In loving memory of Ian Sowton
February 23, 1929 – January 23, 2021
Our beloved Ian died peacefully in Toronto on January 23, 2021. Some of his community reflections and writing can be found here on our website.
CELEBRATION OF LIFE
An online service in celebration of Ian’s was held on Saturday, February 20, 2021.
Order of Service (PDF document 1 page) Poems and Hymns from the Service (PDF 8 pages)
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Holy Trinity Refugee Committee.
Donations can be made here, on our Canada Helps page.
Choose Refugee Committee under Fund and complete the dedication information if you wish.
Ian Charles Sowton died on Jan. 20, 2021 after suffering complications from a fall. He was born on February 23rd, 1929 in then Peking, China. Both his parents were officers and missionaries in the Salvation Army (SA) and were posted there. He grew up speaking Street Mandarin. At age 7, he lost his beloved little sister Merle, from diphtheria. During World War II Ian spent 3 years, together with his family and other community members, in the Japanese internment camps in China. They continued creating music with their SA band throughout their time in the camp, despite opposition from the authorities. Ian and his father Charles both played the Euphonium. They only discovered that the war was over when they saw the Red Cross dropping care packages from the air. They were liberated by US paratroopers on August 17th, 1945.
After the war, Ian immigrated to Canada on his own, whilst still very young. He worked multiple jobs in order to support himself studying at the University of Toronto. There he met the love of his life, Frances Bysshe. After being engaged for 3 years, they married on Christmas Eve, 1952. Ian had planned to be a missionary doctor and Fran changed her major in order to train as a nurse, to accompany him into the field. But fate intervened when his English professor drew him aside and told him he had a tremendous gift. That conversation changed the course of his life and he switched his major to English Literature.
In 1956, he and his young family moved to Edmonton, Alberta where he had been offered a professorship in the English Department. Always concerned about social justice, Ian sought to expand his calling and ran for the Federal NDP in Edmonton Strathcona in 1963, losing to the Conservatives.
Ian and his now family of seven, moved back to Toronto in 1968 to teach at York University. In his early years at York, he taught at the then-new Atkinson College which provided education on a part-time basis for mature students, allowing working people and stay-at-home-moms to get degrees. Some were women attending against the wishes of their husbands or families to strive for an education. Ian was a tremendous support to them. He was a gifted, beloved teacher and mentor, much sought-after as a professor and a dissertation supervisor. He retired in 1993.
As well as publishing academic works, Ian was a life long and wonderful poet. His idea of retirement was to publish 5 volumes of poetry, the last of which, his Collected Works, was aptly completed in the last year of his life. He also wrote hymns, sermons, homilies and elegies as a vital part of his beloved Holy Trinity (Anglican) congregation. He was a devoted member of the Refugee committee at church and was part of the homeless memorial every year.
Ian is predeceased by his sister Merle, and sons Aaron and Ivor (Amrita). He is survived by his wife Fran, brother Ivor (Ruth), son Christopher (Tia, Jennifer), and daughters Bronwen (Ginny) and Caoran, grandchildren Eli (Ania), Orlando, Nalini (Laz), Phydime (Camila), Imogen, Fletcher and Avery, and great-grandchildren, Anastasia, Charlotte and Paloma. Ian also leaves behind many grieving nieces and nephews, his goddaughter Sarah, and numerous other loving friends and relatives.
He was a unique and luminous soul whose gentle and just presence uplifted a multitude of others. Grateful thanks to the compassionate staff at TGH. For a more detailed description of Ian’s life, and to join the Celebration of Life on Zoom on Feb 20,2021 at 2 pm EST, please go to https://holytrinity.to/2021/01/iansowton/ where you can donate to The Refugee Committee if you so choose.
A place to share memories and messages to the family. To add your message please fill in the form below. Messages will not appear automatically. Your email address will not appear. There are more remembrances and reflections here on our website.
Ian, good friend from long ago,
Was many things – scholar, professor, poet,
Family man, wine connoisseur,
One who loved life and laughter and
Adored his dear wife Fran.
Had he gone into politics
He would have got things done
The better to advance equality
Of opportunity, and the rights
Of women, pointing to
Women’s past achievements
In art and literature
Often ignored by others –
That was his message as a teacher.
He was a man of strong conviction
No reed bandied by shifting winds
His moral compass held true north
Rooted in faith from infancy
Service to others first above self interest.
His poems, brim with wit and humour,
Insight and learning,
Truth, mirth, and wisdom.
His muse stood by him to the end.
For me most moving are his obsequies.
Small Sister for example
In its stark simplicity
Still makes me wipe my eyes.
The bantering donnish strings are mute
We hear just simple truth and feeling.
So now I say a simple obsequie for him
He was as fine a man as ever shook my hand.
— George Mackie
I am 59, a retired professor, an out lesbian, and a grandmother, now, and I live across the ocean in London, but I clearly remember, as though it were yesterday, one of my PhD supervision meetings in Ian’s office at Atkinson in the mid 1980s. I had brought along my baby daughter, Erin, and I was nervous. I can’t remember what we talked about – though I’m sure he was reassuring, knowledgeable, calm, accepting of any and all of my interests – but I do remember him not minding at all as we watched Erin crawl around the room, intent on her effort to transfer each of the books from the lowest shelves to the floor. She was happy, he was happy, I was relieved, and we had a lovely chat. I will remember him, his kindness, his example, his smile, gentleness and generosity, and be grateful for having known him, always. My thoughts are with you, Fran, and with all of his family and friends.
— Susan Rudy
I remember him at Chaplin Cres. as a soft quiet loving father. He was always there for his family and supportive of his children. It must be a tremendous shock and blow to you all. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
For Ian and Fran
Come, Love, come
From our hands
Into your arms
Fran’s deeply beloved
Ian, and ours. May he
Who so gently
Smiled upon us
For so many years
Now return happily
Who fed his faithful soul
With your pure
God speed, sweet prince
Dearly beloved by your wife, Fran
Your family and all of us
At Holy Trinity
Heaven’s angels carry you
— Joy Kogawa
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