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Buddy DeVito’s Celebration of Life

May 31, 2015
By

Farewell, My Brother, My Friend

Buddy and me

Buddy and me at his 90th birthday party in Trail, B.C.

On Sunday, May 24, 2015, we celebrated the life of Francesco Edward “Buddy” DeVito, a long-time family friend and later a personal friend of mine. Buddy had died about six months earlier on October 29, 2014, at age 94, but his widow Maureen Mitchell wanted to wait a while before spreading his ashes in a final farewell. Let him make it to 95.

About 200 of us crowded into the Trail Legion Hall to celebrate the life of a man who had meant something special to each of us, added something to our lives, helped us in some way, pushed us to do the right thing.

Some were there as his Canadian Legion comrades. Buddy had served as a radar technician in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and had once been president of the local branch. He and others, including his friend Al King, leader of smelter workers’ Local 480, had worked to ensure that returning war veterans could get proper housing.

Others knew Buddy as a long-time member of the Colombo Lodge, one of the oldest Italian community organizations in Canada. Buddy’s father Vincenzo (Jim) joined the lodge membership soon after he arrived in Trail in 1917 when he got a job with the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (now Teck Cominco).

Others were former colleagues from when Buddy served as mayor of Trail (1967-1973). Although he probably wouldn’t take full credit for it, he was the mover and shaker behind forcing the municipality of Tadanac, the exclusive enclave of Cominco managers, to pay its fair share of taxes to Trail. Buddy also ran for the provincial legislature in 1958 as a Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF-NDP) candidate. He lost with help from a red-baiting editorial in the Trail Daily Times.

Still others joined the celebration as members of the diminishing group who remember Buddy’s role as a staff representative for the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, the union that organized Cominco in the 1940s. Buddy worked for Mine-Mill during the Steel raids of the early 1950s in Trail, and in 1960 he was hired as a Mine-Mill public relations officer in Sudbury, Ontario.

Buddy's celebration of lifeI fell into this latter category and my remarks were mostly about what Buddy and I shared as supporters of Mine-Mill Local 480, of trade unionism, and as socialists. Buddy was probably the first person I met who actually called himself a socialist. He believed that was the right road to take.

It’s true what his youngest son Vincent said about Buddy being a capitalist as well as a socialist. True to the extent that he ran the family shoe repair business and needed to rely on people buying his services. When they complained that he charged too much, noted Vince, then Buddy might have been a little bit of a capitalist. But mostly I remember him as a man who took his politics seriously and they were socialist politics.

We never talked about religion, but Buddy’s socialist beliefs came into play there as well in that he “Dared to be a Daniel.” In his memoirs, he fondly remembered Dr. Jim Endicott, a Trail medical doctor, calling himself a “Christian Marxist.” Buddy thought all radicals, including him, should “dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose clear, dare to make it known.”

Anyway, here is roughly what I said about Buddy at his celebration of life.

“When I was a little boy in short pants my dad, Mike Verzuh, used to take me with him to DeVito’s shoe repair shop in Trail, B.C.

I remember holding my dad’s hand as we walked through the door of the shop and there was this big beam of a smile on Buddy’s face, a welcome I never forgot. I remember being told to take a seat in the small waiting area. I think Buddy probably offered me a pop.

Then the men, my dad and a few others, would get into it. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was only one thing they could have been talking about so passionately, especially Buddy, and that was politics.

Buddy love to talk politics, to discuss problems and work out solutions. Early on he was a peace activist and later an environmental activist. He was always a supporter of the idea of trade unionism, but not always happy with what the union movement did.

Years later, when I occasionally returned to the Kootenays to visit family and friends, I sought Buddy out. Maybe I was in search of the big DeVito smile reassuring me that things would be okay. More likely it was a chance to talk politics, something we both loved to do.

On one of those occasions, I was wearing my historian’s hat and I asked Buddy about Mr. Selwyn G. Blaylock, the grand patriarch of Trail. A man who was seen by some as a benevolent father figure and by others as a tyrant with too much control over people’s lives.

I’m not sure exactly where Buddy fit into that continuum of opinion, but I could always count on him to have an opinion and to voice it without too much hesitation. This time he had a twinkle in his eye as he considered his response.

Buddy - autobio - Trail Times - May 25, 2010When he was a boy, he explained, Mr. Blaylock would come into the shop to have his shoes polished. Buddy’s dad, Vincenzo, would hand them to his son and ask him to do the job while he kibitzed with the Cominco president. Then this: “I may have polished Mr. Blaylock’s boots,” Buddy said, “but I never, ever licked them.”

It was vintage Buddy and the kind of comment that led me to dedicate a showing of the 1950s blacklisted film Salt of the Earth to him at the old Castle Theatre just a few weeks after he died.

MLA Katrine Conroy attended the showing and she told the provincial legislature a few weeks after that Buddy was truly the Salt of the Earth. He was always on that side, always ready to fight for the underdog, the exploited, or the abused.

Now that he’s gone, and we miss him dearly for so many reasons, I like to think that if there were a heaven, Buddy would be up there checking things out and if he were able to return to earth he would no doubt paraphrase that immortal phrase coined by the Wobbly troubadour Joe Hill and assure us that there would be no pie in the sky when we die.

We’ll miss you, Buddy. I’ll miss you. Already have been. I’ll remember you. I can only hope to have the courage, sense of fairness, and good will toward others that you displayed throughout your generous life.

Avanti, my brother, my friend.

Those who want more on Buddy’s life will find it in Buddy DeVito: A Radical Life (Tadanac, B.C.: Stony Creek Press, 2010).

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One Response to Buddy DeVito’s Celebration of Life

  1. Donna (D'Arcangelo) Fischer on June 1, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Hi Ron,
    Thank you that was perfect. It was nice to meet you and share some memories.
    I tried to email this earlier several times as a reply but it would not go. Hopefully this one will be successful and you only get one.

    I will be in touch when it is complete.
    Sincerely
    Donna (D’Arcangelo) Fischer

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