The kids are all right on Tent Island in August, 1977. From left: Toby Hinton, Gary Southern, Sheila Southern and Wendy Hatcher (now Palou). (Photo submitted)

The kids are all right on Tent Island in August, 1977. From left: Toby Hinton, Gary Southern, Sheila Southern and Wendy Hatcher (now Palou). (Photo submitted)

Southern tribute brings back abundant memories

Growing up a great time with a friend lost far too soon

Thanks, Don for taking the time to profile Gary Southern, a young man taken so early (Courier, April 29).

Gary was a best friend of mine growing up on the Island and he epitomized all of the things that are so healthy and good about the great Island life including outings like camping, hiking and barbecues – things we may have taken for granted at one time. As adulthood and the hurly burly of life tramples our free time, these are the activities we seek to return to and relive through our children for their whole-hearted simplicity and goodness.

Related story: Commemorating Gary Southern 40 years later

I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with Gary as a kid, and benefited in so many ways from his family: stoic Walt, eternally optimistic Nancy, his loving sister Sheila – and all the friends that came with this lucky association. They created an environment for us to learn about the outdoors with the perfect blend of freedom and structure: lessons on water skiing but hands-off latitude on independent boating and camping trips like Tent Island. We were so lucky.

As high school students, we were devastated at the news of Gary’s accident. As we were preparing to get ready for what we thought was a major milestone in our life (graduation – turns out it wasn’t a milestone) we were handed a brutal reminder of our own mortality and a lesson far too soon in saying goodbye to a good friend. A friend who had really just started on his journey of life. This hit all of us extremely hard but could in no way touch the void Gary’s loss had, and still leaves for his family.

Gary was a positive kid, gifted athletically, strong, and up for adventure on the drop of a dime. He was very independent and had no problem calling issues as he saw them. The love of outdoors and everything related to camping, hiking, boating, fishing and hunting were all a big part of his character. If he were with us today, he would be a fusion of the Southern family values he was raised with: solid work ethic, respect for nature, loyalty to friends and family and a great smile for the next adventure. And he would be spending time with his kids doing the outdoor activities we were blessed to have at our fingertips growing up, whether it was swimming at Four Mile or skiing at Green Mountain.

After I read this tribute I was reminded of how fast life goes by, of how important it is to build those bonds with family and friends, and how important it is for youth to look at the best friend beside you and make sure you do your best to take care of them, even during the good times. Far too many young people are lost far too early to preventable tragedies. When it happens it leaves a hole that is never ever mended – just blunted and dulled down a bit by time.

I will be putting something together in the form of a scholarship and bursary under our charity Odd Squad Productions in Gary’s name. I hope that it helps connect some kids with the opportunities they may not have to the values that Gary represented so well.

And after reading this, with Gary in mind, I packed up my kids and family for a barbecue at a deserted beach. As I sat across the same ocean many miles from our hometown of Chemainus, I had a silent toast to my good friend for days gone past. I don’t think anybody noticed the music on the way out there, but it was a tip of the hat to the music we grew up with and a reflection on the time I was lucky enough to have with Gary. Those were the best of times (and if Gary were here he would agree the old rock music still kicks the crap out of contemporary stuff!)

Thank you for the pause to reflect on a great son, strong brother, loved relative and a good friend: Gary Southern.

Toby Hinton,


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