Ken Capon: musician, organiser, activist, and fundraiser extraordinaire died Sunday Oct. 14, of an aortic dissection, in hospital in Nanaimo. Capon was 70 years old.
Wikipedia describes an aortic dissection as a medical emergency caused by “a tear in the inner wall of the aorta (which) causes blood to flow between the layers of the wall of the aorta and force the layers apart”.
Capon went to the hospital Oct. 14 because he was feeling unwell Gabriolan Brenda Purcell said Sunday. Tawny Maclachlan Capon, Capon’s sister-in-law, said Wednesday that the aortic dissection was found just below the area where a previous aortic aneurism had been repaired when Capon was medevac’d to Victoria for emergency surgery in February 2011.
Capon’s brother John Capon said this time the doctors were unable to access the damaged aorta. Maclachlan Capon said the doctors had hoped the tear would heal naturally.
Early Gabriola connection
Capon’s life-partner Cherryl Reed said Wednesday that Capon’s connection with Gabriola began at the age of four when he, older brother John, and sister Sue Gould would attend CCF camp in the summertime. John said that originally the CCF, the political precursor to the NDP, would hold a summer retreat on the field at Twin Beaches, which led to their parents buying a summer home on Gabriola.
Capon studied bass with Jack Hamilton, the principal bassist of the Vancouver symphony and later with Tom Monohan who was the principal bassist for the Toronto symphony. "It showed in his playing,” said John. “He had a good sound and good pitch”.
“One of the most notable parts of his life,” John said, occurred in the late ‘50s when Ken was on the board of a non-profit coffee house called “The Black Spot” on Dunbar Street in Vancouver. Both Ken and John played there a lot, John said, adding that “a lot of notable people played there. People who have gone on to be very high profile” Canadian musicians.
The Black Spot moved to Broadway and became the Flat Five Club and then the Blue Horn, John said. “Typical to Ken’s energy here,” John said, “he was hugely active” in the clubs.
In the mid-‘60s Ken went to Toronto and “was doing what we call jobbing,” John said, “doing dance gigs, and club dates, and things like that.” From there Ken went to England and “played the pubs,” John said, “but being a freelance pub musician in downtown London in those days didn’t pay very much,” so Ken took a position on a cruise ship. “It wasn’t a very happy event,” John said, “but it paid off all his debts … and he immediately moved back to Canada, and at that point he stopped being a professional musician.”
Ken moved back to Vancouver, John said, where he met Reed while he was working at Robert’s Street Group home.
Reed said she met Ken because he lived in the basement of a house she was sharing with some women friends. “Being Ken, even though he moved into the basement, he wouldn’t stay there,” and was always up rooting around in the kitchen, she said, “so I tell people we were living together before we met.”
Reed also noted that Gabriolan Louise Amuir worked at the group home while Ken was there.
Amuir said the home, at which she estimated Ken worked for about five years, was a place where kids with psychiatric and behavioural difficulties were assessed. “Kids really liked Ken,” she said, “because he was so relaxed, and would do neat stuff, like taking them sailing, or letting them hang around in the music room.”
“There were no harsh words from Ken,” she said. He would talk to the kids strongly, but never lecture. He was inclusive even then.”
During those years Reed and Ken also got involved in The Hunger Project, John said, the office of which Ken managed. “It was a proper office,” John said, smiling. “He actually wore a suit, and a tie, and suspenders, and shiny shoes, and he was the fundraiser for The Hunger Project.”
“That’s where Ken got into fundraising and learned to be a very tenacious fundraiser,” John said. “His favourite phrase was ‘ask for the money, get the money’ .”
The couple then bought the MV Arasheena, a 60 foot fero-cement motor-sailer, John said, and ran a charter business out of False Creek for about 20 years. They eventually bought their house on Armson Road, John said, and at his suggestion, moored their boat off Gabriola during the winter months, because of the cheaper moorage. That was “one of the few times Ken ever listened to me”, John said wryly.
After a while, John said, the couple sold their boat and Ken put out his shingle as “The Handyman”, travelling around in a truck with a red panel box that Maclachlan Capon called an “island icon”.
“Then he got into community support stuff,” John said, adding that Ken was “passionate” about the work. Ken also got back into playing more music when he moved here, John said, and “donated his services as a player to everything. That bass was all over the place”. Maclachlan Capon said Ken would never say no to an ask. “We started playing together quite a bit,” John said, renewing a musical relationship they’d started many years before.
Noting that Ken also volunteered for the Gabriola Groundwater Management Society, directed the Dancing Man concerts with Brad Shipley, started up the Jazzberries with original members Rick Cranston, and Jenna Flor, helped create the Gabriola Chamber Ensemble, and was a “huge support” to the Gabriola Island Singers, John said: “I don’t even know the extent of how he helped develop the Gabriola Commons – the amount of work that he did there. I don’t even know that one person knows.”
Commons founder Sheila Huston agreed: “Ken did a huge amount of work for the Commons and was there at the early stages even before the Commons was the Commons”. She said Ken was part of a group of Gabriolans who, in the ‘90s, wanted to buy what was then a goat farm for the community.
“When (co-Commons-founder) Heide (Brown) and I came along and bought the goat farm,” Huston said, they reached out to the group to discuss how to get the Commons going. She said Ken sat on the original Commons steering committee, and was one of the first trustees.
Two primary things stood out for Huston in terms of Ken’s contribution: that he took care of the physical house and grounds, and that he spearheaded and implemented the monthly donor program. The contributions of their 160 monthly donations are paying the mortgage, she said. Some of those donations may be small, she said, “but together we floated the whole boat”.
Ken was “a straightforward person, who always said what he thought,” Huston said. While that wasn’t always well-received by those who disagreed with him, she said, Ken “always spoke from the heart, and was a man of tremendous integrity”.
Gabriola Island Singers leader Gail Lund said: “Ken Capon was a huge part of the Gabriola Island Singers and we will miss him very much. He played electric and acoustic bass, and sang baritone with us and would even write his own bass parts”.
“I don’t think he ever met a musical genre that he didn’t like, and he was equally at home with classical and jazz music. Every musician on the island owes him for his enthusiasm and willingness to rehearse and perform,” she said.
“As well as his musical talents,” Lund added, “he was a very nice man and would do anything for anybody. His death is a huge loss for Gabriola. We extend our heart-felt condolences to Cherryl and his family.”
Speaking to his work with adolescents, Reed said Ken gave of himself “to those kids like he did with everybody. It was just in his heart to do these kinds of things”. Ken lived by his favourite saying, Reed said: “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing”.
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