A Biobituary Of A (Wonderful) Life Well Lived – Marven Ivan Firth: 1926 – 2015

by MSO
Marven Firth

Marven Ivan Firth in one of his rare pensive poses where he wasn’t talking or laughing.

On August 14, 2015 at 8:21 p.m. Marven Ivan Firth left this world following up a valiant year and a half struggle to fight back against Father Time. It was one of the few battles he ever lost, but after 2,813,148,000 energetic and powerful heartbeats over his 89-year life, his heart gave one last faint beat as he exhaled his final quiet breath and then silently faded away.

As sad as his passing has been for many who knew the man affectionately called Marv, there is no doubt that many people will chuckle and smile at the thought of this life force of a man ever doing anything quietly or peacefully. But for his last moments, he was where he wanted to be, and where he needed to be, in his living room surrounded by loving family members who said their goodbyes with heavy hearts and the highest degree of gratitude for being lucky enough to know him.

It was a wonderful and fitting way to end a life that by anyone’s standards was truly well lived.

As one of fourteen kids raised by his father Ivan and mother Theresa, a hard working farming couple from Restigouche County in northern New Brunswick, Marv’s parents had come up just a couple players short of raising enough kids to fill a full hockey team in their crowded country home.

Along with his 13 other siblings, Marv learned at a young age to work well with others and be sociable, but as Marv would often comically point out, “having only one outhouse, you learned pretty quickly to get along with others.”

Marven Firth

Marven through the ages.

Throughout his life he kept in touch by phone with nearly all of his extended family and their children scattered all across the country, and for many decades Marv single-handedly kept the national phone company profitable and afloat with his monthly long distance phone charges which often ran into the hundreds of dollars. But for Marven, this was money well spent and the reality is that he was the originator of social networking and status updates decades before Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s parents even went on their first date.

In 1942, looking to help his country’s war effort, Marv told his one and only known fib in his life when he lied about his age and joined the Canadian army at age 16. Stationed in England he quickly earned the respect of his officers with his discipline, tireless work ethic and blacksmithing skills learned on the family farm. He also quickly established himself as the boxing champion of his regiment of 250 men, which was no small feat considering that he was much younger and smaller than his fellow soldiers. But as many people would learn, Marv was never one to shy away from a challenge or defending others, as he always punched above his weight category despite standing only 5’9” in height.

picture of poem

The last fun poem that Marven wrote showing that he kept his sense of humor even with declining health.

Throughout his life he was always a proud former soldier who helped over one hundred elderly fellow veterans wade through the maze of government’s pension and medical care paperwork. Rumor has it that the staff at the federal Veteran’s Affairs office would scamper for cover and put on their body armor when Marv would call their office to help another veteran, because they quickly learned that Marv never ever gave up when it came to fighting the good fight for others. He knew the rules of engagement and VA benefit qualifying rules better than any civil servant who had mistakenly turned down a proud veteran for support that was owed to them by their country. Marv’s work was pro-bono and completely voluntary, but he felt that the unspoken bond and loyalty to help fellow soldiers was a lifetime promise that he would not waver from.

Marv was a faithful husband for 62 years to his beautiful and caring bride Dora whom was the apple of his eye from their very first date when Dora was teaching grades one through eight in a single-room schoolhouse in New Brunswick. Their love was unshakeable and never ever wavered. Dora was Marven’s safe harbor and she had the rare and unique ability to get him to change his mind even when he dug in he heels because, she knew her man’s soft spots and understood what mattered most to Marv better than anyone, and that was taking care of others.

Marv was also a loving father who always put his kids needs before his own. He was a brother, uncle, grandfather, soldier, teacher, friend and a fascinating personality to the thousands who met him over his 89 years. Marv was just naturally cool with his honest demeanor and people were immediately drawn to him. His favorite color was plaid, which was appropriate considering his colorful personality and Scottish heritage.

Marv was funny, kind, charismatic, intelligent, mischievous, loyal, fearless, quietly confident, and honest. When he was in your corner, you had a one-man army standing beside you that brought your own confidence level up a few notches knowing that everything was going to be fine, no matter the challenges or circumstances.

He was a talented poet and a self-taught harmonica player who when his foot started stomping to the rhythm of his trusty mouth organ, the dishes in the cupboards shook, street hydro lines swayed to his beat and the needles on local seismographs began to redline from his ground shaking beat.

Marv was also a great (and loud) singer as many of his fellow patients learned during one of his rare hospital stays when, like a an early-morning rooster, he would serenade the nurses and the whole floor at 6 a.m. with one of his old country classic tunes. Nobody ever complained about hearing Hank Williams or Johnny cash with their morning breakfast because Marv had already charmed all of the staff and patients with his infectious and enthusiastic personality.

On rare occasions when warranted, Marv could cuss with the best and you could see his blood pressure rising from twenty paces. When he became frustrated or felt that someone was being disrespectful or a bully to others, he could be a fiery and forceful alpha male who could quickly diffuse an unnecessary conflict with his glare or well chosen words delivered with surgical precision. But despite these strong character traits, he was also a very gentle, soft soul who helped anyone in need because Marv lived his life by the Christian belief that it is better to give than receive, but sometimes he did feel that it was necessary to give some misguided people “a little Hell” to help them get back on the straight and narrow path to betterment.

He was strong as a bull and as stubborn and immovable as one as a certain president of General Motors Canada learned when Marv called him at his home at dinnertime on a Saturday evening over a factory flaw with new car he had just bought that didn’t quite deliver on the gas mileage as promised in the sales brochure. Marv was correct about the flawed carburetor installation and the car was repaired free of charge by Monday afternoon. Having experienced the determination of Marv, the GM executive even sent a greeting card to Marven the following Christmas, probably as a safe bet in case his newfound friend ran into any other issues with the car down the road that might necessitate another weekend phone call.

Marv was a rugged, handsome fella (a friendly moniker he called many people, male or female if he didn’t know their name) but for some reason he steadfastly refused to reign in his bushy and unruly eyebrows as if they were the secret to his biblical proportion “Samson Strength.”

One barber learned the hard way about Marv’s eyebrows when he tried to trim them while Marv was having a nap in the chair, but the barber quickly discovered that the startled 85 year-old Marv hadn’t forgotten any of his army boxing training nor his rattle-snake strike and recoil speed. Marv left the shocked barber an extra generous tip along with his apology and his eyebrows were left in their glory on subsequent visits to the barber. Right up until his passing, Marv could have used them as a hairstyling technique that would have put Donald Trump’s double comb over hairstyle to shame.

Even well into his eighties he had a full head of white hair, wrinkle free skin, a muscular build and sharp mind that he kept agile by watching the news, his favorite TV shows Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune or stretched out on the couch reading from his vast library of history books. The big pharmaceutical companies could have made a fortune cloning his DNA and mental agility and reselling it to aging baby boomers looking for the fountain of youth.

Right up until his final years, his vigor and energy made him an undeniable presence despite his advancing age and declining health. A couple of months after grudgingly having a failing hip replaced at age 87 years, his family found him twenty feet up in the air on a rickety ladder clearing the winter’s snow from his home’s steep roof because when there was a tough job to do, Marv usually did it himself instead of asking anyone to help.

Growing up during the Great Depression, Marv was genetically pre-disposed to being frugal and he could account for every dollar he ever earned or spent throughout his life. Each Friday night Marv (along with Dora) would be found at the kitchen table with a stack of receipts accounting for every single penny in the household budget and entering them into his blue ledger books, which collectively are fifty-year annual archive of his penny-wise lifestyle. It is safe to say that if Marv were a politician there would never be such thing as a government deficit or unaccounted for, public money.

Marv would talk to anyone anywhere anytime as thousands of people in his hometown of Sudbury could attest to because he felt that people made life interesting. When traveling home from out of town construction jobs, he regularly brought hitchhikers home offering them the hospitality of a hot shower, a home cooked meal and even giving them a few bucks as he brought them back to the highway to continue their journey. In Marv’s world there were no such things as strangers, only people he hadn’t yet met.

He spent his work life from Africa to the bush camps of Northern Canada as an industrial construction welder and pipe fitter for The United Association, and he was a proud fifty-year trade unionist with Local 800 in Sudbury. He was given the name Starvin Marven by his fellow tradesmen not only because he would travel far away for work to support his family of five children but because of his love of food and his appetite for life itself.

Food was an important part of Marv’s life because of his humble New Brunswick upbringing where his farming family lived off the land, and he fed everyone that walked through his home’s door whether they were hungry or not and many visitors would often leave with a brown-bag snack for later consumption. Marv’s lifelong morning routine started every single day with a heaping bowl of hot porridge because he considered himself a regular guy, and that included his high fiber daily constitutional duties. The Quaker Oats Company’s value will probably decline because of Marv’s passing.

From his homemade baked beans, beef veggie stews, codfish hash, vinegar boiled hams or twenty-pound, ten-foot square chocolate cakes that would take up the whole oven rack, Marv whipped up his delicacies with the windows and doors wide open so the neighbors knew a feast was coming. It was common to see people suddenly stop by to see what Marv was whipping up from his memory vault recipes withdrawn from a lifetime of self-taught cooking from scratch with whatever he had on hand.

Even the strong aroma from the KFC up the road couldn’t overpower the smell of Marv working his own secret recipes in the kitchen, but his fall back gourmet meal was always a roll of bologna, crusty bread, cheddar cheese and an onion which were the staples of all family picnics and lunches for his long-distance road trips. Marv felt that these items perfectly covered the four major food groups and also provided the necessary volume and weight to help keep his feet firmly planted on the ground.

Marv was a dedicated member of the Masonic Lodge earning the rare and prestigious William Mercer Wilson Award for his hard work, but his efforts with the Shriners was how thousands of people learned about Marv’s passion for helping the Shriners Hospital for Children with his tireless Shriner Christmas Cake sales push.

While the average Shriners in Marv’s hometown might sell fifty of the famous Christmas Cakes each year, Marv would sell about 800 of the fundraising treats. He was like the Energizer Bunny for the Shriners and once he got wound up during the Christmas Cake season, there was no stopping him as ten-hour days working the shopping mall or visiting local businesses were all in a day’s work for him. Admittedly, being hard of hearing from working around welding machines all of his life was helpful for him as Marv rarely heard anyone say “no thanks” when he asked them to buy a Shriner cake to help support kids who needed medical care.

Marven Ivan Firth was truly a unique character who lived life by his own high standards and he will be missed and fondly remembered by many. He leaves a wonderful legacy with his family who had the pleasure of knowing him and catching some of the amazing aura and character traits that he gave off. He will be missed and fondly remembered by many.

Marv is survived by his wife Dora, children, Debbie, Malcolm (pre-deceased as an infant) Dianne, Kevin (pre-deceased in 1989) Colin and Karen, along with ten grandkids who were truly the focus of his life in his later years.

He will be missed by many but never forgotten by those who called him a friend, because a personality like Marven Ivan Firth doesn’t come around too often.

Special thanks to the staff at Bayshore Health who faithfully provided loving daily care to Marv and became his friends, as well as thanks to Dr. Tenheunen, Dr. Sawkiw, Janet Earle and Cory from Motion Specialties who helped make Marv’s final months more pleasant and comfortable.

As per Marven’s wishes cremation has already taken place under the trusted care of Lougheed Funeral Homes. For his final journey, a roll of bologna, cheese, crusty bread and an onion were placed in his casket in a Shriners Christmas Cake box, because Marv always packed a lunch whenever he left on a journey. Marv’s son Colin and grandsons Jesse, Shane and Zachary accompanied his remains for his final journey to the crematorium wearing Marv’s plaid shirts while playing one of his favorite songs, “I’m Movin’ On” by Johnny Cash. Marv would have approved.

There will be a private Masonic funeral service as Marv didn’t want anyone to make a fuss over his passing. His family knew better than to question his final wishes. In lieu of donations, Marv would be happy if people remembered him by purchasing a Shriners Cake this coming Christmas season, because like his life, he would still want to be able to help others, even after his death.

Thanks Marv for being such a valuable asset to Mankind because you were truly a great Man who was always Kind to others.




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