Michael 'Mike' Dunn 1970-2009 - Macleans.ca

Michael ‘Mike’ Dunn 1970-2009

A hands-on dad with a magic touch, he was also a skier, cyclist and runner: ‘just legs and lungs’

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Michael 'Mike' Dunn 1970-2009Michael Denzil Dunn was born in the London suburb of Upton, England, on Feb. 7, 1970, the eldest of three children born to Robin and Christine Dunn. Both worked for the sewing machine company Singer—Christine as a receptionist, and Robin implementing computer systems. Three nights a week, he moonlighted as a barman to make ends meet. Those were dark economic days in Britain, and in 1974, the Dunns emigrated to Vancouver. Christine had visited B.C. House near Piccadilly Circus, where she’d read and seen pictures of the province, and little by little, grew enchanted with it.

In Canada, Robin joined IBM, and in 1980 was dispatched to Winnipeg. “Yes, the weather was awful, but the schooling was great, the kids flourished—they loved outdoor sports—and we all fell in love with Nordic skiing,” says Robin. Mike, who attended Acadia Junior High, and later, Fort Richmond Collegiate, wasn’t much for hockey or soccer, but loved to run, racing the 800- and 1,500-m middle-distance events. At 16, he received medical dispensation to enter the Manitoba Marathon, for which he and Robin had trained, every morning, at 4 a.m. Come race day, however, Mike woke up sick as a dog. By mile four, he was “sputtering and coughing,” says Robin, who gently sent him off. “But he just walked around the ambulance, and came right back out, and rejoined the race,” finishing in five hours and five minutes—at which point his parents took him to hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Within two years, he’d finish in the top 20.

“Mike had a pretty clear picture of what he wanted to be: a mechanical engineer,” says Robin. After graduating from the University of Manitoba in 1992, he moved to Kamloops, B.C., where he began a career with Pollard Banknote Ltd., makers of lottery tickets, whose engineering department he would, within a decade, end up managing. At Pollard, he met Tracy, his polar opposite, who worked on the design side proofing patterns. “I’m arty, he’s scientific, but we really worked well together,” she explains. For seven years, the pair made an annual trek to the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island—which Mike completed 14 times, twice running the 76-km loop in three days.

There wasn’t an ounce of fat on Mike, whose ideal weekend included a long run with the trio of mutts he’d picked up at the SPCA, and in winter, a 50-km loppet—or Nordic ski race—at the Overlander Ski Club near Logan Lake. At six feet, he was “just legs and lungs”—but with beautiful, long eyelashes, Tracy adds. “He proposed in ’99,” she says, driving through “God-knows-where” in Saskatchewan. “You’re damn right, I will,” Tracy shrieked. They honeymooned in Jasper. Mike, who’d raced the morning of his wedding—arriving home with just 10 minutes to shower, dress and run back out the door—had decided against packing any sports equipment. “Well, by the second day, I was peeling him off the ceiling,” says Tracy. “I said, ‘Go have a run.’ He really needed that.” Son Simon was born within three years, and Sabrina 21 months later. “He was a very hands-on dad,” says Tracy. An expert diaper changer, Mike bathed and read to the kids, and could coax a burp at any time—“he had that magic touch.” He taught each to swim and cross-country ski, pushing “his little pickles” along between his legs.

A “rare, brilliant,” mechanical mind, according to Pollard vice-president, Lyle Scrymgeour, Mike also had a passion for sports cars. His first love was a white ’74 Lotus Europa. By ’96, however, it had died one too many times, so Mike picked up an even older Porsche. Over the next 12 years, he put in 2,000-odd hours on the jet-black ’72 Porsche 911, rebuilding the instrumentation, putting in new panels, carpeting, upholstery, seats, doors and a dash, and getting to know almost every parts dealer in North America by name. “You didn’t want to breathe on it, it was so perfect,” says Robin, adding that Mike was planning its first spin this summer.

Cycling—“a great way to fit in a workout before work,” says Robin—was his latest passion. Three years ago, he bought a black aluminum Canadian-made Cervélo and a chariot, so he could drop the kids at daycare on his way to work (a 17-km ride, to which he’d added an extra 12-km loop). “Coming out of our house, it’s immediately uphill, and they’d be yelling, ‘Faster, daddy, faster!’ ” says Tracy. Mike never went out without his helmet and safety gear (he also had a heart-rate monitor, speedometer and odometer).

On April 24, in his first week cycling to work this year, he dropped the kids at daycare at 7:45 a.m., and pedalled onward to Pollard, heading east of Kamloops on the Trans-Canada Highway. Around 8:45, as he neared the plant, he suddenly swerved in front of an eastbound dump truck travelling in the right-hand lane. Kamloops RCMP believe his front tire blew, causing him to veer into traffic. Mike was 39.