Joachim Nicholas Michael Strilchuk was born on March 27, 1937, in Mundare, Alta. “Jim,” as he was known, was the second of five children. His parents were both devoted members of their community. Nicholas, Jim’s father, was the first doctor to serve Mundare and its surrounding towns; his mother, Anne, taught at the local school.
Jim’s childhood in the small town east of Edmonton was filled with fishing, hunting and golfing with his dad. At 14, he moved to Edmonton to attend boarding school. Jim received a $2 allowance each month and, unlike his friends, he didn’t spend it on candy bars but saved it to buy shoes. He didn’t think his parents should spend more money than necessary on him.
After finishing his bachelor of science at the University of Alberta, Jim travelled in Europe, working wherever he could to keep the money flowing. He was used to that by then: as a student, he had spent his summers employed at the Banff Springs Hotel as a tour guide. Jim sent a letter to his dad from Europe, saying, “I promise you that I will work hard and I will make you very proud.” And he did. Jim enrolled in law school at the University of British Columbia and, taking his degree back home, was admitted to the Alberta bar association in 1963.
In 1958, while still a student, Jim had crossed paths with a girl named Gladys. They were both enrolled at U of A, and he belonged to a fraternity, she to a sorority. “He asked me to a formal,” Gladys says. Though the dance didn’t lead to much more then, Gladys still keeps a little cup from that party that reminds her of their first date. They next saw each other at a party in 1964. When Jim spotted Gladys, he asked her for a dance and suggested they go to a football game the next week. “And that was it,” she says. Soon after, they got engaged, and married the next year in Calgary, where they settled.
There wasn’t time for a honeymoon, so Gladys organized a trip to Hawaii for the following spring. “Jim had never been,” she says, “and he just fell in love with the place.” The warmth of Hawaii would welcome the family for more than 50 visits over the years. They would take their two children, Kathryn and Michael, for the whole month of March every year. After Kathryn turned 13 and Gladys went back to work as a teacher and school administrator, they started going in December instead, and spent every Christmas in Hawaii. Jim, by then a well-established business lawyer, spent his holidays golfing, swimming with the kids and meeting with friends.
“He was a loyal friend,” says Kathryn. In fact, friendship and family were the two most important values in Jim’s life. Many of his clients became close, says Melanie Jarvis, his secretary for 30 years, adding, “It was never about the money for him, and I admired him for that.” Every trip he took, either with the children or with Gladys, be it to Hawaii or New Mexico or Phoenix, where the couple liked to golf, was always planned around meeting friends. Jim was also a friend to his own children, not only Kathryn and Michael, but also Joanne, his daughter from a previous relationship.
But his best friend was Jim’s grandson Jamison, Kathryn’s son. From the moment he was born nine years ago, Jim was transformed by their strong bond. “I don’t think he ever loved anyone as much as he loved Jamison,” Gladys says. Jim took Jamison everywhere with him, showing off his grandson to his friends, saying, “Isn’t he handsome?” The two wrestled, ate ice cream, secretly went to McDonald’s without mom’s permission, and snuggled to watch TV together early in the mornings when Jamison stayed at his grandparents’ for a weekend. Jim would make bacon dipped in maple syrup, Jamison’s favourite, for breakfast.
Jamison looked up to his grandfather so much that he recently announced he would grow up to be a lawyer like him. “They were inseparable,” says Kathryn. On Feb. 18, Jim, Gladys and Jamison flew to the Turks and Caicos for a vacation. While Gladys watched from the beach, the other two went about exploring, swimming and snorkelling. On Feb. 25, Jim left a dinner party early to tuck Jamison into bed. He excused himself, saying, “I just want to spend as much time as possible with Jamison on this trip.” The next day, while the two buddies were back in the water snorkelling, Jim suffered a heart attack. Jamison managed to drag him to the shore to get medical attention, but Jim’s heart had already stopped. Jim was 74.