Executed Canadian hostage remembered as brilliant and compassionate

'Whenever he chose to apply his stunning mind to anything, you knew it was going to be very well explored'

CALGARY — John Ridsdel, a Canadian killed by hostage-takers in the Phillipines, was remembered Monday as a brilliant, compassionate man with a talent for friendship.

“He could bridge many communities, many people, many situations and circumstances and environments in a very gentle way,” said Gerald Thurston, a lifelong friend of the former mining executive and journalist who grew up with him in Yorkton, Sask.

Ridsdel was one of four tourists — including Canadian Robert Hall, a Norwegian man and a Filipino woman — who were kidnapped last September from a marina resort on southern Samal Island by Abu Sayyaf militants.

The Islamic militants had threatened to kill one of the male hostages if a large ransom was not paid by 3 p.m. Monday local time — 3 a.m. ET. Police said Monday that the head of a Caucasian male was recovered in the southern Philippines and Canadian government officials confirmed the victim was Ridsdel, 68.

Thurston said Ridsdel is survived by two adult daughters from a former marriage. Both went on to achieve PhDs.

Saskatoon resident Don Kossick got to know Ridsdel in the 1970s, when Ridsdel was working in Regina. Kossick led a letter-writing and Facebook campaign calling on the Canadian government to help Ridsdel and Hall.

“He was just a really warm, gracious person with a really nice smile. I remember that very well. He was just really open. We were young in those days, so we talked about a lot things. John was really bright, he was on top of issues, and it was really nice being around him.”

Thurston, who for a time shared a house in Calgary with his friend, also recalled Ridsdel’s questing, probing intelligence — put to good use during a stint as a reporter for CBC.

“Whenever he chose to apply his stunning mind to anything, you knew it was going to be very well explored — and also brought into eloquent terms that explained it in such ways that it became available to everyone.”

Thurston remembers long, penetrating conversations with his friend, who could seemingly speak with insight about anything and was concerned with social justice.

“In terms of taking a stand on something, John was one of those people.”

Thurston, a retired theatre professional and educator, said Ridsdel had environmentalist friends and didn’t fit any kind of “little slot” of a mining executive.

“He addressed all the concerns of the levels of the (mining) role. He also made certain that all voices that came to him were heard. That was his nature. There wasn’t any draw from the holster and blast things out until you get it correct.”

Thurston said his friend was marked by the compassion and respect with which he treated those around him.

“The most important thing about John is that he applied what I like to apply: If you can listen as carefully as you speak and speak as carefully as you listen, then that changes a lot of things.”