John Alfred Everest Bennett
John loved living. He was a passionate, charismatic and bright man who had good health for ninety eight years. He served in WWII, which enabled a stellar last chapter as a resident of Sunnybrook Veterans, where he thrived in the loving care of all who knew him.
Born in Diss, Norfolk, John came to Canada when he was six months old. His mother Ethel ensured a comfortable life for her family by selling oriental rugs from their home in west Toronto. John was sufficiently inclined academically to attend the University of Toronto Schools (UTS), where his gift for cartooning and illustrating enhanced history texts and school yearbooks.
English Language and Literature was his choice at the University of Toronto, where Dorothy Harriet Gurofsky became his romantic choice and, sometime later, his wife and the mother of Diana and Brenda.
Along with several childhood friends, John enlisted for service overseas. He became a captain in the infantry, posted to the camouflage unit. Along with his kit, he carried watercolour paper and paints and recorded the activities of his unit, landscapes, and town life in Belgium, Holland, France and England. Seventy-six of these watercolours are preserved in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Upon his arrival home, he was accorded the first exhibition by a living artist at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO).
Always practical, John realized that supporting a family would not be possible unless he did something other than follow his passion for painting. He became a teacher of art at Northern Vocational School, later a vice-principal, and finally Coordinator of Arts and Crafts for the Toronto school system. But his commitment to capturing the moment on a piece of paper never wavered. In eight decades, he amassed thousands of vibrant images of people and places, nationally and internationally. He had many well-reviewed solo exhibitions, became a member of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Ontario Watercolour Society, as well as an honorary member of both the American Watercolour Society and the Japanese Watercolour Society. For several schools of art, he was a frequent juror and demonstrating artist.
In the field of jokes and witticisms, John was a legend. He would often say that the titles for his pictures were the best part. A family favourite: 'No stern untoned.' (Picture a lush female body sprawled on a striped beach towel surrounded by sand and stones.) John was famous for his love of women - literally and figuratively. He had numerous friends, colleagues, models and lovers. His longest relationship gave the world another daughter, Elizabeth.
His love of animals stretched to the numerous cats and dogs that shared his life and to the dozens of raccoons that would rattle the mail flap on his Old Mill Drive home to remind him to dish out the bowls of dog kibble and day-old bread that he and his devoted neighbours, Heather and Vince, hauled in weekly.
His best-loved sport was doubles tennis. At the Donalda Club, where he was a founding member, he was known for his lobs and for 'talking the best game.' A tireless walker, he'd beach comb for hours at cottages on Georgian Bay, and on Caribbean holidays. In any season, he would think nothing of walking from his home in west Toronto to his school in north Toronto were the roads bad or the TTC on strike.
John was a generous and loving father, grandfather and great grandfather to many. He leaves a legacy of brilliant paintings and a treasury of memories for those of us who were fortunate enough to be a part of his life story.
A celebration of his life will be held on June 11th noon to three at the Donalda Club. Should you wish further details, please e-mail either Diana or Brenda.
John's greatest joys during his six years at Sunnybrook Veterans were during his studio classes - drawing, painting, fused glass and woodworking. In his memory, a gift to the Veterans Comfort Fund Art Therapy Program would be appreciated.
Saturday April 22, 2017
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