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AOTS Honorary President Harry Wolfraim Passes Away at the Age of 86

Harry Wolfraim

If we are required in life to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God, let it be said that Harry Wolfraim did these things.

He taught us humility, certainly. We have seen it in action with him. His life was giving. He was the servant leader.

I remember the days of organizing Saturday church, men’s group meetings. We’d decide on some high falutin’, important topic. I’d produce a leaflet and Harry would market and promote it. When people came to the meeting he would give them all name tags. He’d lug boxes full of the church’s name tags out from the sanctuary, up the stairs and down the hall to the parlour. He’d give them out and create new ones for first-time people.

That was way too much work for me. Wasn’t it enough that I was going to moderate a discussion on a matter of great social and spiritual significance? I couldn’t worry about name tags. Besides sorting out these name tags cut into the discussion time.

But Harry persevered and I kept my mouth shut. And later on I was glad I did. I found out that making name tags had all sorts of wonderful ramifications; when one such Saturday attendee came to a Sunday service and found for themselves, their own name tag, already there. What a welcome and what a surprise!

Harry was good like that. He created instant community with people. He knew everyone. Everyone knew him. And everyone liked him. He took the time to be with people.

Mind you if you were a man that welcome and name tag might also have a membership form to As One That Serves (AOTS) stuffed inside it.

He was sometimes accused of trying to sign men up for AOTS the moment they walked in the church door.

His perseverance was a trademark. Some years ago we used to produce a variety show and dinner at the church. One year our MC passed away a few days before the event and a day or so later my mother died. I was out of commission. I briefly spoke to Harry about cancelling the show or at least postponing it. He would hear nothing of it. “The show must go on”, he said and on it went. He made sure of it. Life goes on and in the face of difficulties the Harry Wolfraim’s of the world step into the breach to make sure it does. It makes all the difference.

Harry always just kept going.

When I became president of AOTS in 2009 I asked Harry to act as Honorary President throughout my term. I could think of no one finer. I relied on his wisdom and advice.

He was great mentor for me. He taught me the importance of community over ideas. What was important for people was to be recognized, to be included, to be listened to, to be considered. In the final analysis the name tags were decisive. The topic was secondary.

Harry knew that. That’s where he lived - on Compassion Street – sometimes called 33 Cavendish.

And from where Harry’s famous voice mail instructions emanated!

Those of you who have called him only to get his voice mail may recall, “You have reached Harry Wolfraim at 416 694 4522. As usual, leave your name, phone number, date and time of day and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

To be sometimes followed by:

“And please be sure to leave your number even if you think I already may have it. I may be out and not have your phone number with me.”

He was nothing if not thorough.

But if hearing Harry’s personal voice mail was one thing, getting a voice mail from him was nothing other than reaching into sublime. The attention to detail, the sense of service, the presence of mission! No one could argue with his passion.

Every single second of the 7 minute voice mail he left you was chock full of information. Nothing was left out - except for those times when he remembered something right after he hung up in which case he’d phone again.

Sometimes he just simply ran out of time. He would actually announce, in the middle of a voice mail message that in light of the time constraints, he was going to hang up now and phone you right back and leave you part two of the message.

And his typewritten memos were to behold. The numerous minutes and newsletters and updates, all of his communications were completed on that typewriter!

He did so much. He was proof of real community, beyond what EMAIL and Facebook and Twitter provide.

It’s when I think of Harry and his typewriter that I think also of that icon of American folklore - John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man. For me, Harry had the strength and capacity of John Henry, who was so powerful in the race with the steam-powered hammer.

He persevered so valiantly and won the race against the machine.

Because his life means so much to us we set aside John Henry’s death. He put his all into it. His life was not unexamined. We celebrate that. So it is has been with Harry. He put his all into it. We are full of gratitude.

At the same time it wasn’t a race for Harry. Harry really wasn’t competitive at all. He was a consummate team player. He’d get the ball to the one yard line and then let you score the touchdown. He’d have the open net but he’d pass the puck.

He remembered his wife, Mae, often, the love of his life. He mentioned her always. When she died Harry just kept going. He embraced life.

Harry found it hard to say no to people. He was a soft touch. His softness was his strength. He was always there for people when people needed him – or even when they didn’t think they did – there’d be a birthday wish or a card or a phone call or a condolence. He’d catch people off guard and busy workaday secularism would melt away into an appreciation for how God moves among us.

It was several years after I met Harry that I learned he was a Tory. I was flabbergasted. With all apologies to Tory supporters everywhere I must confess that I actually did start to say to myself, “How can such a nice man…”

But I stopped and struggled to gain the insight I needed into my own bias. Harry had the power to teach without teaching.

Harry was a loyal and a good soldier. He was loyal to those around him. At the same time he didn’t allow his loyalty to interfere with his sense of compassion and mission and he called upon everyone to partake in that sense of life. That’s what was paramount to him. Compassion and church won out over politics - mine or anyone else’s.

Harry was a PK – a preacher’s kid and as a PK he grew up in church work and recognized its importance. He never stopped doing it. He never stopped, period. He had broad, merciful shoulders. He gave everywhere. He acted justly with others. He was fair-minded with everyone. And that, perhaps, is the hardest thing about acting justly – being impartial. Harry was that too.

He had a great loyalty to the church as well. He set aside his predilections on church to adopt and embrace the new and changing church.

He always supported the church throughout periods of difficulty and loss. He embraced the future. When we sponsored the Dondi drumming project Harry was front and centre at all our events, drumming away with great abandon as we raised money for a school in Angola.

He believed in the church and in the necessity for a community to have a spiritual base. That was his focus. He made an enormous contribution to the spiritual health and development of Beach United Church. For me Harry exemplified the scripture associated with AOTS and found in Luke 24:27 “But I am among you as one who serves.”

His presence will be greatly and deeply missed. His contribution will sustain us. His wisdom will continue to guide us. And his spirit of servant leadership will be with us forever. Thank you, Harry.

im McKibbin

Past-president, As One That Serves