I attended a funeral in Ottawa on January 20 for Rev. George Tomita, a 95-year-old retired United Church minister. I met George and his gracious wife Amy more than 20 years ago when he officiated at the marriage of our next door neighbours. We kept in touch, if only occasionally. I posted a brief story about George in 2014. I am repeating it here.
Our telephone rang early one morning. “Hello, this is George Tomita calling. You have a wedding anniversary coming up tomorrow. You are on my list.” Indeed we did and it was good to be reminded by this kindly retired United Church minister.
This is a story that began in Vancouver where George was born in 1921. His parents ran a dry-cleaning business that was confiscated when they and other Japanese Canadians were sent to internment camps in 1942.
George escaped internment by receiving permission to work on a farm operated by Grey Nuns near Montreal. Later he moved into the city where he held a succession of office and managerial jobs, including one in a dye casting company. Later his parents and family moved to Montreal as well. It was there that he met his future wife Amy, whose family had also been interned in B.C. They were married in 1949.
In 1969, George’s company moved to Cornwall, Ontario so he and Amy relocated. When that job ended, instead of disrupting the children’s education he found work running a gas station. He also worked as the caretaker of his church. “I was always interested in church work,” George has told me. He asked the pastor if he might become a lay minister. That led to an invitation to study for the ordained ministry at the United Theological College in Montreal.
He was 54 years old when he was ordained in June 1976. For the next 12 years he served first at a rural charge in the Gatineau region of Quebec, and later with Japanese Canadian congregations in Toronto and then Montreal. He and Amy retired in 1988 to Cumberland near Ottawa, where one of their daughters lives.
We met George when he performed a wedding for our next door neighbours. Later those friends began to invite a small group of us to their home each year on Christmas Eve and we came to know George and Amy through those occasions.
He told us that during his ministry he had performed 250 weddings. Even today he remains in contact with many of those people despite his age and his enduring a stroke several years ago. Each year, on the day prior to a wedding anniversary, he places telephone calls.
“Sometimes people are so busy that they forget their anniversaries,” he says. “I ask them how they are doing and they say fine but sometimes there are problems. Some have been separated or divorced. They share these things and I don’t gossip about it.”
One year on Christmas Eve visit my wife Martha indicated that I had forgotten about our most recent anniversary. George took out a notebook and asked for our number. Ten months later our telephone rang early in the morning, and it was George reminding me of our anniversary.
Just recently, we received an invitation to join George and Amy to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. I called him the other day. “George,” I said. “You have a wedding anniversary coming up. You’re on my list.”