Walter Frederick Vaughan Weir
After a long and fulfilling life, and a very short illness, Walter Weir has died on June 15, 2023.
He was 90 years old.
Walter was brilliant, eccentric, serious and silly, adventurous, curious, open-minded, tolerant, and very kind. He was unfailingly ethical and responsible, and was beloved by all.
Walter was born in Regina, Saskatchewan on October 17, 1932, the first child of Elizabeth (Beth) Tully Speirs Weir and Jack Wilson Weir, both of Winnipeg. Jack was a tobacco salesman who passed away leaving Beth with three young children, Walter (10), John (7) and Stephen (2). The family moved back to Winnipeg to live with Beth’s mother and invalid father, and with her sisters whose husbands were fighting in the war. Walter remembered having to go down to the dark and scary basement to shovel the coal, as the man of the house - at 10. Beth was able to return to work as a teacher and to buy a small house in Winnipeg, where she raised the boys. Stephen has said that Walter was like a father to him.
Walter was always fascinated with flight, and as a young teenager he and his friend George Foster would hang around the airport waiting for pilots to take them up in the air. A front-page story in the Winnipeg Tribune reported that a 10-foot box kite they made themselves and flew at night with lights attached was mistaken for a flying saucer. It was also interfering with the airline flight plans: Walter received a stern letter from the Canadian Ministry of Transport advising him to adhere to regulations. Soon Walter learned to fly glider planes, and immediately began to break records. He joined gliding clubs in Bristol, England and later in Peterborough and the SOSA Gliding club in Ontario and the Seminole Lake Gliderport in Florida, and travelled to competitions around the continent, winning many North American championships. He was widely admired as a champion glider pilot, with a wall full of awards. He was also known to fly a home-made hot-air balloon across the sky in Whitby.
After graduating from the University of Manitoba as a mechanical engineer as a young man, Walter was awarded a helicopter fellowship at the Bristol Aeroplane Company in Bristol, England. Before he left for England, he became engaged to Eleanor Allison, and once she graduated from her nursing program she sailed to Bristol to marry him. When Ellie became pregnant with baby Allison, they returned home to Winnipeg where he worked at Bristol’s Winnipeg location, moonlighting as a taxi driver to pay the bills. One day the head of Andrew Antenna came to Winnipeg for a meeting, and immediately offered Walt a job designing satellite antennas in Whitby, Ontario. Walter said he couldn’t possibly make such a big move unless he was offered double his current salary. Mr. Matthews said “ok.” So Walter couldn’t refuse the offer of $9000 per year.
The family moved to Whitby in 1963. The house they built at 11 Valley Court was an idyllic place to raise five children, with a sloping ravine and a creek in the back yard, in a small community of neighbours who became close friends. The Weirs were a loving and happy and boisterous family. Walt loved to go on nature walks and to watch the birds, and though he loved quiet he also loved children, and was happy to have a lot of them. He was an involved father – unusual at the time—and evenings were often spent doing after-dinner gymnastics followed by silly bath-times, and then he would sing us to sleep with the saddest songs: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, O Shenandoah, Old Man River. He was a wonderful father – an exemplar who taught us to do the right thing, and not to worry about what people said. But he always gave all the credit to Ellie.
Meanwhile, Walter was quickly promoted to manager of engineering at Andrew, designing all of those satellite antennas with the red flash, including the antenna for the famous Anik satellite. He was widely recognized as a brilliant engineer. When the designers of the Toronto CN tower had a problem, they came to him. His genius idea—the “donut” used to encase and protect the communication antennas—is still clearly visible.
The breakdown of his marriage to Ellie was a difficult time for everyone. But soon he reunited with Barbara McKay, who had, according to both of them, fallen in love with him at age 10. Barbara was happy to travel with him to gliding competitions around North America, and to live in a mobile home at Clermont Gliding Club in Florida during the winters. Later, as Barbara developed dementia, Walter was a devoted caregiver. Stubbornly independent, he refused any assistance until his health finally broke down, and he died surrounded by his loving family who sang him away.
We will miss his beautiful smile, and his serious goofiness. His brothers remember many idyllic canoe trips and later camping trips in the woods, and his children and grandchildren will continue the tradition of the annual 10-day family reunion, with days filled with sailing, swimming, and singing.
He leaves his wife Barbara and his children Allison, Michael, Greg, Carolyn, and Tom, their partners Nikolas, Roberta, Louise, David, and Tara, and grandchildren Ben, Daniel, Rosie, David, Angela, Alexa, Kaelen, and Jesse. (Grandma Ellie died in 2012.) Fondly remembered by brothers John and Stephen and their partners Betty and Janet (who passed away in 2021) and children Jack and Heather and Jim and Jennifer and partners Mary Grace and Mahesh and Bernadette and Pete, and children Lauren and Chris, Sam and Angelina, Kathleen and Elizabeth, and Alison and Leah. He leaves also his devoted step-daughter Jeanie and her partner Dave, her son Duncan and his partner Mel and children Kendrick and Madden, and step-son Warren’s wife Kathy and children Kaitlin, Alex, Cara, and Lillian.