He was the Rev. Ernie Royle to thousands in his lifetime but he was Uncle Ernie to me. Kind, warm, quick with a smile, it was easy to see why he would be so widely respected in his United Church of Canada community and in the broader communities he called home.
Ernest Royle was born in 1935 and following graduation from divinity school, he was ordained in May 1959. It was a big year for Ernie as he also married Carol Hadden, my father’s ‘baby’ sister. Children would come later – first Heather, then Doug, and last but not least, Janet.
The big city life never seemed to be an attraction for Uncle Ernie, in fact, with his easy going, good natured personality, he enjoyed the teasing of being accused of living in hamlets and villages where the big local festival was to celebrate the arrival of the first stop sign and the dilemma was determining where to put it as they had no intersections. I can recall, when Uncle Ernie was the minister at a church in Freelton, Ontario, teasing him about ministering to a flock that swelled one weekend per year when the Miss Nude Universe pageant was held at a local nudist colony.
He could also give as good as he took, on occasion winking at me and suggesting that we share a good Irish Catholic adult beverage because he was feeling particularly ecumenical. And it was show business that brought out his passion. The quiet man I had always known would explain in great detail his thematic plans for his latest production to be presented annually at his church. Each year’s successful large scale production meant only one thing to him – an opportunity to begin planning an even bigger and more elaborate production for the next year.
Try as I might though, I couldn’t picture Uncle Ernie as Rev. Ernie. I couldn’t picture him leading a service and preaching, this quiet mannered man who was husband to my aunt and father to my cousins. This changed in the summer of 2004 when tragedy struck and my cousin, Doug died suddenly in his Montreal, Quebec apartment. Uncle Ernie conducted a memorial service at his church in Brantford, Ontario. For the first time, I saw the power of his ministerial gift – an eloquent orator who exuded compassion to those mourners present in spite on his own grief. A true demonstration of the greatness of this small town minister who will be forever and always, Uncle Ernie.
Uncle Ernie passed away after a brief illness in Brantford, Ontario on January 23, 2008. Broadway lost a great producer, Brantford lost a compassionate religious leader, his family lost a caring husband and father, and I lost a terrific uncle!