HODGE: This loss of a friend really hurts

Columnist and Kelowna music community mourn the loss of ‘Hamer’ Mitchell

This one cuts.

Kelowna and the B.C. music scene have lost a true gem with the death this week of Grahame ‘Hamer’ Mitchell.

When it comes to kind, giving hearts I can think of none bigger.

Hamer (pronounced Hey-mer) was born in Scotland and immigrated to Canada (Edmonton) at age 11.

He was a gentle, witty, adaptable individual with a love and flair for music.

Not flashy yet certainly personable and capable of hosting or partaking in wonderful fun events, Mitchell may not have been a household name but he certainly impacted many lives including mine.

Hamer set the bar on helping others — with no expectation of reward or recognition. He was a living example of caring and sharing.

Hamer arrived in Kelowna in the late 1980s as an employee of the hugely popular Much Music.

He drove a mobile MM Video van visiting high schools and other locations for music events.

He became a regular at the local musicians’ haven known as Jonathan Seagulls, where he would either entertain from the stage jamming on the drum kit, or simply as a regular institution of the popular musical venue.

My first memory of him was sitting down at my table and introducing himself, his long hair reminding me of Rod Stewart.

We were instant friends.

Back in the early 1990s (less than two years after getting to know him), I wound up accepting a newspaper job back on Vancouver Island, a job that without his selfless help I may not have ever gotten.

I had worked in Parksville as editor of the Parksville-Qualicum Beach news for a few years in the late ’80s and then quit and returned to Kelowna. However, the lure of the Island and need for work again (after my world had healed somewhat), I accepted a job back in Parksville as the assistant editor of the Arrowsmith Star.

My new wife and I were excited about the move to ‘the rock’ however the need to quickly relocate was daunting. We had no place to live, little money and a huge amount of stuff to move including four or five cats and a dog.

With no time on the clock, we procured a motel unit as a temporary home, albeit miles from town and then focused on how to get there.

Moving to Vancouver Island is challenging enough, however, doing so in mid-October is a nightmare. It was at that moment that Hamer came to the rescue.

I’ve never forgot his effort and in fact it has inspired me often over the years.

Hamer and equally wonderful man, Ian Smith, listened to us express our concerns one night at Seagulls, looked at each other like mind readers, and then volunteered to help.

Sure enough, less than a week later Ian and Hamer helped us fill a huge moving van full of belongings and our car filled with pets.

Together we travelled as a mini caravan to the ferry then across the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo.

We arrived to a torrential downpour in the dark and then drove north of Qualicum Beach to our motel in the middle of nowhere.

Like troopers, Hamer and Ian unloaded the van into the unit along with our animals.

There was no room in the unit to move so they slept in the moving van and the next morning departed back to Kelowna.

They refused any money for their efforts and simply wished us well before returning to Kelowna with the van.

I went to work that morning and suffice to say our crowded stay in that motel was not exactly enjoyable, however, the kindness of Hamer and Ian inspired my wife and I.

It’s hard to believe that was some 30 years ago.

Around 10 year ago, Hamer contracted cancer and all of us were devastated, including the love of his life Racquel Funnel.

“We were best friends for 30 years and raised two kids together. He was a wonderful, wonderful person,” Racquel recalls.

Brad Krauza and others organized a fundraiser for Hamer. Miraculously he beat it.

Sadly though, it returned again a few years ago.

Hamer and I kept in contact via Facebook since then, inspiring one another. Without question he was one of the bravest people I’ve known.

When I was feeling down, Hamer was there with words of encouragement.

He constantly referred to Racquel as his ‘rock’ and was so proud of their two children, Kailan and Kyle.

Musician Derek Melissen, never one to play by the rules, snuck into KGH to see Hamer recently.

“He was brave right to the end. An amazing human being with one of the biggest hearts,” Derek told me earlier this week.

“He would go the extra mile for someone. He was always willing to help. Hamer was everyone’s friend,” added Jimmy LeGuilloux, another popular local musician.

Grahame Mitchell was never a rock star icon on the stage, or a household name off it. But few folks have helped others behind the scene or been so caring for so many as Hamer.

He made this a better world.

For that and so much more, rest in peace Hamer.

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