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Ramara Township deputy mayor dies at 74

John O'Donnell, who spent his final days in hospice, kept his signature sense of humour 'right until the end,' his son says
2020-02-19 John O'Donnell
Ramara Deputy Mayor John O'Donnell is shown outside the township administration offices in Brechin. Supplied photo

John O’Donnell, the deputy mayor of Ramara Township, has died following a battle with cancer.

The 74-year-old’s suffering came to an end at Hospice Simcoe in Barrie at about 3:15 a.m., Wednesday.

O’Donnell’s health had been deteriorating as he suffered various complications that came to light after he cracked some ribs during a fall last July. He moved into hospice about three and a half weeks ago.

Last Wednesday was the last time the hospice allowed visitors.

“I would talk to him through the phone. I talked to him through a window,” said his son, Neil O’Donnell, noting the pain medication made his dad sleepy and he was unresponsive in the last few days before his death.

“I’d like to think that I knew he heard me, but I don’t know," he said. 

When John was awake and alert, though, “he still had that same John O’Donnell humour that everybody knows,” Neil said.

“Neil,” John said before the nurse gave him an injection of medicine that would sting a little, “if you hear me yell out, call the police.”

“He had that sense of humour right until the end,” Neil recalled.

While losing a loved one is difficult in the most normal of times, it was even tougher for the family during the current COVID-19 pandemic because they couldn’t be with him, other than John’s wife, Kathy, who was allowed to move in with him.

“I wanted to be there, just to hold his hand, to let him know I was there. Even his grandkids couldn’t go see him,” Neil said. “I feel really bad because there are people out there whose own loved ones are dying alone right now.”

A Facebook group was created last month to provide updates on John’s condition. Family, friends, colleagues and others have flooded the page with well wishes every day, and all of them were read to John.

“I can’t thank everybody enough for all of the thoughts, well wishes, stories, memories and prayers,” Neil said.

He also thanked Hospice Simcoe for caring for his dad in his final days.

“I can’t say enough about how critical a hospice is when a person gets to this stage in their life,” he said. “My mom would not have been able to take care of him alone.”

He urged Ramara residents to ask township council to fund a portion of the Mariposa House Hospice, which is being built just outside of Orillia.

“If everybody in Ramara would push their councillors to step up and fund their portion, I know my dad would want this,” Neil said.

Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke said John will be missed by the community and council. He and John were elected to council at the same time, two decades ago.

“I sat beside him for 20 years. I consider him a friend and I will miss him,” he said. “I’m having a hard time picturing what council will be like without him. I’ve never been at council without him.”

He described his colleague as “an absolute tireless champion for this community.”

“He was relentless as a councillor. He always got back to people and he never gave up,” Clarke said. “We may not have always agreed, but I have never questioned his integrity. If John said he was behind something, he stood behind it. He was never two-faced. He was true to his values.”

A private burial will take place. The family will organize a public get-together at a later date. Watch the Facebook group for updates.


Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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