On 1 May 1983, while on the staff of Knox Church, I baptized a recent convert named Les Talbot who had attached himself to the congregation and was anxious to make a public profession of his new faith in Christ. At the request of my senior colleague Glyn Owen I had interviewed him and was convinced of his genuine faith and agreed to proceed with the sacrament at an evening service.
Baptizing Les was no small challenge. The big burly Saskatchewan native stood before me as I asked the questions and we made eye contact. But then there was the question of how I could sprinkle his head as he stood at least half a foot above me. We managed and ever after it was a matter of some humour as we recalled that sacred evening.
Les and his lively (and lovely) wife Myrna soon became fixtures in the life of the congregation, a marked contrast to some of the more rigid members who did not share their easy laughter. Friendly, outgoing, and accepting, they embraced all without a hint of judgment or precondition. They were a gift to a downtown congregation where there was constant turnover and change.
When I left Knox for a decade of ministry in Boston, Les and Myrna visited me there, assuring themselves that I was well settled. Four years after my departure I learned that Les had taken a position as CEO of Renascent House, a place which reached out to people dealing with alcohol addiction. No one could be better suited than Les with his loving but firm ability to embrace all that came within its doors. Les enhanced the reputation of Renascent House which under his inspired leadership became legendary for professionalism and care, a rare combination. After two memorable decades at Renascent House Les retired to head up a personal travel business, accompanying winter-weary Canadians as they basked in the Italian sun.
Ten days before Christmas 2014, suddenly and without warning, Les was stricken by an aneurysm. The healthy man who, with Myrna, roller-skated all over the streets of downtown Toronto, left us at 9:35 on the eve of Christmas Sunday as Myrna sang to him “Silent Night.” Les Talbot rested in the heavenly peace of his Saviour. The news about his final moments crossed the Atlantic just as I was about to set out for my son’s church in Dublin with my grandsons. As we sang “Silent Night” emotion overwhelmed me. Les, you were a good man. You have made your contribution as Jesus’ representative amid all the brokenness of downtown Toronto.