN MEMORIAM: Longtime columnist was ‘larger than life’

George E. “Gem” Mortimore had a passion for telling people’s stories

George E. 'Gem' Mortimore

Longtime Gazette columnist, award-winning writer, human rights champion and all-around kind human being George E. Mortimore passed away July 29, five days after his 94th birthday.

“I picture him at a typewriter or a keyboard, that’s the first image that comes to mind,” says Michael Mortimore of his father. “He wrote morning, noon and night. That was his passion.”

Better known as Gem to his readers for the acronym of his initials, Mortimore started his writing career early as a teenager contributing to the Cowichan Leader. For more than seven decades he never stopped putting words to paper until late last year, when age forced him to step back from the keyboard.

“He wrote opinion pieces for political think tanks, Readers Digest, for newspapers across Canada,” says Michael, one of Mortimore’s three sons. “He interviewed celebrities, wrote for radio … even when he was in the air force, he wrote for the air force magazine.”

From interviewing the Three Stooges to Bob Hope to Canadian hockey icon Tim Horton, there wasn’t anyone Mortimore couldn’t sit down and chat with.

“People loved him,” Michael says. “They really did, on a personal level.”

Mortimore was passionate about championing human rights and used his literary skills to bring attention to many situations. His film, “Eagles on the River,” made when he was a professor of anthropology at the University of Guelph, explored the lives of the Dokis First Nation. His 52-part series “The Strangers” won a National Newspaper Award in 1958 for its portrayal of the aboriginal experience in Canada.

“He was a real champion of native rights long before anyone else cared about them,” Michael says. “He was always advocating for human rights and he was certainly a champion of the economically disadvantaged.”

Michael has spent the last few years living with his father and taking care of him in the family’s beloved home on Langford Lake, a house that’s virtually the same as when Michael was less than a year old.

“It’s a hundred-year-old house and it’s never had any significant upgrades,” he says. “It’s kind of a part of me.” Michael has no plans to move anytime soon and remembers that his dad loved the spot.

“He really loved the house on the lake; the trees, the water.”

Above all, Michael remembers his dad as a writer and as a kind and generous person who could talk to anyone about anything.

“He was a good listener. My dad was quite the character. He had a full life, a wonderful life. He did follow his passion and I do admire him for that.

“My biggest hero in my life was my dad. A lot of people could say that, but it’s true. If more people were like that, we wouldn’t have too many troubles.”

Mortimore’s family is planning a memorial service in the upcoming weeks. For more information, please contact Michael at michaelmortimore1@gmail.com.

acowan@goldstreamgazette.com

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