British Columbia

Opera-loving, globe-trotting, sharp-dressing godfather and mentor dies of COVID-19

Rolf Hundvik, 88, died at an assisted-living home in Burnaby that has seen 28 deaths due to COVID-19. Those closest to him are describing the loss of a mentor who made a huge impression on their lives.

Rolf Hundvik, 88, died in a Burnaby assisted-living home that has seen 28 deaths due to COVID-19

Rolf Hundvik, back row far left, poses for a photo with his wife, Shirley Hundvik, to his right, and his goddaughter Julie Nash, far right. Also in the photo is Dave Nash and Julie Nash's two daughters Tatum Nash and Caitlin Nash. (Julie Nash)

How does a young pupil stay friends with his Grade 5 teacher for 59 years?

Graham Manuel's friendship with his old teacher, Rolf Hundvik, began with the latter sending the former postcards and letters from one of his many jaunts across Europe.

It ended on Dec. 22 when Hundvik died of COVID-19 at the Harmony Court assisted living facility in Burnaby. He was 88 years old.

Hundvik was more than a teacher, Manuel said: he was a mentor.

"He guided me through a lot of things," Manuel said. "He gave me direction, which I took. And I'm glad I did."

AgeCare Harmony Court Estate in Burnaby. An outbreak at the facility has claimed 28 lives. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Those close to him said Hundvik loved opera and the theatre. You wore nice clothes when you went out to dinner with him, not jeans. And you didn't call people "guys." He didn't like that word.

"He knew what was good and what was bad," Manuel said. "He was just a straight shooter, you know?"

Fraser Health said Monday that the ongoing outbreak at Harmony Court where Hundvik lived has led to 73 patient and 43 staff COVID-19 cases and 28 deaths.

Hundvik's loved ones say they are not only mourning a person who made a huge impression on their lives: they're warning others it could happen to someone they care about, too.

Rolf Hundvik, at the right side of the table and third from the bottom of the frame, poses for a photo at a dinner with Julie Nash's family. His wife, Shirley Hundvik, is in yellow across the table from him. (Julie Nash)

Vancouver born and raised

Hundvik was born and raised in Vancouver. He became an elementary and secondary school teacher at the age of 19 and taught for 36 years.

Hundvik was Manuel's teacher at Sir Sandford Fleming Elementary School in East Vancouver. Hundvik was going on exchange to Europe, Manuel said, and asked all his students to write to him.

Manuel did. He got a postcard back. His mother told him to answer the postcard. They became pen pals. When Hundvik came back they stayed in touch and became better friends.

Hundvik was an avid traveller with his wife, Shirley, until he had a stroke in 2017. 

Shirley, who survives her husband, is a former radiologist and educator at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. They travelled so Shirley could attend radiology conferences and just to see the world — and take in a few operas.

'Definitely inspired me'

Julie Nash has lifelong memories of Hundvik. Her godfather was more like a close uncle.

He and Shirley would often visit with Nash's family in northern B.C. They all went on a trip to Disneyland. Nash even lived with the couple for a year when she studied at BCIT.

"He loved telling stories. He loved to travel. I don't think he really was ever home for longer than six weeks at a time," Nash said.

"That definitely inspired me."

Another goddaughter, Noreen Bremner, said Hundvik would take her to the opera and the theatre. He instilled a love of the arts in her and, decades later, became a big part of her kids' lives.

"He would sit out in the backyard under a tree with my daughters and read them stories," Bremner said.

"He would make cassette tapes of songs for them to play and listen to. The old classic Disney and the old classic kids songs."

Bremner and others said Hundvik's decline was rapid. He tested positive for COVID-19, then seemed to improve. Then he went down for a nap and never awoke.

They said his death should be a warning to others about the need to protect seniors.

"You need to take the precautions in order to not get this illness," Bremner said. "We have to do what's right."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

 

About the Author

Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at liam.britten@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten. Liam contributes to CBC Vancouver's Impact Team, where he investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now