After a brief illness, Gordon Bellerby died at home on January 17, 2006 in his 87th year. Born and raised in England, Gordon served with distinction for six years in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during WWII.
After a tour flying Hurricane fighters with the Desert Air Force in Africa, he trained in aerial photography and then flew 100 missions in unarmed Spitfires above and far into enemy territory in Africa and all over Europe.
Gordon left England in 1947 for Canada, living first in Montreal where he married his wife Diana and then moving to Toronto in 1960. He retired to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1983, where he developed his birding skills with the Grimsby/Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch at Beamer Conservation Area in the spring, and on the Niagara River during the fall and winter.
Gordon joined the Grimsby Hawkwatch in 1987 and remained active as a scheduled counter with the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch (NPH) until he reached his 80th birthday, after which he said he thought he “should take a break”. A charter member of the NPH, Gordon served on its Executive as Treasurer from 1991-1995, Counter Coordinator in 1995-96, and Assistant Counter Coordinator in 1997-1998.
On hearing of Gordon’s passing, Honourary NPH President Bruce Duncan said, “Gordon was such a gentleman and brought with his English demeanour a quick smile and ready quip. I can see him flying those Hurricanes over enemy territory. He was clear on the direction he was going always.” The writer well remembers many interesting chats with Gordon about various things relating to birds, organizations and people, as well as a ‘Gordon Rocket’, deservingly received after we totally forgot to hold the required NPH election at the Annual General Meeting.
Mary-Ellen Hebb recalls that “Gordon arrived in the Niagara region in 1983, brimming with unspent energy. Retired, yes, but certainly not tired! He surveyed the place and saw potential everywhere. At that point, only a few people in Niagara were atlassing, no-one was doing the January waterfowl count for the MNR, the hawkwatch at Beamer did not have its own formal organization, and no-one had thought of having a regular, organized count of gulls coming down the Niagara River every winter evening. We just weren’t involved in many ornithologically- oriented projects.
Gordon changed all that. He had such a cheery, inviting personality that it wasn’t until after you had hung up the phone that you realized he had hornswoggled you into participating or (God forbid!) co-ordinating some incredibly time-intensive/exhausting/sure-to-freeze-your-bottom-off project! Because he always rewarded you afterwards with lots of praise and a glass of wine – or, after the waterfowl count, when you wondered if parts of your body might possibly have snapped off, with cups of hot soup, mulled cider and, always, delightful, insightful, provocative conversation – you never felt like complaining. On the contrary, you just wanted to come back for more.”
The memorial service held in the lovely St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake was conducted by the Rector, Rev. Canon Dr. Robert Wright, and Gordon’s son, Rev. Guy Bellerby. The final hymn was ‘On Eagle’s Wings’, and the memorial card carried a copy of the poem ‘High Flight’, which begins, “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth…”. The latter, made well known to the current generation when read by Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster, was written by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, RCAF, who coincidentally trained in Niagara-on-the-Lake prior to perishing overseas during World War II.
Guy Bellerby spoke briefly, telling those assembled how Gordon had explicitly stated that at his funeral service he did not want a eulogy given and that everyone attending was to enjoy a champagne reception afterwards. Since the ‘No Eulogy’ directive was hard to obey, both Guy and Canon Wright related some brief anecdotes that well described the Gordon his relatives and friends, both within and outside the birding community, remembered. Everyone attending did enjoy the champagne reception. In addition to Diana and Guy, Gordon leaves two daughters, four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. We will all miss him.