Reasons to Believe

Celebrating a Life

James Stewart Alexander Ross

  • Stewart comes from a long line of soldiers, professors, and statesmen. Frank Ross, Canada's governor-general during the 1950s was one of his distant relatives.

  • His father, Donald, was a highly decorated soldier in both the Boer War and World War I. Twice Donald had tea with the king and queen of Britain during which he received medals for bravery and an inscribed silver sword.

  • His mother, Louise, lost her parents when she was an infant and was raised in an orphanage in Buffalo.

  • Donald and Louise had twos daughter and four sons. One of the daughters died before the age of two. Stew was their third son.

  • Donald died of war wounds when Stew was only five.

  • The depression brought great suffering upon Louise and her five children. Stew told us that his mother would hang a small strip of meat above the dinner table and instructed her children to stare at the meat while they ate their meal of potatoes, turnips, and cabbage.

  • Stew excelled at the public school and a test he took in the tenth grade ranked him as Alberta's top high school math student. However, the economic situation in his family forced Stew to leave school after he finished the tenth grade to take a job as a cowboy on the Lindsey Ranch. At the Lindsey Ranch Stew for the first time got to drink all the milk and eat all the meat he wanted.

  • With the outbreak of World War II Stew's exceptional mechanical skills landed him jobs at Canada Car and Fairchild Aircraft in Montreal where he maintained equipment for factories turning out engines for Spitfire fighter aircraft. Within a few months Canada Car sent Stew to Halifax to manage a brand new factory. At age 19 he was the youngest factory supervisory in Canada Car's history. After a year and a half in Halifax Stew returned to Montreal to develop hydraulic systems for fighters and bombers. He told me the hydraulic flight controls his team designed and manufactured gave the Spitfire an almost unlimited flight control time in combat compared to just 30 minutes for the German Messerschmidt-109.

  • In 1942 Stew met a nurse, Dorothy Murray, and soon they were dating. Without telling her Stew made weekend trips to her hometown, Springhill, Nova Scotia, to spend time with her parents. Soon after, Dorothy's parents sent her a letter exhorting her not to let this one get away. Near the end of 1943 and on into 1944 Stew found dating Dot to be quite a challenge. There were so few eligible men of his age still left in Montreal that he found himself entertaining not only Dot but about a half dozen of her nursing friends as well. My mother claimed that more than once six or more of her nurse friends would insist on crashing her date with Stew. Nevertheless, they did get engaged and were married in June of 1944.

  • A few months after the war's end Stew and Dot had their first child. At about that time Stew and a business partner launched a hydraulics engineering business. By 1948 the Rosses had three children and the business was experiencing exponential growth. That's partly because every dollar the business earned Stew put that dollar back into the business. However, in 1949 Stew's business partner fell prey to temptation. He stole all the financial resources of the business and left the country leaving Stew to lay off all the employees and close up shop. With less than a thousand dollars, little education, and his reputation smeared by his unscrupulous partner Stew decided to leave Quebec.

  • I still have vivid memories of the train trip we took from Montreal to Calgary and then from Calgary to Vancouver. I had motion sickness the entire way. Every time I would throw up I would get really hungry and ask for food. And, every time the steward assigned to our car would plead with Stew and Dot not to feed me. But their compassion for me caused them to ignore the steward.

  • Since engineering jobs were no longer available to someone with only a tenth grade education Stew took a job as a machinist for Kapoor Sawmills in Port Moody. Wanting his soon-to-be-ready-for-school children to have the benefit of Vancouver public schools (at the time the best in the nation), Stew rented a two-bedroom cottage near Kingsway and Slocan and arranged a ride with Paul Wing to his work at Kapoor Sawmills.

  • A year and a half later Stew got a job as head machinist for Canadian Wood Pipe and Tanks located on the north side of False Creek. Shortly thereafter in 1951 they were given the opportunity to buy a condemned house on East 11th on the condition that they replace the foundation, the support beams, and all of the plumbing. However, they still had to lay out $6,000 for the house. That meant two mortgages and my mother returning to her nursing career.

  • After we moved in, the first thing Stew did was kill the dozens of rats that had taken up residence in the basement. After that, for what seemed like endless weekends he worked on replacing the foundation and support beams. I remember doing my best as a six year old to help my mother mix cement while Stew carefully poured the concrete into the casements he had built.

  • It took Stew and Dot eight years to pay off the second mortgage. During that time we had no refrigerator, no TV, and very little furniture. But we were happy. Stew loved to play games. Every evening once the dinner dishes were done out would come some board game or a deck of cards. Stew insisted that his three children play as competitively as possible. Anyone who has played cribbage with him knows what I mean.

  • One lesson Stew taught us well was that no matter how bad things get one can still have fun. He would take us to the beach in the pouring rain. At the beach he would have us gather driftwood and leaves to build a lean-to. That lean-to was not for us. It was for the open fire that he would build under it. Once the fire was roaring, he would organize us to build a lean-to by the fire that was big enough for all of to huddle underneath it. With the big lean-to now ready to warm us and dry us, Stew then had us dig up several buckets of clams. With the food taken care of, we spent several hours swimming and enjoying water games. "The rain can't make you any wetter than you already are," Stew reminded us.

  • Stew always enjoyed his hobbies. He collected scraps of hardwood from work, from neighbors, and from friends. He would then build furniture, like his chess table, from the scraps. His home is still filled with hundreds of hardwood scraps. To no avail I tried to get him to bequeath those scraps to someone besides my sisters and me.

  • It didn't take much for Stew to pick up a new hobby. When my sisters and I were still in grade school he would get us to collect old beer bottles left in the streets by all the alcoholic hobos in our neighborhood. He would then bottle up his homemade root beer and have us to invite our friends over for a root beer party. However, one of his root beer batches in his words got "spoiled." He wouldn't allow us kids to drink any. But Stew's adult friends seemed to have a quite a merry time consuming the spoiled batch. That batch led Stew to take up the hobby of making homemade brew, which then led him to convert his back yard into a combination orchard/vineyard to help support his wine-making hobby.

  • Likewise, he once helped me build a glass-grinding machine so I could make eyepiece lenses for my telescope. Next, thing I notice is the basement filled with diamond saws and all manner of grinding and polishing machinery to support his new jewelry and lapidary hobby. 

  • I remember how impressed Stew was with the redwoods and cacti of California. He was so impressed he carefully nursed seeds that he smuggled across the border into a towering redwood in his backyard and cacti that fill virtually every room in his house.

  • More than his hobbies, more than his exotic plants and trees, and more than his terribly spoiled pets, which he always claimed he bought for us kids rather than himself, Stew loved to entertain and visit with friends and relatives. His home on East 11th was almost always filled with guests. I remember a Christmas dinner where an entire 32-pound turkey was gone by the end of the meal. Vacations for Stew were not about seeing the sights as it was about seeing friends and relatives. One of the last of those trips was with my sister Shirley to fulfill a life-long dream to visit with his relatives in Scotland and to see the farm on which his grandfather had been raised.

  • That farm in the north highlands of Scotland was on the south shore of Dornoch Firth. He was amazed to discover that directly across the firth on the north shore lay the ancestral farm from which my mother's family came. Two families just a couple of miles apart: one moved to Calgary the other to Springhill, Nova Scotia. A man from one family and a woman from the other left home to work in Montreal where they happened to meet and marry. My dad was convinced that God had planned it all from the beginning.

  • To his dying day Stew claimed his greatest earthly treasure was his wife. They were married almost 55 years before her passing. During the past 7 years he frequently told me how much he missed her and how he longed to be reunited with her.

  • That reunification date came sooner than he anticipated. I came home from the hospital on October 9 still weak from bypass surgery. On October 11 I called my dad to reassure him that I was feeling much better. To my surprise he was so short of breath that he could hardly talk. He sounded like some of the congestive heart failure patients I had met in the hospital. I strongly exhorted him to contact his cardiologist the next morning. Instead, his grandson Jackson took him to the emergency room of the Vancouver General where they diagnosed mesothelioma, a form cancer one gets from exposure to asbestos. The doctors said he had less than six months to live. It turned out to be only six weeks.

  • During those last six weeks Stew maintained his love of people and his sense of humor. He would sing to the nurses and when I asked him if he was comfortable and had everything he needed, Stew said, "I have everything I could need or want except for the bucket I am supposed to kick."

  • In the days before his death I told my dad that since he had entrusted his life to Jesus Christ God would bless him with a time of comfort and peace during the last several hours of his life, that he would know it was time to pass from this life to the next life when that period of peace and comfort arrived. That's exactly how it was for Stew. During his last day, his discomfort, agitation, and confusion lifted. He went to be with the Lord at 1:10 in the morning a week ago today.

Subjects: People of Faith, Scientists, Testimonies

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. Read more about Dr. Hugh Ross.