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Cover Story: A leader fallen, but not forgotten
The outpouring of grief on the North Shore was palpable and the reach of his life’s work quickly became known in the hours after Tim Jones’ sudden death Sunday evening on Mount Seymour.
Thousands of people from across the area and beyond took to social media to share in the grief, and to recount stories of how the 57-year-old North Shore Rescue leader touched their lives.
On Monday the flags at all three municipal halls flew at half-mast. Inside North Van City hall, a book of condolences rested on a table below a framed photo of a smiling Jones.
An undoubtedly broken up Mayor Darrell Mussatto spoke to The Outlook about the passing of his friend.
“Well, I’ve known Tim for over 30 years,” said Mussatto shakily. “I’ve known him for so long I can’t remember our first meeting.”
A paramedic currently on leave, the mayor credits Jones with helping him get on with the B.C. Ambulance Service. They had both studied the same fields in university — kinesiology and geography.
“And one of my professors said, ‘You should meet this guy Tim Jones,’” recalled Mussatto.
Jones took Mussatto under his wing and brought him along for ambulance ride-alongs. He would later serve as Mussatto’s first instructor in the paramedic academy.
“He was very dedicated,” said Mussatto. “And he’s a very caring guy. He would do things for others.”
Outside of their professional interactions, they were friends who shared a common love of hiking and the outdoors. As for Jones’ legacy as NSR leader, the mayor was effusive with his praise.
“He has made North Shore Rescue probably one of the most talented, skilled teams in all of the world,” said Mussatto. “So he has a legacy of giving back and caring for others, I think that’s his biggest legacy.”
Mussatto also characterized Jones as being a family man.
“His family is very important to him, and this is just a huge devastating loss to Lindsay (Jones’ wife), Taylor and Curtis (Jones’ children),” said Mussatto.
Curtis, on Monday evening, summoned the courage to speak publicly about the passing of his dad. Standing outside NSR headquarters on Bewicke Avenue, Curtis, wearing the recognizable NSR red jacket, took a few audible deep breaths before reading a prepared statement.
Moments before, gathered NSR members collectively looked skyward at a helicopter flying overhead and perhaps reflected on a past aerial reconnaissance mission with their now-fallen leader.
Curtis then spoke, saying how he and his dad had worked in tandem as part of NSR for over 10 years.
“Together we have worked on the helicopter long line and together we have been there for many other people in their time of need,” said Curtis. “Tim was an amazing boss, mentor, colleague, husband and friend — but, most importantly, he is the best father any son or daughter could ask for. He will be sorely missed by our family and those he has touched over the years.”
Curtis concluded by thanking the B.C. Ambulance Service, Lions Gate Hospital staff, Mount Seymour ski patrol, the RCMP and the many others who “took all the stops out to save our father.”
“He would be proud of all involved,” said Curtis, who then stepped back from the spotlight and was immediately embraced by his NSR family.
Phillip Gander didn’t witness Jones rescuing him on a frigid February evening from a narrow ledge protruding from a steep, jagged rock face on Mount Seymour in 1996.
The then 18-year-old Venturer scout had slipped while hiking up one of the mountain peaks and plunged 500 feet down the icy slope. Gander was fortunate he fell face first, because that’s what prevented him from dropping further down to an almost certain death.
He was long unconscious when Jones and another NSR member rappelled down in pitch-black darkness from the helicopter to reach him on that perilous perch. Jones quickly proceeded to do a blind intubation to secure Gander’s airway and breath for him.
After the lengthy rescue operation was over, Gander was flown to the hospital where he spent 16 days in an induced coma to relieve his brain swelling. After three months of rehabilitation, Gander had made a marked improvement in his recovery.
Speaking to The Outlook Tuesday from the University of Iowa’s neurosurgery department, Gander, who today holds a PhD in neuroscience, talked about the man who changed the trajectory of his life.
“It is difficult to express in words how important Tim was to me, in terms of my rescue and survival, but also as a friend after my hospital recovery,” said Gander. “I definitely owe him who I am now, in terms of the success story that I have been able to have.”
Surviving that accident inspired Gander to do research in the field of brain injuries. He has seen other milestones as well, including the birth of his first child in February 2012.
Gander returned to Mount Seymour seven years ago. Jones was the one to personally take him to the spot where he fell.
“I mean it was terrifying being able to see the actual location,” recalled Gander. “It was so steep and it was crazy dangerous in terms of where I was. The danger that they [NSR] put themselves in was apparent.”
Rosemary Gander had remained in contact with Jones in the years after her son’s rescue. Every year she sends the non-profit NSR organization a donation, as a small token of her appreciation.
A year after the accident, at Jones’ request, Rosemary was the guest speaker at a NSR fundraising event in West Van that brought in $24,000.
And when the province temporarily suspended long-line rescues in 2012, Rosemary wrote letters to the government, telling officials about the equipment’s invaluable worth.
On her bedroom wall is a photo of the NSR team including Jones, and a simple phrase that sums up her sentiment: “We have angels among us and mine wear hiking boots.”
When Rosemary heard the news on Monday she kept telling herself it wasn’t possible because she had just seen Jones a week ago on TV. She struggles to put into words the impact he had on her family.
“I owe him my child’s life,” said Rosemary. “[There’s] not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think of that. I think he’s irreplaceable — as a human being and a search and rescue technician.”
Jones had been methodical with his long-term NSR sustainability strategy put into place years ago.
He hand-picked team veterans Jeff Yarnold and Mike Danks to train with him as helicopter rescue coordinators, as part of a succession plan. The long-line rescue was co-pioneered by Jones shortly after he joined NSR full-time in the ‘90s.
On Tuesday, Yarnold reflected on being chosen to helm such high-intensity rescue operations.
“Maybe he saw something in us that resembled himself,” said Yarnold. “He truly believed we could be leaders.”
Jones set the bar high, in terms of expectations, because when a life is hanging in the balance there is no room for error.
Yarnold deployed with Jones on many missions in the mountains.
He recalled the harrowing rescue of a severely injured snowshoer trapped in a gully at Theta Lake on Mount Seymour. Avalanches were coming down all around the first ground rescue team, as they trekked towards the victim.
There was no safe way out, so Yarnold, Jones and a few other NSR members were forced to hunker down in a makeshift shelter on the frigid mountain for three days.
“Just spending the time with Tim in there was pretty priceless,” said Yarnold.
But they didn’t shoot the breeze, surprisingly.
“Anytime that you have downtime like that, Tim would be talking about the rescue team,” explained Yarnold. “It was always a teaching moment.”
Still reeling from the loss of his mentor, Danks expressed his gratitude towards Jones.
“You know, it was an honour actually to be taken under Tim’s wing and for him to invest such a huge amount of time in me and believe in me,” said Danks.
He is now in the midst of helping to pull off a memorial in five days for the man who made an immeasurable mark on the community.
Ironically, Danks is getting some help from Jones on this. It speaks to the penchant he had for preplanning.
Danks is referencing Jones’ master resource manual and a list of important numbers to track down people to invite to Saturday’s service.
“These are direct numbers that will get direct answers,” said Danks. ““Everything with Tim was to deal with time-compressed calls.”
At the time of his passing, Jones had some complex modernization projects on the go – including the digitalization of the radio system and integration of live tracking technology.
On top of that, and overseeing the day-to-day operations, Jones managed to lay down the framework for a $6-million NSR legacy fund last year. The plan was to set aside capital, which, over time, would generate interest and keep NSR afloat for many years to come.
“It’s almost become a half-a-million-dollar operation,” NSR treasurer Ron Royston told The Outlook of the organization’s annual expenses. “We rely heavily on public donations. Some years that’s almost half of our funding.”
In 2015, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary, NSR will move forward with Jones’ fundraising campaign.
It was just last spring that Jones saw perhaps his greatest accomplishment come to pass: The opening of the NSR embassy on Bewicke. The team thanked him in a rather unorthodox way.
Days after the rescue base was up and running, Jones, sitting at a restaurant with some NSR members, gets a call from one of the North Van fire chiefs who tells him the embassy is on fire.
“And Tim went berserk,” recalls Yarnold.
Jones pulled up to a scene and saw a fire truck with flashing lights and one of the guys grabbing an axe for added effect.
About a 100 grateful people had congregated inside the rescue base, ready to surprise Jones when he walked through the door. They were sending him and his wife to England, with the help of the reality TV show Operation: Vacation, which rewards hard-working, community-minded citizens who have never really had a break.
Danks and Yarnold both stress that Jones mentored not just them, but the entire NSR team. He has prepared them well, and they are ready to go.
“Well, I tell you, Tim has done so much for us that we like to think that nothing is going to change,” said Yarnold. “There’s not one person driving this anymore. It’s almost as if he planned this.”
There will be a public celebration of Jones’ life at noon this Saturday, Jan. 25 at Centennial Theatre, preceded by an honour guard procession on Lonsdale Avenue.
“This is our chance to give back to Tim,” said Danks.
A few legacy campaigns have been set up in Jones’ name. The Justice Institute of B.C., where Jones trained to become a paramedic, has created the Tim Jones Memorial Award Fund: support.jibc.ca/timjones. Meanwhile, an NSR legacy fund has been started on the crowdfunding site FundRazr: fundrazr.com/campaigns/3gPPf.