Last year, 97-year-old Norman Zimmerman recited by memory John McCrae’s famous poem "In Flanders Fields" at the Alliston Probus Remembrance Day ceremony.
It’s a reading he has done every year since 2007.
But the Second World War veteran and retired Palgrave fire chief declined the invitation this year due to declining health.
He died just a few days before Remembrance Day — on Nov. 6 — in his 99th year.
“He was super intelligent with an awesome memory, humble, kind and had a great sense of humour,” said his son, Rick Zimmerman. “There was always a joke waiting to be told. He always took great interest in what other people were doing in their lives.”
Norman outlived his wife of 74 years, Mary Zimmerman. They had four sons — Robert, Bruce, Brian and Richard — and 11 grandchildren.
During the Second World War, Norman joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 and achieved the rank of flying officer at the young age of 19.
He spent time in the war in England as a wireless air gunner — providing essential communications for aircraft.
There is also a banner of Norman, honouring his service in the war, on the waterfront in Barrie.
Norman was raised by deaf parents — so he learned sign language at a young age.
“His early upbringing in a deaf family I think gave him great personal strength and was a factor in developing his business skills since he was often taken along by his father to communicate with customers wanting carpentry work done or to collect money,” Rick said.
His son remembers his parents would have conversations in sign language when they didn’t want their children to know what they were saying.
Norman had a long career as a private custom homebuilder — taking over his dad’s carpentry business — constructing over 100 homes in Palgrave and the surrounding Albion Hills.
In the late 40s, he became a volunteer firefighter and went on to be a long serving fire chief of the Palgrave Fire Department (1955).
He was awarded the 35-year Ontario Firefighter Long Service Medal by the Ontario Fire Marshal.
Norman considered service to his community an important part of one's life, Rick said.
In fact, several of Norman’s children and grandchildren became firefighters as well.
“Not only do we remember Chief Zimmerman for his 35 plus years as a volunteer, he left roots in Caledon Fire and Emergency Service,” said Caledon’s current fire chief, Dave Forfar.
“Norman believed in giving back to his community, a value that he obviously passed on to his family members,” Forfar said.
In Caledon, his grandson, Nicholas, is an active volunteer firefighter and his son, Brian, is the district chief at Mono Mills.
“Dad inspired all of us to be volunteer firefighters once we turned 16,” said Rick. “We used to joke that they would rename the Palgrave fire department the ‘Zimmerman fire department.’"
He and wife Mary enjoyed many years of family life, travelling, camping, cottage life, and golf.
Norman was drawn to the shores of Georgian Bay and in the early 80s built and lived with his wife in a custom home on Sawlog Bay (near Penetanguishene).
Some years later, they moved to Collingwood and then later Alliston.
Rick said his dad had a tremendous strength of character and a true moral compass.
“I think that rubbed off on his children and great grandchildren,” Rick said. “He was the person you consulted if you were having a bad time or just wanted a little direction in your own life.”
A Celebration of Life for Norman will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hospice Simcoe hospicesimcoe.ca.