Ron Bartlette dedicated his life to helping others better theirs.
The lifelong Winnipegger worked hard to have a positive effect on the lives of people who crossed his path, both in his personal life and through his work with the local charity he founded and led for 30 years. He died April 14, at age 71.
Born in St. Boniface on Dec. 13, 1947, Bartlette didn’t have the rosiest of childhoods. At 18, after growing up in St. James, he recognized he wasn’t on the best path in life and joined the Royal Canadian Navy for a fresh start.
His stint in the Armed Forces had him spend time on board the HMCS Fraser, travelling throughout the Caribbean. For a young Winnipegger still trying to figure out how he wanted to spend his time on Earth, it was a life-changing experience.
He later returned to his hometown and got a high school equivalency diploma, before pursuing post-secondary education, which included stops at Red River College, the University of Winnipeg and Providence Bible College.
In 1979, while working in a group home in the city, Bartlette met the love of his life, Linda, and a quick courtship followed.
"We met in June, he proposed in July, and we got married Nov. 14, 1979," Linda Bartlette said.
"It was love at first sight, it really was. There is no other way to put it. I knew right away that I was going to marry this man and spend the rest of my life with him."
Their marriage produced three sons: Corban, Taylor James and Jordan (who died three decades ago).
Bartlette later got a contract job working with Canada Packers (now Maple Leaf Foods), where he provided transitional services to older employees.
It was the spark that led him to found the Winnipeg Transition Centre (WTC) in 1989. The local non-profit provides free job-search assistance for the unemployed, as well as certified workshop training for professionals.
At the WTC, Bartlette developed a highly respected reputation, thanks to his larger-than-life personality and his belief that every individual had something positive to offer the world.
"He was always the kind of person who wanted to give back. When he talked to you, he made you feel larger than you really were. He invested in people. He loved people. He was always willing to go the extra step, because he truly cared," Linda said.
Bartlette didn’t consider his work with the WTC a career, but a calling. Linda said he was a bit of a "workaholic," but it was because he was so passionate about helping people improve their lives.
Despite the long hours at work, Bartlette always made time for his family and his faith, attending Calvary Temple, a local Pentecostal Church.
Bartlette was described as a patient and loving father, dedicated to making sure his children had a better childhood than he had. He spent time with Taylor James bonding over sports, and once a week would take Corban to the movies, Linda said.
Corban described Bartlette as "one of the wisest people I’ve ever known," and someone who always "listened and learned before he spoke."
"My father cared about everyone he met and went out of his way to make all those he met feel comfortable and valued, hence why he became a teacher. But not a teacher of math or science, he became a teacher of people," his eldest son said.
"He found the unique strengths and gifts of each individual and pushed them to use these gifts. He wasn’t teaching people how to be better, he was teaching people how to find the strength within them to be better."
Illness in recent years led to a cancer diagnosis. After going through some rounds of chemotherapy, he eventually made the decision to go off it and spend whatever time he had left with friends and family.
"He hated being sick. He suffered at the very end, and it was so hard on everybody. Then, the night he died, I told him, ‘We came into this marriage quietly, just you and me, and that’s how you’re going out,’" Linda said.
In the months since, Bartlette’s family has received letter after email after phone call from people whose lives he touched through his work with the WTC.
"There are so many people who are so heartbroken that he passed away, but the thing is: Ron’s OK now. It’s us who are left behind and who miss him. Look at what he gave to people," Linda said.
"He’d want them to pass it along now, do good with it, because that was his whole intent, to teach people to know that they had been given this life for a reason and to do something good with it. The seeds he planted, they’re coming into bloom now."
"Losing him has left a gaping hole in our lives," Corban said. "I will miss him, his humility, his humour, his love and his wisdom. I couldn’t ask for a better father and role model and all I can hope and pray is that I can be at least half the man he was."
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Saturday, July 20, 2019 at 2:52 PM CDT: Adds photo