On Saturday, February 13, 2016 Jim MacKay of Paisley passed away after a brave battle with aplastic anemia (which simply means his bone marrow was not making enough blood to keep him going at the speed he wanted to go). He would have been 82 in April. He was a quiet-spoken man of few words, hardworking and determined action. He was known all over southern Ontario and in many parts of the United States for the fine Commercial Horses he bred, trained and exhibited for over fifty years. His horses have been sold all over North America, not only for driving, but excelling in English tack for jumping, dressage, eventing, field hunting, and as Police mounts. When visiting Bermuda, it will likely be Jim’s teams pulling the carriages. They can also be seen today being driven as a four-in-hand pulling beautiful coaches in many states in the U.S.
George James MacKay was born to George and Florence (Lewis) MacKay in Walkerton hospital on April 27, 1934. He was the oldest of three children with Andy and Florence completing the family. Together with their parents, the MacKay family worked hard and created a living on their family farm. Jim attended S.S. #11 in Salem and then Paisley Continuation School. Unable to finish school due to his father’s poor heath, Jim took over the majority of farming duties.
June 1, 1957 Jim married Mary McCurdy and together they farmed on Concession 10, Elderslie for over 50 years before moving to Paisley. Jim continued to return to the farm every day to help his son, Steven, and tend his beloved horses.
As a young man Jim played ball for the Dobbinton Pontiacs, competing in playoff and championship games all over Southern Ontario. Then his interest turned to horses and he began exhibiting at the CNE in Toronto in 1964. This began the passion that grew and drew many of his friends into the showring. His competitive nature spurred him to win thousands of ribbons and trophies which overflowed his farm home. His three children, Steve, Neil and Shelley continue to share his interest in showing horses.
Jim greatly anticipated the arrival of new foals every spring – some years as many as 25, but more often 10-12. He was always on the lookout for his next “rising star” and had many favourites over the years. He enjoyed the challenge of finding two to make a well-matched team. His capable driving skills gave him the confidence to take a barely broke team to the fairs and still excel. He took great pride in showing a championship six-horse-hitch under the Shady Maple Farm name. He loved the bright bay colour, with four-white socks, high-stepping action and right up on the bit.
For the last 32 years a highlight of Jim’s year was serving as ringmaster at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. Dressed in a suit, tie and fedora for daytime classes or tuxedo and top hat for the evening. He was a welcome sight to exhibitors who could rely on a safe drive if Jim MacKay was directing “traffic” in the ring. Although in failing health and moving a bit slower than usual he pushed himself to carry out his duties for the last time last November (2015). He was also sometimes called on to be ringmaster or judge at other fairs.
Although quiet, by nature he always enjoyed the companionship that came with working with friends and family and sometimes liked to play practical jokes on his friends. Not only did Jim influence others, and the horse world, he was a great inspiration to his friends and family. He wouldn’t hesitate to pass on advice, or act as a mentor to new competitors or sell them his winning team. Despite his competitiveness, Jim would always congratulate those who beat him in the show ring and then resolve to have a better team next year. He constantly aspired to be a leader and innovator in the horse world and held many positions to better the profession as a whole. He served two terms as president of the Ontario Commercial Horse Association, as well as being president of the Ontario Clydesdale Association for one term. He served as Chair of the Bruce County Plowman’s Association and chaired the Horse Show Committee for the two plowing matches held in Bruce County.
Jim received blood transfusions every two weeks for the last 7 months of his life. It gave him the fuel to carry on. The family would like to encourage those who are able to consider donating blood so that others can be helped as well.
His legacy will live on through his beautiful horses.
He leaves behind to mourn his loss Mary, his beloved wife of nearly 59 years and his family. Steve (Brenda) of Elderslie, Neil (Marti) of Barrie, Shelley (Dan) Scepanovic of Mississauga and special father of Gerald and Deb Thomas of Paisley. He will be sadly missed by his grandsons, Robert MacKay and his fiancée, Becky, of Calgary, Brian MacKay of Queen’s University, Kingston, Michael MacKay of Barrie and special grandson Ryan Thomas of Elderslie. He will be forever held in the hearts of his three granddaughters, Katrina, Mya and Monica Scepanovic of Mississauga. Jim is survived by his only sister, Florence (Don) Leatham of Walkerton, sister-in-law Merle MacKay of Paisley, and Mary’s sister June (Bruce) Martin of Sauble Beach and Florida. He was predeceased by his brother Andy MacKay, an infant daughter and his parents, George and Florence (Lewis) MacKay.
Visitation will be held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Paisley (260 Queen St. S.) on Tuesday from 2 – 4 and 7 – 9 p.m. where a funeral service celebrating Jim’s life will be held on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 2 p.m. with visiting an hour before the service.
Spring interment in Salem Presbyterian Cemetery, Elderslie Township.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating your blood with Canadian Blood Services, in memory of Jim. Memorial donations may also be made to the Ontario Commercial Horse Association or a charity of your choice.
Funeral arrangements entrusted to Rhody Family Funeral Home, Chesley.