>> PETER WORDEN
To live a long remorseless life is all any of us could ask for. A solid 33,000-or-so days looking after our own wellbeing and others, is what you might call a good life. And how many of us are as successful at that as Clancy? He has nothing to feel bad about.
Take cigarettes. Thirty years ago, Clancy remembers inside bars and cafés, “the smoke was blue, so thick on the table you could cut it with a knife.” He never took to smoking. In fact: “I hated it.” Getting a few people onside, he worked to change all that. “Everyone hated me,” he says without remorse, “I lived though it and I’m proud of it. God damn proud of it.”
He once approached a guy smoking outside Macdonald’s and said: “Any chance I can scare the shit out of you?” Then he told him about his first and second wives who each died young with cigarettes being a likely factor. “I said why don’t you butt out because by the time you’re 50, you might be a statistic.” But he concedes, joking: “I can’t tell everyone what to do. Matter of fact, I can’t tell anyone what to do.”
In addition to his personal cigarette/cancer-crusade, Clancy has also shaken up municipal affairs. He lived on CPR Hill for 23 years where he seemed locked in an uncomfortable constant battle with CPR and the City. Eventually he ended up taking a few sewerline matters into his own hands.
Then, there was that stint he did in the Slammer. The Big House. The Clink. The Can. The Joint …
“I got put in jail one time for having a pee in the alley in Nelson.” It was after 2 a.m., so he figured he could get away with it. But a police officer spotted him in the alley and asked what he was doing. “He said, ‘Where are you staying?’ I said the Savoy Hotel. He said, ‘Jump in, I’ll give you a ride.’ And instead of taking a left turn he took a right turn. I said you’re going the wrong way to the Savoy Hotel. He said, ‘You’re going to the Crowbar Hotel.’”
“I got put in jail one time…”
The self-derogatory “squareheaded Irishmen” is not without a few rough edges. But any real trouble?—no, never.
“I keep my nose pretty clean,” he says. “Only trouble I ever had was paying a $5 fine for driving on a restricted road. Another $5 fine for fishing without a license. That’s about the limit.”
His advice for living an easy life is simple: “Don’t flaunt the law. If you flaunt the law, sooner or later it’s gunna come back and getcha,” he said. He comes by it honestly. “I had a very nice set of parents. Never raised their voice. Everything was within reason.”
Clancy was born 88-and-a-half years ago, June 13, 1929 in Salmo, B.C. (If you ever go there, have a beer at the Silver Dollar Hotel where he was raised.) His family had a dairy farm and Clancy volunteered during the war, going to school only in January and February. Salmo was a valuable resource town with its mines and tailings piles for smelter. He made $1 per day helping unload five tonnes of metal from three-tonne trucks and working in the bush and on farms— “anything they needed, they told me and I went.”
(Incidentally, Clancy has a long lineage of such efforts. His ancestors fought in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham when the British defeated the French outside Quebec City. He has a painting of the battle at his apartment.)
After the Second World War ended in 1945, Clancy was watching steam engines go back and forth until one day it broke down. “They let me come up and ride on it. It gave me the fever.” He would spend the next 40 years on the railroad as an engineer—where he miraculously managed to not smoke or drink—and 33 more as a pensioner.
He moved to Revelstoke in 1950 and loves it. “This is classified as one of the friendliest towns anywhere. If you were to leave this town not knowing anybody, it would be your own fault. People go out of their way to talk to ya.”
He’s healthy, active and still hunts. He got an elk with a crossbow this fall in west Arrow Park. He managed to get one hindquarter and a liver before “the grizzly bears got the rest.” And he’s Patriotic, sporting a Canada 150 t-shirt and matching hat, and raising the Canadian flag outside his home. He’s also been with the Elks for about 34 years—“the only true Canadian affiliation,” he reminds people.
But these are all good things. What about the dirt?
“We took care of the ball fields, too,” he says, “outdoor parties, beer gardens, concessions…”
Clancy likes new young people in town. “When young people come to this town they come for skiing and biking. They come here to enjoy themselves, not with the element of gangs. We had different groups like that before punching people out…but we don’t have too much of that anymore.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the world seems to be going the another direction. “It’s insane,” he begins, “everyone’s on this drug party. Sooner or later that party will catch up.”
Clancy’s first wife was a heavy smoker and drinker. His second wife smoked “big-time” and died at 53 of cancer. Two of his daughters died in their 50s from cancer, both smokers; two others are currently on their deathbeds. “Way I look at it, I’m going to outlive all my kids cause they took their mother’s way of life, not mine.”
For Clancy the proof is in within his heart and lungs. He was once buried in a snowslide in the winter of 1970-71. While plowing the rail line, the army shot down an avalanche and the snow killed the engine. He waited five hours for help to arrive and ended up with pneumonia. If he was a smoker, he says, that would have caught up with him and he probably would have died by 60.
“Trouble is people haven’t got the willpower to say no. I think that’s the biggest problem.” And so, he always passed on cigarettes. “You groom yourself. It might take 30, 40, 50 years, but you groom yourself … That’s where it paid off for me; I never got into any dangerous stuff.”