June 3, 2013
I was brushing my teeth when I got the call. Russ Wiltsie was on the other end, panic in his voice. “Did you hear about Mike?”. “Mike who?”, I said in bewilderment. “Mike D’Angelo. He is gone”.
What??? I was speechless! Immobilized. Numb. Dumbstruck. Tears pooled in the corners of my eyes and quickly ran uncontrolled down my cheeks. I gasped for air.
I could not believe what I was hearing. My wife Karen and I had just had Mike and Wendy over for dinner a week prior. As usual we had a wonderful visit. Mike was going on and on about how proud he was of his sons, Tony and Joe. He was bragging about how much Joe’s long hair made him look like a movie star and about Tony becoming a teacher.
And just like that he was gone? It wasn’t possible!
After almost 10 years, his sudden passing still haunts me. Though I have chosen to remember the good times – and there were many along the way. His charm, his easy laugh, his love of family and friends – and his hugs! Oh those hugs!
Mike D’Angelo was a bear of a man. Defiant as a grizzly, but gentle as a teddy. Standing about 5’10” and built like a brick shithouse, he notoriously stood with legs apart, arms crossed and almost always with a beer in his hand. Watching – always watching – observing those around him, with an impish grin. Seemingly chuckling at some inside joke only he was aware of.
A Family Man and Everyone’s Best Friend
Mike loved his boys and he loved Susie, his pet name for one of the sweetest and kindest women I know – his wife Wendy. In any conversation with Mike, inevitably his family became the focal point of the conversation. He was so proud.
He was one of those rare people that made you feel like you were the only one in the room. When you had a conversation with Mike, he wanted to know about YOU – about YOUR family, about YOUR life.
I met this gentle soul through hockey. My eldest son Trevor played with Tony as a 6 year old. Later I coached Joe as he tried his hand at goaltending. Mike and Wendy were always there, cheering on the team and supporting their sons.
A New Adventure
As life would have it, our Ranger Bay hunting group had an opening for a new member, and Mike showed an interest. He was acquainted with several of our members and soon was asked to join our motley crew. He fit in perfectly. Not one to steal the spotlight, he was happy to stay in the background and do whatever was asked of him.
Truth be told, I don’t think he was ever interested in hunting specifically. But he loved nature and he loved the comradery and easy pace of camp life.
He was so polite when he first joined us. He would quietly excuse himself from the table and meander outside for a few seconds before coming back to to the table. One of the guys finally asked him why he kept leaving………”I had to fart” he said.
We were 8 grown men, sitting around in a cabin in the middle of the woods – AND HE WAS WORRIED ABOUT OFFENDING US. It was hilarious. I must say, he most definitely got over that concern rather quickly😊. A rough and tumble guy on the outside and a gentle, caring soul on the inside. A real contradiction.
Every several years, we had to dig out the outhouse at the camp – a nasty job by anyone’s standards. We soon discovered that he had a notoriously weak stomach and was loathe to show it to anyone, lest they make fun of him.
On one occasion, as we were getting ready to start the dirty deed, there was no sign of Mike, so I went looking for him. I found him upstairs in his bedroom, sitting on the side of the bed gagging. It was so sad it was hilarious. 😊 Just the thought of having to dig in that soft soupy mess, was enough to make him gag.
From an early age, he was a huge Rolling Stones fan, often travelling long distances to see them play live. Wearing a “Stones” t-shirt was a staple of his “off duty” attire.
Known for his love of garlic, his work mates nicknamed him “Garlic Mike”. It was not uncommon for him to eat cloves of raw garlic as a snack. No worries about vampires in his orbit!
His other food passion was spice – the hotter the better. Good lord could he handle heat!! I never in my life saw anyone with the tolerance for hot spice that that man did. It became a personal challenge for the guys in the camp to try and find a hot sauce he could not handle – it never happened.
I recall one instance at the camp where he was loading up his hamburger with a hot sauce someone had bought him as a test. I put on just ONE single solitary drop and was sweating profusely. I could not believe how he showed no effects of the spice. He had a gut of steel!
A New Toy and A Life Changing Moment
As he approached retirement from his welding career at General Dynamics, he had his heart set on a Harley. Always a dream of his, it would be his pride and joy.
Just a few short days after he took possession, he rode it to work in London. In typical fashion, he was in no hurry to get home after work and decided to take a leisurely ride through the countryside, to take in the spring sounds and smells. Mike and meandering went hand in hand.
One decision in life, however miniscule, can change things forever.
In this case it did.
He decided to mosey through some back roads on the way south, avoiding more heavily travelled throughfares like Highbury Avenue, or Wellington Road. Quite by happenstance, he ended up on John Wise Line, heading east from St Thomas. As he passed through the tiny hamlet of Jaffa, maneuvering the Harley around the “S” bend, a young driver pulled out in front of him. He had no chance to avoid the collision.
Though he survived, the bike was totaled. He spent weeks in the hospital recovering from his injuries. He became much more introspective after the accident after having suffered a massive concussion. It was tough on him.
Over time he recovered, but never seemed to be the same Mike. Perhaps a bit more combative and a little less patient. Concussions sometimes have a variety of complications – injuries unseen by the naked eye, but nonetheless traumatic.
Not a big fan of authority, he marched to his own drummer. He didn’t like authority figures telling him what to do or how to live his life. Seatbelts? Nope not doing it. He would make his own life decisions. But as defiant as he was in some aspects of his life, he was the most wonderful gentle man in others.
A Legacy Lives On
Mike initiated the “Ranger Bay Hug”. Whenever he met one of the group, he always wrapped you in his big arms and pulled you in for the most heartfelt hug you can imagine – often accompanied by “I love ya man”.
It soon became our standard greeting. To this day we hug each other, no matter the place, nor the circumstance. It has become his legacy to us – one which we all have expanded to our families and those we hold dear in our lives.
He loved his family unequivocally and would have cherished the amazing grandchildren he missed out on.
They never got to experience that big, warm, all encompassing hug that he was so known for. After all these years, I can still feel the big arms of a gentle soul wrapped around me, assuring me that I was the most important person in that room – even for a moment.
You enriched my life and those of countless others my friend, in the most wonderful of ways. I wish I had told you how much you meant to me.
Your legacy lives on through all those that loved you.
God speed Big Mike.
I love ya man!