Friends, family mourn their beloved 'Shawn' Heart attack claims university professor whose contribution needs to be celebrated
Katherine Dedyna, Times Colonist Published: Friday, November 21, 2008
Life was sweet for Prof. Michael "Shawn" Cafferky, a former mill worker turned Canadian military historian.
He held the only university teaching position in Canada helping students meet veterans and record their personal war stories. He had finally met the love of his life and recently introduced her to his family -- whom he talked to several times a day.
He had just returned from a fantastic motorcycle trip to California with his biker buddies.
It all ended suddenly on Sept. 6.
After a day spent on his bike in the sun, he returned to his apartment. He was two hours into a long-distance call with his partner, Filly Furtado of Montreal, who was coming to visit. She soon heard him fighting for air. Desperately calling his name and getting no response, she was forced to hang up and called Victoria 4-1-1, which patched her through to 9-1-1.
Paramedics in Victoria broke down the door to reach him. Despite efforts at resuscitation, Cafferky died of a massive heart attack. He was a month shy of his 50th birthday.
"There was no sign whatsoever," she said. "At least he was on the phone with me and not by himself."
Shawn was "such a romantic" that the first time she visited Victoria, he had covered the bed with rose petals in a heart shape pierced by an arrow. "He had a rose for every day that I was going to be there," she recalled.
There is no guarantee that Cafferky's groundbreaking class will continue, says friend David Zimmerman, a University of Victoria history professor shouldering the extra load for now. Cafferky and Zimmerman were co-leaders of the Veterans' Oral History Project, a joint initiative of the Royal United Services Institute of Vancouver Island and UVic. Cafferky did most of the teaching while Zimmerman looked after other aspects of the program.
"He was very engaged and the students responded extremely well to him and his course," said retired Col. John Eggenberger of the services institute. "He turned them on to military history," added Chris Petter, head of special collections at UVic Libraries. "His name and his contribution really need to be celebrated. It's a terrible loss."
Cafferky was the kind of professor always ready to chat or answer an e-mail, student Matthew Chapman wrote on the Remembrances website. "He helped shape many students' academic and personal lives and his time with all of us is something we will never forget."
Cafferky held a joint faculty position with UVic and the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont. -- which ranked him as "their best outreach instructor," Zimmerman said.
Before that, he undertook a punishing teaching schedule to establish himself -- at one point teaching as many as seven classes a semester at Camosun and Malaspina colleges and UVic, twice the normal load.
But he always had time for his family, starting with soccer coaching of youngest brother Bruce and his friends. "Many of my friends today are guys that Shawn coached," Bruce said.
Younger sister Brenda said her daughters, Courtnay and Keara, counted on him at all their birthday parties and confided things about boys or school or sports that they wouldn't tell their parents. They're struggling with a huge void in their lives.
So much in his life had recently come together, Brenda said. "It's devastating that he couldn't enjoy it after all his hard work."
Jeans, cowboy boots and leather bomber jacket -- that was the way he headed to class. "The students loved him for it," said Cafferky's father, Blair. "He'd take his students to lunch, or meet them at a pub."
Because he had an unconventional academic trajectory, he knew how to encourage students to keep on going when they flagged. After graduating from Mount Douglas Senior Secondary school, Cafferky worked at B.C. Forest Products for six years.
His parents had no inkling he'd end up as a professor. His mother Rita surmises it could be connected to his grandfather, who was wounded at Passchendaele. Suddenly, he was keen to earn a bachelor's and master's degrees in history at UVic and a PhD from Carleton University in 1996.
He helped write the official history of the Royal Canadian Navy with the Department of National Defence in Ottawa but after budget cuts, he returned to Victoria in 1997 to be close to his family.
He was a common sight out walking his beloved sheltie, Koda, around his Cook Street Village home. Loyalty was a key trait -- he once broke up with a woman who demanded he choose between her and his elderly cat.
John Skipp met Cafferky when the two showed up on their motorcycles at the Causeway one summer day. They became fast friends, meeting for lunch daily at the Moka House.
Charismatic, confident and "always interesting." Cafferky quickly became "the glue" for a group of riders and made long-distance trips happen, Zimmerman said.
"He was really deeply loved," Zimmerman said. "The entire church was full, and it was a big church."
Michael Shawn Cafferky was born in Vancouver on Oct. 7, 1958, and died Sept. 6, 2008, in Victoria.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008
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