Donald Keith “Don” Knutson
In his 77th year of living life to its fullest, Don Knutson passed away suddenly at the Whitehorse General Hospital, with his beloved wife and soul mate Margaret at his side. Don and Marg had just celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary on July 4th.
Don was born in Jasper, Alberta. During the war years, the family lived in various places while Don’s father Wes was serving in the Royal Canadian Navy. The family settled in Edmonton, where Don could be found exploring the river valley, playing trombone with the Edmonton All Boys Marching Band, or spending summers at Jasper with his extended family. His summer job washing railway coaches eventually led to Don’s apprenticeship as an electrician and the start of a career at Canadian National Telecommunications in Edmonton. With a young and growing family, Don began what would become a lifetime of volunteering by getting involved in his sons’ field trips and Cub camps, and by coaching hockey. Some of the family’s best memories are from the summers spent at the cabin in Robb, on the Alberta Coal Branch, where they explored the hills, mountains and lakes. There wasn’t always a lot of money in those times, but Don and Marg taught their kids that real happiness wasn’t something you could buy. They shared their love of canoeing, skiing and being in the outdoors with their boys, and how to find joy in the world around them.
In 1979, Don was transferred to Whitehorse with Northwestel, where his job continued to take him all over the Yukon, Western Arctic and Northern BC as part of the expansion of microwave service. Despite retiring in 1993 after a 40-year career, Don was hardly ready to slow down. Instead he turned his energies to new volunteering opportunities and also to becoming Papa to his cherished grandchildren. Don’s hands were never idle, always building wooden toys, helping his kids with renovations, or whipping up the latest creation in the kitchen. Along the way, Don and Marg sailed the Kaitlin Rose from Vancouver Island to Skagway, where they explored the Lynn Canal for several seasons. Don and Marg also enjoyed travelling, whether to Newfoundland in their 5th wheel, or to Europe, Brazil, and New Zealand. Don’s bass drum kept the beat for the Midnight Sun Pipe Band, representing the Yukon on two trips to Scotland, including a performance for the Queen.
Retirement provided Don the opportunity to pour more energy into his many volunteer roles, most notably his 40-plus years of service to the Royal Canadian Legion. Although Don never served in the military, his commitment to veterans stemmed from his mother’s long time involvement with the Legion, as well as the wartime experience of his father and uncles. Whether it was serving six terms as president, creating the Whistling Pygmies, organizing poppy campaigns, or welcoming visitors to the branch, Don’s enthusiasm for the Legion and its role in the community was unmistakeable.
Don also brought leadership and experience to many other organizations, including Autism Yukon, The Yukon Council on Aging, the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron, the Transport Canada Recreational Boating Advisory Board, Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon, the New Chelsea Society, Mount Sima, and the Whitehorse Waterfront Trolley. At the time of his death, Don was the driving force behind the Vimy Heritage Housing Society, investing countless hundreds of hours towards realizing his dream of a supportive housing option for seniors in Whitehorse.
Although Don was always modest about formal recognition, he more than earned every award he received, among them the Royal Canadian Legion’s Life Membership, Meritorious Service Medal, and Palm Leaf to the Meritorious Service Medal (the Legion’s highest award); the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation, the Commissioner’s Award for Public Volunteer Service; and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Don was predeceased by his parents, Wes and Iris Knutson, and by his sister Karen Passmore, who always looked up to her big brother. Don will be deeply missed by Margaret, who gave him the support he needed to carry out so much of his work; his sons Doug (Jean Jobagy), Russ (Claudiane Samson), Ken (Trix Tanner), and Thom (Kent Macaulay), who had the best dad, role model and friend anyone could hope for; his grandchildren (Kaitlin, Aven, Tori, Malcolm, Tammy, Sarah, Lou, Clare), for whom Papa will always be a special person in their hearts; brother Ken (Sandy); brother-in-law Terry Passmore; cousin Dennis (Edith) Mackay; extended family, countless friends, colleagues and former coworkers across the miles.
In the spirit of his mother, the greatest gift Don leaves to his family and community is the desire to work towards the needs of others. Don and Marg instilled in their children the values of loyalty and compassion, and to ensuring there was always room at the table for another person. He fought long and hard for the things he cared about, but always with the same smile and witty quips that made people laugh and want to be around him. Don’s shoes will be immensely hard to fill, but the best way to honour his memory is to honour the values he so deeply embodied every day of his life.
A celebration of Don’s life and achievements will be held on Thursday, August 14, at 2 p.m., at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre. Please join us afterwards at Don’s favourite watering hole, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #254, 503 Steele Street.
The family wishes to express its deep appreciation to Dr. Avery and the compassionate and caring nursing staff at Whitehorse General Hospital; the ambulance crew; and all those who worked to bring the family together in Don’s final moments with us.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Don’s name to Autism Yukon, Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon, or a charity of your choice.
A book of condolences will be available at the Celebration, and at www.heritagenorth.ca/obituaries