Obituary: Brian MacFarlane '81

Dear Classes of 1980-1983,

We are saddened to inform you of the passing of Brian MacFarlane, Class of 1981, who died suddenly and tragically on July 6, 2022, drowning while body surfing at his favourite beach in North Carolina. 

Brian attended Selwyn House School from 1972 to 1979. He was involved in Track and Field and Choir. In Grade 7 he was part of the Special Choir, directed by Byron Harker, that travelled to New York City giving two performances. Brian went on to Bishop's College School, Princeton University and McGill Law School. He joined the Crown Counsel office in Vancouver in 1994. He attended the Selwyn House Old Boys' Vancouver Chapter Reunion event in 2009.

Brian's life will be celebrated at St. Andrew's Wesley United Church, Vancouver, at 1pm on September 6th. Please see the obituary below. 

Our condolences go out to Brian's family, wife Leah, their daughters Kathryn, Carolyn, and Zoë, his brother Thomas MacFarlane '83, and friends. We are sending this note to those for whom we have an email address on file. Please share this with anyone who may have lost contact with the school. 

With sympathy,

Sharon Cozens
Director of Advancement

Mary Ann Cloherty
Director of Annual Giving and Old Boy Relations
John Brian MacFarlane '81
October 4, 1964 - July 6, 2022
John Brian MacFarlane died suddenly and tragically, drowning while body surfing at his favourite beach in North Carolina at the age of 57 on July 6th, 2022. Brian was the rock and anchor of his family, the adored husband of his wife of 29 years (and partner for 35) Leah van der Voort, and the obsessed and adoring father of his most precious treasures, his 3 daughters Kathryn, Carolyn, and his finally-got-a-redhead Zoë. Kathryn's partner Joseph Fox and Carolyn's partner Hubert Kalinowski have been indispensable supports to the family at this terrible time. Brian was integral in the lives of his bereft parents John and Marian, seeing them multiple times a week and walking dogs with them every Saturday. He leaves behind his brother Tom (Tommy), Tom's wife Kathryn Hayward, and their 3 daughters Sophie, Lorna, and Isabel. He will be deeply missed by his sister Dr. Amy MacFarlane, her husband Craig Clarke, and their children Wyatt and Morgan. He formed a deep personal friendship with Leah's brother Tom van der Voort and his children Arrietta and Lili. He conveniently got his beloved sister-in-law Rachel van der Voort to marry the first friend he met at Princeton, and one of his best, Mike Cragg, and leaves them inconsolable. Their children Nina, Kobe, Jack and Reid Cragg have lost their Uncle Maco. He also leaves his grieving mother-in-law Elizabeth van der Voort, who thought everything he did was perfect.

Brian was born in Montreal, and attended Selwyn House School before his parents realized his enthusiastic nature needed the steadying hand of Bishop's College School and the cadet training there. As in every place he went, he made innumerable lifelong friends. He was an incredibly talented actor, and at BCS he shone as Petrucchio in 'Taming of the Shrew', though privately he was particularly proud of his turn as Ham in 'Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat'. He was also an extraordinarily gifted student and had a brilliant mind, with a particular knack for math and science. He was a prefect and at the top of his class. He attended Princeton University planning to study engineering, which changed after a 400 level Math class where the answer from the tutor seemed to always be the mystifying "take the integral! Take the integral". He turned his brilliant mind to history, and the law caught his attention in the legendary English Constitutional Law class taught by Professor William Jordan. His brother Tom followed Brian to Princeton 2 years later, and became friends with Brian's future wife Leah, introducing the two of them in 1984. Brian formed deep and lasting friendships with many people at Princeton, especially his roommates from the "Dude Ranch". He continued to be closely connected with most of those friends until the day he died. He graduated with a A.B. in History in 1986.

Brian moved back to Montreal to attend McGill Law School, where he spent weekends at the family country compound at Ivry-sur-le-Lac, and attended as many Habs games as he could manage. When Leah graduated from Princeton in 1988, she moved to Montreal to be with Brian. They were married on December 30th, 1993. At McGill Brian formed many profound and enduring friendships, which he shared with Leah. He received his LL.B. and B.C.L. in 1990, graduating with Honours.

Brian and Leah moved to Vancouver in 1990, where he began an illustrious 31 year legal career. After a few years practicing civil litigation, he joined the Crown Counsel office in Vancouver in 1994, wishing to be: "a more helpful member of society". He remained a pillar of that institution over the course of his 28-year Crown career. Brian was legendary at the Crown for his astounding workload, his unflaggingly patient mentorship, and his exceptional trial expertise. He was extremely proud of his work with the committee overseeing the expansion of the North Vancouver First Nations Sentencing Court. He was active during his entire career in the role of continuing education, serving as an instructor/supervising lawyer for the UBC Criminal Clinic, supervising articling students, lecturing on criminal law for Crown Counsel training, acting and providing instruction through Continuing Legal Education, CBA subsections and the Professional Legal Training Program. Brian's colleague wrote of him: "Brian was very hard-working and unassuming, going about his work, always without complaint. He exemplified the finest qualities of a prosecutor and advocate: superior intellect, strong advocacy skills and sound professional judgment, assisted by a willingness to make difficult decisions, a good work ethic and an impressive ability to be a meaningful mentor to junior lawyers. In all these respects he demonstrated the selfless dedication to the public service to which all Crown Counsel should aspire."

Brian was a talented multi-sport athlete, and loved playing or watching any of them. Hockey, football, soccer, baseball, downhill and cross-country skiing, golf, tennis and squash. He taught a generation of youngsters as the summer pro at the Cascade Golf and Tennis Club in Metis Beach, Quebec. At Princeton he played junior varsity Hockey (nickname: 'Zamboni') and was on the ski team. While there he discovered the game of squash and joined the JV team. He was an integral member of the Vancouver Lawn Tennis and Badminton Club squash and tennis communities, organizing regular weekly squash doubles games, captaining both singles and doubles squash city league teams, and recently becoming a Jester and co-chairing the Jester's doubles tournament this spring. Brian competed in numerous national and provincial championships, with medals in both, and was known throughout the community for his extraordinary sportsmanship and collegiality.

Brian spent his summers all his life at the summer community of Metis Beach. Everyone there knew him, many had their own version of his particular tennis strokes learned over summers being taught by him. He was the last person at every cocktail party, and never missed a polar bear swim on Sunday mornings at 8am in the St. Lawrence River (54F/32C), followed by a generous tot of dark rum, milk, and brown sugar. The most important part of those summers was the friendships he made.

Brian was a dedicated volunteer, giving many hours to community service, and had been a Guide Dog Puppy Trainer for BC Guide Dogs since 2015, raising 4 dogs to maturity for their program. He and his wife Leah were to begin training another pup, "Tiger", when they returned from their recent vacation. His family will continue this work in his memory.

Brian's greatest accomplishment was in his role as an unparalleled father. His 3 daughters were the joy of his life, and there was nothing he loved more than being with any of them. When they asked him "which of us is your favourite?", he would always name whichever child was closest in proximity. He never missed or took for granted a single precious moment. He was the dad at every soccer game, every tennis match, driving the kids anywhere, and picking them up at all hours no matter where they were. He watched every dive at every meet, every second of every ballet performance, every minute of open mic. Nothing made him happier than being a father. In the month before he died, he continually begged the driving carpool to let him drive the kids, and he treasured every single minute. When one of his children broke her arm badly at school, he told his wife as they waited in the emergency room "I'm just so happy, so grateful to know she is here and safe, and with something that can be fixed."

He has left his bereft family, his many, many beloved friends, his cherished work colleagues, with hearts that are broken and cannot be fixed. The extraordinary gift of his life will be celebrated at St. Andrew's Wesley United Church at 1pm on September 6th. He would like you to wear your kilt, your uniform, your best dress or suit, your Princeton regalia, or whatever would make you feel you honour him. There will be refreshments following at the Hotel Vancouver. To keep our community safe, please do a rapid test the morning of the event, wear a mask in church, and watch the live stream if you feel at all unwell or are unable to attend. Gifts in his memory can be made in lieu of flowers to BC and Alberta Guide Dogs (bcandalbertaguidedogs.com) and to Covenant House (covenanthousebc.org).

Published in the Montreal Gazette