Anthony Sessions – PrepA, ThA 50-55
Eulogy supplied by daughters Amber and Paloma Sessions.
Firstly, Paloma and I just want to thank you all for being here, and for the support, flowers, meal deliveries, and offers of help over the past few weeks. We have felt surrounded by love.
We have particularly enjoyed receiving so many stories and photos of our dad. After a death, one of the most troublesome thoughts is of all the things you never got to ask. And all the things you never learned about your loved one. It’s been so nice to keep learning about our dad.
Writing this eulogy was a daunting task. How do you sum up a life? Especially the life of our dad, who did so many things, had so many interests, and who was so multi-faceted.
We’ve done our best, tackling it both chronologically and thematically. After, as Michael said, we will be handing over the podium to anyone in the room who wishes to help tell Anthony Sessions’ story by sharing a memory or two. Please don’t be shy.
Anthony William Sessions was born on the 13th of February 1940 in London to Norman and Margaret Sessions (nee Beazley). London was of course in the grips of the second world war. When Anthony was four months old, the first German aircraft dropped bombs on London, beginning the Battle of Britain. Dad even remembered watching German aircraft out of his window.
Anthony’s brother, Micheal was born in 1941 and by that stage Londoners, especially those with children, were leaving the city. Margaret moved with her two young sons to Devon for the remainder of the war. Anthony and Michael’s father Norman was in the Royal Navy.
In 1946, Margaret, having separated from her husband, packed up their life in England and moved to the Mediterranen island of Cyprus where her father worked for British Cable and Wireless. Dad always talked fondly of the Cyprus years. Sailing with other British expat kids in Nicosia Harbour, being taught to drive by his grandfather and reversing into a tree, exploring the Roman ruins, and mastering various curse words in Greek. He talked about the freedom and sunshine of the country compared to post war england. And about how much he loved his Grandfather, Aubrey Beazley. And about the early years of the Sessions School – the school for British expat kids that his mother Margaret established and which grew to include several hundred students.
In 1951, at age 11, Anthony, began boarding school at Christ’s Hospital School in Sussex – which is one of England’s oldest schools, founded in 1552. Michael joined him there a few years later. He often talked fondly of the Christ’s Hospital choir and the Christmas Carol Service and less fondly of the discipline, the cold baths, and the bright yellow knee-socks (a uniform item dating back to 1552. Yellow so as to ward off the plague). He often recounted that, as young boys, he and Mike only went home once a year, and they would take boats, trains and eventually planes from Cyprus to England completely on their own. Dad stayed close to the Christ’s Hospital Old Boys network in BC. We are lucky to have so many “Old Blues” here today.
When he was 15 or 16, Margaret, perhaps seeing the need to temper an already bold spirit, enrolled Anthony in HMS Conway – a merchant navy training school in Wales. There, boys learned seamanship and sail theory alongside maths and english. HMS Conway remained a part of his soul until the day he died. He thrived on the structure and comradoriere of the school and credited it with instilling discipline and work ethic in him. I think it also gave him a sense of belonging which he craved. Anthony was very active in the Old Conways network and counted many Conway Boys as close friends and sailing companions. Many Old Conways are here today.
After graduating from HMS Conway, Anthony spent six months at sea in the Merchant Navy and then joined the Royal Air Force. At age 18 he was flying RAF Vampires, which were the first fighter jets of the Royal Air Force.
After a brief stint in London, Anthony got a job as a commercial shipping agent for Guthries based in Penang, Malaya. He loved his time in Malaya. It must have been a great change from the rigid order of boarding school and the air force. As far as we can tell his time there consisted of fast cars, fast women, fabulous parties and very little work. While there, Dad picked up the basics of the Hockienne and Malay languages, and, for the rest of his life insisted on mortifying his daughters by showing it off to literally any Southeast Asian taxi driver or waiter he encountered.
By this time Anthony’s mother Margaret was living in Edmonton with her second husband Douglas Walker-Brash who had been appointed Head of Post for the British Government Office in Edmonton. This visit to Edmonton changed the course of his life. The story goes dad was sitting at dinner next to the Dean of the University of Alberta, who, upon finding out that the then 28-year-old Anthony had never been to University, and in fact didn’t even have a conventional high school diploma, said “Come to my office on Monday. We’ll sign you up for my University.” And that was it.
Anthony excelled at U of A and graduated with a degree in Economics. He then quickly left Edmonton behind for the ocean and mountains of Vancouver.
In Vancouver, Anthony joined a group of Commonwealth expats, including the Lepards, Gordon Fleming, Pat Wolf, Judy Coombes, Rohys Murray, Jane Remocker and many others who rented a ski cabin on Green Lake in Whistler. There he spent many happy seasons in the mid-to-late-70s exploring the coast mountains by foot and by cross country ski. Dad was extremely fit during this period of his life. In fact, according to him he was – and I quote – “the fittest man in Vancouver”.
Green Lake made such an impression on him, that in the mid 1980s, dad bought his own cabin on Green Lake, right next door to the original “Cabin Club”. Anthony was last at the cabin just a few weeks before he died with his daughters and grandchildren.
After initially finding it hard to land a job in Vancouver – and stints doing drywall – Anthony began working as a low level clerk at Midlands, a brokerage firm in Vancouver and relatively quickly made his way to Vice President and Head of Bond Trading at that firm.
In the late 1970s he met a beautiful blonde Australian girl named Kaleena Duval who could ski and sail and owned an Austin Healey. They bought a Discovery 37 named Moonbird and spent summers cruising the BC coast and winters backcountry skiing, often with the Lepards.
Anthony and Kaleena had their first daughter Paloma in 1978. In 1980 Anthony opened his own brokerage house, A.W. Sessions Ltd, and later that year their second daughter, Amber, was born.
Anthony started A.W. Sessions Ltd offering repurchase agreements to municipalities, filling a niche market that was not offered by regular financial institutions. He also sold US equities using his own spin on Warren Buffet’s investment discipline. He purchased Berkshire Hathaway “A” shares for some of his first clients for as little as $550 US per share. They currently trade at more than $310,000 US. He used a very disciplined approach to investing for his clients and followed the research religiously. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s A.W. Sessions Ltd gained the reputation of being a solid little firm that produced great results. Tony worked very hard during these years and achieved exceptional success. He worked alongside brilliant and faithful staff including James Nagy, Travis Murray, Chris Morrissey, Kathy Finlay and many others, some of whom are here today.
In about 2000 he sold the firm and devoted himself to sailing, travel and philantrophy.
If we had to use only one word to describe our dad it would be “mariner”. He was at his happiest while sailing Moonbeard and he loved cruising in BC. Every time he went out on the boat – quite literally until the day he died – he remarked on the beauty of this place and how much he loved it.
If you were to tally it up, he probably spent years of his life sailing the west coast; from Haida Gwaii down to San Francisco and across to Hawaii. He came alive on the ocean. He loved every bit of it. Catching prawns in White Rock Passage in the Discovery Islands, or crabs at the secret spots he knew of all over the Gulf Islands. He loved seeing us children and then his grandchildren, bums up and heads down, peering into the water, fishing for minnows off the dock at Scott Point or Tugboat or Roche Harbour.
He loved the people he met and re-met while sailing. We sailed many times to stay with Pete and Karen Tonseth and their magical spot on Rendezvous Island and also with the Sweetings at their wonderful place in Bamfield. He would take off on Moonbeard solo for weeks at a time, meeting up with Barry and Katherine Van Leuween somewhere up the coast. Our dad always welcomed Paloma’s and my friends onto the boat with open arms. RVYC Dog Days cruises always included our Crofton House friends such as Jane Soden. Anne Casselman joined us for our expedition to Haida Gwaii, and trips to Desolation Sound included friends such as Nicole Cordeau and Duncan and Lisa Blomfield. Everyone was required to join dad for a glass of Chateau-Neuf-De-Pape after dinner and at least 2 hours of the Horatio Hornblower DVD series.
Some of our most wonderful memories of dad and our childhood were summers spent on the boat with the Sweeting Family cruising the Gulf Islands and the San Juans. Our family on Moonbeard and the Sweetings – including their 3 daughters Karolyn, Holly and Sarah – aboard their sailboat Canacea. Poor Lynne Sweeting was forced to play mother to five rambunctious girls, while Rick Sweeting and our Dad constantly tried to one-up each other whether it be scuba diving for oysters, stern-tying in some precarious spot, racing to the next anchorage, or in the daily crab haul. Anthony didn’t have any family in Vancouver so he adopted the Sweetings as our extended Canadian family… and 40 years on still haven’t gotten rid of us.
Dad was also a keen sailboat racer. And I think one of his legacies was the amazing sailing experiences he created for others, and the many people he introduced to the joys of sailing for the first time.
In the late 90s, Anthony set his sights on racing the Victoria-to-Maui International Yacht Race. And, because he was someone who never did anything by halfs, he bought a new boat to ensure he would be competitive – a Santa Cruz 70 he named Luna Barba. Dad always told us that “life wasn’t only about winning, but it was more fun if you did”, and his new boat, combined with his exceptional crew led by Barry Van Lewen, ensured he would at least come close. The Vic Maui and Transpac years were exciting for so many people. Everyone was involved. Dad’s investment firm, AW Sessions Ltd, was the main sponsor of the 1996 Vic Maui race so everyone at his firm was engaged. Dad and Barry brought together an exceptional team of racers who trained and planned for months. People including Tony Griffin, Jozef Hejcman, Nick Fletcher, Dave Miller, Winston Cummings, Dallas Davies, Steve Kinsey and Steve LeClaire. Teenaged Paloma and I, as well as Jozef’s son Daniel Hejcman, got to have the experience of Blue Water Sailing doing the deliveries from Hawaii to Vancouver.
In the 1996 Victoria to Maui International Yacht Race, Luna Barba was second over the line (3 hours behind Roy Disney’s Pyewacket) with both boats breaking the previously set speed records. In the 1997 Transpacific Yacht Race, Luna Barba finished 4th, also breaking previous speed records. Even though dad never won these races, he maintained his superiority over any other captain by ensuring his boats and crews had the best gear, the best food and best experiences. Point in case, Dad had one of Vancouver’s top French restaurants at the time – The Chef and Carpenter – cater his crew meals. While other sailing crews were eating tinned beans for 9 days straight, the crew of Luna Barba was feasting on Beef Bourguignon and Lamb Shanks with sides of saffron rice.
Dad also acted as the mothership during many a kayak expedition. We sailed Moonbeard up to the Broughton Group, Haida Gwaii, the Discovery Group, the Broken Group, Desolation, the San Juans and the Gulf Islands. He dropped us off for a few days of camping and kayaking while he carried on on his own for that time. Paddling back towards Moonbeard we would always see him beaming with pride, excited to hear about or adventures. The hot water was on for showers and Pol Roger chilled in the galley (and not much else). These were the happiest of times. Of course that glow only lasted until we mis-tied a knot, failed to secure the fenders at the correct height, or any one of a million other onboard offences that turned our dad immediately into Captain Bligh.
Always up for an adventure, Anthony travelled with us, his daughters, throughout France, Italy, England, Croatia, Hungary, Egypt, the Galapagos, New Zealand, Poland, Cyprus, Chile and Argentina. There were also many trips to Australia where I was living and many great friendships forged with the Coventry, Hoare, Gavaghan, Howarth, McGregor, Watson and Wickins families.
He was so naturally curious about the world and how each place he visited fit into his deep understanding of history. He would take every tour guide to task, challenging their interpretation of events. He taught us to be critical thinkers and to see each new place, and its people, in the context of its place in history.
Dad was a wonderful, easygoing and supremely generous travel companion who had no problem going with the flow (and stepping out of his comfort zone) when travelling with his two twenty-something daughters. He came shoe shopping in Buenos Aires with us, he got tear gassed at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve with us, he got drenched during a surprise summer downpour in Melbourne on the way to Australian Open, and he never minded sitting outside the lady’s dressing room at Harvey Nichols.
Dad was a great supporter of various philanthropic causes, particularly in Vancouver, the adopted home that he felt had given him so much.
He was a Director at the Fraser Institute for many years and felt they do important work keeping conservative ideals relevant and part of the political discussion.
He supported the arts, particularly Bard on the Beach, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Vancouver Opera and the Museum of Anthropology.
He was a great supporter of the Old Conways and Old Blues societies. He funded a memorial for the HMS Conway in Wales and hosted many a popular lunch gathering for the old boys through the years.
He was on the Board of the Vancouver Maritime Museum for many years and made significant donations to them, including gifting them his original copy of the battle plans from the Battle of Trafalgar. He also made significant yearly contributions to the Salvation Army, the United Way and Covenant House.
We are both incredibly proud of this side of our dad.
In 2012 Anthony became a grandfather, or as the children liked to call him, “bupa”, when his first grand daughter Cleo was born. He was delighted by his new role. At that time he was a thoughtful, caring grandfather thrilled to have a cheery little head of blonde ringlets bouncing around the house again. In the following years his grandsons Hadley and Rowan were born and just this past year another two granddaughters – Ophelia and Adelaide arrived. As he grew more frail he found the grandchildren’s noise and activity more challenging, but on quiet evenings he would muse about each of their strengths with great pride. “Cleo is so bright and organised”. “Hadley has a way with puzzles”. “Rowan will run the country!” “The babies really are advanced.” On the day he died while walking to Moonbeard at RVYC Coal Harbour, he said to Amber he wanted to live forever so that he could see them grow up.
put on bathrobes now
In the last few years, Paloma and I would get phone calls or reports of dad being sighted around town in his bathrobe. Places such as Tim Hortons, MCL Motorcars, West 10th Avenue Safeway, Figaro Cafe, and the Yacht Club. These concerned callers worried that dad had finally lost it and was absentmindedly wandering around town half naked. If only it were that simple! You see, our dad had been living the clothing optional lifestyle for years. He picked us up from Blackcomb Ski Scamps and the Whistler Video Store in his bathrobe in the early 1990s. Paloma’s childhood friend Sophie McGregor reminded us of the time dad drove her to the airport in his bathrobe. Holly Sweeting recounted how he would regularly groove to the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack with us five girls – in his bathrobe. But it wasn’t just bathrobes. He was completely immune to social convention of any kind. He was an original. He saw no reason to change the way he operated to suit any other person. He would only drink beer out of his pewter goblets. He spent a small fortune buying swords and art and artifacts related to Lord Horatio Nelson. He was obsessive when it came to anything on the boat – coiling lines, cleaning, navigating, cooking…. That was just him. He knew one way of doing things – his way.
Of course, it must be said, that sometimes this side of him made him emotionally ill-equipped to meet the challenges of being a parent, a husband or a boss. Or to put it more plainly – it was sometimes pretty difficult being his daughters. But, what he lacked in emotional intelligence he made for with his infectious passion for his work, sailing, the causes he supported and his family. We never doubted he loved us – even if there were times his actions said otherwise.
Take bathrobes off
So how does one say goodbye to such an original? Someone who made such a mark on those who knew him. Well in true Tony Sessions style he left on his own terms. Barely half an hour before he died a pair of whales breeched and blew along Moonbeard’s starboard side. He enjoyed lunch and a cigar, and the sun was shining and the wind was blowing just enough to fill the jib when Moonbeard took him across the river Styx.
We knew he was a force of nature, but we didn’t know that he had the power to design his own departure from this world.
Dad died under sail, with his crew (me) beside him, just like his hero, Lord Nelson. He died doing what he loved and that’s all anyone could ask for.