David’s Obituary

February 9, 2017
David at Age 20

David at Age 20

The following is set to appear in the Victoria Times-Colonist on February 11, 2017:

After the long goodbye of progressive dementia first diagnosed in 2000, David Nixon set off on his next adventure on February 9th at the age of 82. A resident of Victoria since 1977, David loved the city and often said it was the very best place in the world to be, and he lived in many places!

Predeceased by his parents, Glen & Ethel, and brother Russell, David will always be remembered by friends and loved ones, especially Sylvia van der Stegen and her brother, Rev. Al Tysick; Suzanne Olson; Laura Wright; Robert Rivoire; and his former partner, Ken Sudhues.

David lived a colourful life, starting at age 19: he was a clerk with the International Supervisory Commission in Indochina; a cryptographer at the Canadian Embassies in Bonn and Leopoldville; 2nd electrician at Wyndham’s Theatre in London; casting director for the Constance Brown Modeling & Talent Agency in Montreal during Expo 67; he framed Ted Harrison’s first show at Robertson Galleries and processed OFY grants in Ottawa; and, after moving west, he became “Our Mister Nixon” – the beloved china & crystal manager at Birks in Victoria. His final working years were spent having fun (yes!) with the BC public service. David’s last working day was Friday, December 31, 1999, which he thought quite auspicious.

David at age 65, with his Peacekeepers' Medal

David at age 65, with his Peacekeepers’ Medal

There were dark times as well. David was purged from the federal service in 1961 on suspicion of being homosexual and therefore a security risk. This eventually led to his being hospitalized for depression and being further victimized as part of Operation MK Ultra through the tender mercies of Dr. Ewan Cameron in Montreal.

Through it all, David remained upbeat and treasured his friends. His participation in the ISC in Indochina led to David sharing the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize with other peacekeepers and he received his Peacekeepers’ Medal in late 2000.

No service by David’s request. A private gathering will be held later this year. Please raise a mug of strong coffee, a glass of good red wine, port, or cognac, or savour some quality dark chocolate, and think fondly of “Our Mister Nixon”. Many thanks to the staff of 3 Dogwood at Oak Bay Lodge for everything they’ve done for David. Arrangements through CARE Funeral Services.


Letters from London Pt. 2

February 17, 2013

January 28, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,

I’m seriously handicapped by the fact my typewriter is not working – skipping terribly and something amiss with the ribbon mechanism as well – and have about a dozen notes to write today.

Lots of news – finished at Wyndham’s last night and going to Geneva to visit the Toughs, probably around February 6th, then returning to London about February 27th or 28th. I have decided to return to Canada to make some MONEY and I have a booking on the ship “St. John” which sails from London around March 1 or 2 and should arrive in St. John N.B. or Halifax about 9 or 10 days later. It’s a freighter (carrying automobiles only) with accommodation for 12 passengers and the fare is only about $163.00. I’ll send you a telegram when I arrive in St. John and then take the train to Ottawa. Well-paying jobs are few and far between here in London and, strangely enough, the only interesting job I’ve heard about was one with the American Cultural Exchange people in the Congo! No thank you!

I’ll not be in Ottawa for very long – I thought I would try my luck in Toronto. But we’ll see what happens when I get home. Please don’t write to this address anymore as neither Sylvia nor I will be here after next week. In case of an emergency, the Toughs Geneva address is: 53 Route de Malagnou, but I wouldn’t write there unless absolutely necessary as my length of stay is indefinite and mail might miss me.

Dad, could you possibly hold off my insurance premiums until I get home in March as I have had to drop most of my Ottawa bank balance to pay for my passage home.

Really must get on with the other letters now. I’ll try to drop you another note either from Geneva or before I leave London.

Sylvia sends her love.

See you soon, David

Geneva 1962

David’s postcard from Geneva

February 26, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,
Leave for London tonight after marvelous visit with the Toughs. Expect to sail for St. John on Thursday or Friday this week. Got your letter and not to worry as I think I have enough (just!) $$ to see me through to Ottawa. Have fun in Florida, Dad, and I will see you when you get back to Ottawa.
Love, David

February 28, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,

Have just wired for $200.00 – sorry!

Awful mixup in ships – “St. John” now not sailing until March 16th and then to Boston, not N.B. or N.S. I might be able to get on a German freighter in Hamburg sailing March 6th for Baltimore. All this of course requires more money – thus the telegram.

Must dash as am writing in the Post Office and there is a queue!

Will try to advise when I have definite plans.

See you soon,

love, David

March 2, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,

Well, I went to the bank today and they gave me $200.00 worth of £ after checking with Ottawa, so I guess you got my telegram alright. Many thanks.

My travel plans are now finalized (I think – and hope!) as follows:

I leave London by train next Monday, March 5th, arriving Hamburg in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 6th. My ship, the “Wienertor” is supposed to sail at noon that day but they have wired to say they will await the arrival of myself and three other passengers from London who were also put out by the postponement of the “St. John” sailing. As there will be absolutely no time in Hamburg to arrange for transportation of my trunk from the station to the docks, I have had to have it shipped to Ottawa independently at a cost of about $60.00. It should arrive in about a month’s time.

Now the ridiculous thing about this “Wienertor” sailing is that the shipping company here in London are unable to tell me where it is going! The only information they can guarantee is that it is bound for the east coast of the USA which might mean Boston or New York or possibly Baltimore. If it does turn out to be Baltimore, I might pop down to Washington to say hello to George, and if it turns out to be New York, I will probably spend a day or two with Bob and Joan. In any case I shall return to Ottawa by Greyhound bus from any of the above-mentioned cities. I have no idea of the exact date I shall arrive but rumor has it that the crossing will take about 10 days to begin with.

Did I mention in my hasty Post Office note that all the Toughs send their love to you two?

Well, I guess that’s all for now. Bon voyage, Dad, and I’ll try to get home before you do!


The Wienertor

The Wienertor

This is the end of David’s letters from overseas.

After returning to Canada in a very depressed state, he eventually moved to Montreal, where the story line becomes somewhat murky and then very unpleasant; however, David, being David, managed to pull through and find a new life for himself. 

Letters from London Pt. 1

February 16, 2013

November 12, 1961

Dear Dad and Russ,

I must confess that it was not until I received your most welcome letter of November 5th that I realized I have not written to you for over a month! Time certainly does fly, as you note, when you were getting settled into a new environment. However, rest assured that I am enjoying the best of health and that I have been receiving your mail and that I have heard from Dominion Life and have satisfied the income tax people here on that account.

Well, things have certainly been happening as far as my work at Wyndham’s is concerned. First of all, about a month ago, a new show called “Bonne Soupe” [starring Coral Browne] opened at the Comedy Theatre which is controlled by the same people as Wyndham’s. I worked all day Sunday helping set up the lights and, I must admit, I found it extremely interesting and not a little exhausting! And our show, “The Miracle Worker”, ended its nine-month run on October 28th and we worked all Saturday night getting those lights out and all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning setting up the lights for the new show, George Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House”. Again it was very interesting and lots of fun, actually, because the people I work with are terribly nice. And besides, what with all the overtime I earned over £26 for one week’s work! I like our new show very much but it is extremely long – nearly 3 hours. There is a rumor, however, that this show will be at Wyndham’s for a limited run only – that is, it may just run until Christmas or the new year and then another show will come in, perhaps a murder mystery! Beginning tomorrow, I shall be first dayman (electrics) at Wyndham’s which means that I shall just have to work from 9:15 until 1:00 in the mornings and then the show each night (7:45 – 10:45) which gives me every afternoon (except Wednesdays and Saturdays, when we have a matinee) free to enjoy and see all the many, many things this wonderful city has to offer. It will also give me more time to look for accommodation as so far I have had no luck. Good, centrally located flats are very difficult to find unless you are prepared to pay enormous rents for them. Sylvia and I are getting along just fine in the meantime but she only has this flat until January. Sylvia, incidentally, is suffering from a throat ulcer and must stay off her show for a week to give her voice a good rest – it’s quite a strain on her singing one of the leads in a show eight times a week!

On the Sunday I had off between “Bonne Soupe” and “Heartbreak House”, I visited Brighton on the south coast for the first time (only an hour by train from London). I had a lovely time and am now planning a similar day trip to Oxford next Sunday, all being well. It’s amazing how much of this country you can see in just one day! Well, Sylvia has dinner just about ready and I must go set the table. Please don’t worry about me and I’ll try to write more often in future whenever I can get a spare moment.

My regards to all, David

PS: Sylvia sends her love to you both!

David's shows at Wyndham's

David’s shows at Wyndham’s

December 5, 1961

Dear Dad and Russ,

Well, here it is another birthday already! And you’ll be glad to hear that your letter, cards and £5 money order we’re awaiting me in this morning’s post. Many, many thanks. This just happens to be my night off so I am meeting Sylvia after her show and we are going out to a very swanky club for dinner where, I expect, we shall have little difficulty in disposing of the £5! We’ll be thinking of you both tonight.

Since writing to you I have also received your letter of November 21st enclosing Bill’s cheque and that marvelous article on Angkor Wat which I enjoyed reading so very, very much – one of the best articles I have ever read on the subject. I was rather surprised to hear that Bill is due to leave for London next week. I knew he was coming, of course, but just naturally thought that he would drop us a line before taking off, letting us know his plans. Oh well, I guess that’s just Bill’s way of doing things. Nonetheless, both Sylvia and I are looking forward to his visit and hope that he plans to stay over the Christmas season.

You’ll be happy to hear that Sylvia is much better now but she has had a rather rough time of it as no sooner did her throat ulcer clear up than she developed a dandy case of laryngitis – neither of which is too pleasant for a person who depends on singing for a livelihood! However, she feels that she is singing better now than ever before so possibly the forced rest did her a lot of good.

“Heartbreak House” is doing very good business at Wyndham’s as well it should because it really is a magnificent play – Shaw himself said it was his best work. And a week ago Sunday we had a show called “Kathleen” at Wyndham’s – just for the day. This is evidently quite common in London theaters where a company will rent one of the big theaters for a Sunday to give a performance.

We’ve been getting a lot of cloudy and rainy weather lately but today has been beautiful with sunshine and clear blue sky. It is not so very cold over here, just damp!

If you are writing to Aunt Clara and Uncle Russell you might mention that I received their card and tell them that I shall be dropping them a line myself before Christmas. That’s all for now and thanks again for the birthday greetings.


January 9, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,

Thanks for the very newsy Christmas letter, Dad – it brought memories to both of us of the Christmases we all spent at the “Y”. You’ll be glad to hear that we, too, entertained and fed some “homeless but not penniless” acquaintances of ours here in London on both Christmas and New Year’s days. The oven was not big enough so Lyon’s Corner House catered with a rather huge turkey, ready roasted, stuffed and garnished! While Christmas was green here, it was bitterly cold – one day, evidently, was the coldest in 90 years! On New Year’s Eve, it snowed all day long which suited us Canadians to a “T” but didn’t go down too well with the Londoners. The snow is all gone now and today was just “heavy sweater” weather.

Bill did not show up, but sent seven letters all at once – he sounds very depressed about his job and life in general, I’m afraid.

About snapshots – rather difficult because I only have 35 mm in my camera and Sylvia doesn’t own a camera but we’ll see what we can do. I’m sure you would change your mind about the beard if you could see it now. London barbers are all expert beard trimmers since about one out of every five men over here have beards now. It’s the style!

Sylvia’s show finishes on February 3rd and she is taking a well-deserved month’s holiday with people she knows in the south of France (Cannes). So far, nothing new has turned up for her so her future is a bit hazy at the moment.

“Heartbreak House” is still the show at Wyndham’s though there is a rumor to the effect that something else might replace it in about a month.

Except for a slight cold which everyone in London seems to have, I’m enjoying very good health. As is Sylvia, now that her throat trouble has cleared up.

Well, I guess that’s all for now.

Love from both of us, David

Off to London by Sea

February 13, 2013

David departed External Affairs sometime in the Spring of 1961 and there is a break in the record until early September, when he booked passage from Montreal to London on the MV Rutenfjell, a Norwegian ship (built Tyneside in 1953). The Rutenfjell was on its way east from Duluth and had a total passenger capacity of four. David’s memories of the crossing were happy – he said it was the first time he had ever boarded a ship by going DOWN the gangplank. It was quite a rough crossing. David spent considerable time on the flying bridge by the wheelhouse, “watching these mountainous waves building and building in front of us, and then, just as it seemed we were about to go under, the ship slid UP the wave and hurtled down the other side in time to catch the next one”. His one complaint about the trip was that, being a Norwegian ship, there was an over-abundance of herring at mealtimes. The Rutenfjell approached London from the North Sea and up the Thames, a view of the city David had never seen. After 13 days at sea, he said he found walking on something that wasn’t heaving underfoot rather odd. 

Once in London, David moved in with his dearest and closest friend, Sylvia Tysick. By this time, Sylvia had long since finished playing in “West Side Story” and had moved on to “Bye Bye Birdie“, where she had the juvenile lead, Kim MacAfee. Sylvia’s character did a lot of singing and, as you’ll see in some of David’s letters, her throat and voice gave her a certain amount of grief during the show. None the less, Sylvia was part of the original London cast soundtrack released on LP in 1961.

Bye Bye Birdie Programme

Bye Bye Birdie Programme

Sylvia, ever resourceful, found David a job in theatre: second electrician at Wyndham’s, a very well known and respectable house in the West End. (David’s prior knowledge of electrics was nil, but he was apparently a quick study.) To work in the theatre, David had to join a union, the National Association of Theatrical and Kine Employees. His first show was “The Miracle Worker”, the Annie Sullivan/Helen Keller story.

David's union card (outside)

David’s union card (outside)

David's union card (inside)

David’s union card (inside)

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