Coping with Grief
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Graham Bruce Wilkin
At the Deep River and District Hospital following a long battle with cancer, Bruce at the age of 71 years. Husband to Deb (Mandolesi). Devoted father to Allison and Stephanie both of Ottawa. Also survived by his brothers David (Linda) of Huntsville, Rick (Barb) of Ajax and many nieces and nephews. Predeceased by his parents.
Bruce was born in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, to John (Jack) and Lorraine (Tyrer) Wilkin. As a young boy he was a dedicated member of the Scouting movement and - in what would be a pattern in his life - achieved the highest honour granted: becoming a Queen’s Scout. An early interest in science was demonstrated by the hobby popular with boys in the 50’s and 60’s: rocketry. This venture came to an end when his homemade rocket was accidentally launched into one of the front yard trees, lighting it on fire.
Bruce always marched to the beat of his own drum. Instead of following a family tradition of engineering, he decided to attend the Co-op program in Physics at the University of Waterloo. Torn between Computer Science and Physics for his post-graduate degree, he decided to continue in Physics as Canada entered an exciting phase of nuclear power generation in the 1970’s. He received a Master’s degree in Accelerator Physics from McMaster University in 1976.
Bruce received the news that Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) had a job offer pending, cutting short a graduation trip to Europe. He accepted a position as a research scientist at the recently established site, Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment (WNRE) near Pinawa, Manitoba. Living in the small company town allowed him to establish lifelong friends and a rewarding career. He met Deb there, they married and cherished the arrival of his two daughters, Allison and Stephanie. They enjoyed family life in their picturesque, close-knit community.
Bruce was truly heartbroken at the news in the 90’s that the federal government would be downsizing its commitment to nuclear research, eventually decommissioning the Whiteshell site. Members of his branch, Reactor Technology, would be relocated to Sheridan Park in Toronto. He agonized over the move to the big city and instead joined Ontario Hydro in Kincardine as a safety analyst. Within a year though, AECL would be calling on Bruce to provide expertise in a small reactor bid to Australia. This time the decision to move again was not as difficult, as he missed the research aspect of the nuclear business. Though the position was located at the Chalk River site, many friends and colleagues had also relocated, easing the difficulties of moving his young family again.
Bruce’s career flourished at Chalk River. He was highly respected for his expertise in many aspects of physics relating to nuclear reactors: reactor physics, radiation transport and shielding, criticality safety, reactor and safety analysis, reactor core design, the development of advanced analysis methods, operations and licensing analysis for CANDU, advanced CANDU, Slowpoke, Maple-type research reactors and the ZED-2 reactor. He was recognized internationally as an expert in research reactor physics and the ‘go to’ person on site. He loved the challenge of solving complex physics problems, especially in collaboration with others. He mentored many in his field and enjoyed the close relationship he had with his colleagues. He was truly a team player. As Manager of the Reactor and Radiation Physics Branch, his aim was to help promote those within the ranks, but within a few years genuinely missed the research and development aspect and switched back to a research scientist role. He was one of the youngest in AECL to be promoted to Senior Scientist. He was appointed to AECL’s Safety Review Committee (SRC), was an expert on criticality safety to AECL and international committees, as well as AECL’s representative in the CANDU Owners Group (COG) physics working group and the Senior ZED-2 Physicist. He received the President’s Distinguished Merit Award in 2008 for redefining and expanding the parameters of the ZED-2 reactor. He would receive a Distinguished Merit award again in 2011. Reluctantly he retired from (the rebranded) Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) in July 2014.
Bruce’s first love was flying. He joined the Winnipeg Gliding Club at Starbuck, then at Pigeon Lake not long after arriving in Manitoba, eventually becoming an instructor. He obtained his (power) pilot’s license and found he could easily be involved in both styles of flying by becoming a tow plane pilot at the gliding field. He enjoyed team sports, participating in softball, recreational hockey, and curling. He loved downhill skiing, a sport he was introduced to as a teen during family ski vacations. He made annual ski trips to Western Canada with friends, then in the east with his family. He particularly enjoyed being part of the Canadian Ski Patrol, volunteering at Mount Martin in Deep River for twelve years. Bruce participated in many community activities. He was on the editorial board with the North Renfrew Times, part of the Deep River Community Association, officiated at local swim meets, and volunteered at local events.
Bruce had a wonderful sense of humour and was quite jovial and self-effacing to friends and family. Most often though he was contemplative, always working ‘on a problem’. He read voraciously for pleasure, as well as keeping updated on current events, advances in science, and loved to explain aspects of math and science to his children. His knowledge of any interest was thorough and ran very deep, which made him an excellent teacher at home and at work. He truly disliked science fiction movies that ignored the laws of physics.
His family would like to thank the many doctors and staff at the Deep River and District Hospital for their dedicated and compassionate care and Valley Funeral Home.
Cremation has taken place. A private family gathering will be held in the spring.
Donations to the Deep River and District Hospital Foundation would be gratefully appreciated.