North

Fort McPherson's 'Happy' Robert remembered for his smile, fiddling jams at his log home

William George Robert passed away last week at the age of 90, and his community of Fort McPherson, N.W.T., remembers the Gwich'in fiddler.

Grandkids, great-grandkids, even people from out of town called Happy Robert ‘daddy’

William George Robert — best known as 'Happy' Robert — with his fiddle in a video posted on Jan. 1, 2018. Happy was born on New Year's Day in 1928. He passed away on June 25, 2018. (Gwichinjr/Youtube)

He was known for his smile that lit up a room.

William George Robert — best known as 'Happy' Robert — was a Gwich'in elder from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., who lived in a cozy log house on a hill for most of his life. His home was a landmark for people in town.

"If you see him, he's already smiling," said Dolly Charlie, one of Happy's 12 children. "Somebody walks in and he just smiles at them, and that's him."

Happy died on June 25 at the age of 90.

People were saying he was a happy little boy — and he was born on New Year's Day.- Dolly Charlie, Happy's daughter

But even up to a week before his passing, Happy played his beloved fiddle.

"Just before he goes, he was playing his fiddle," recalled Charlie.

She said Happy was joined by a couple of men, now in their 40s, who learned from him when they were young. Happy himself picked up the instrument when he was a child and began playing on his own.

And that's how Charlie says she remembers her father — a Gwich'in fiddler who always played music, danced at weddings and held "jams" at his home.

Happy Robert plays the fiddle with other community members in Fort McPherson, N.W.T. 0:31

Brennan Firth, a young fiddler in the community, played with Happy a handful of times.

"He never got mad if I made a mistake, even though I was young. Everybody was happy to hear him," said 21-year-old Firth.

Happy always played his favourite song, At Mail Call Today by Gene Autry, said Firth.

"He always wanted me to learn that song," said Firth. "I can play it now."

Origins of Happy's name

Charlie said she doesn't know exactly when her father's nickname stuck, but it was when he was a boy.

"People were saying he was a happy little boy — and he was born on New Year's Day," said Charlie.

Happy was a storyteller, and that's one of the ways he shared laughter with his loved ones, says his daughter. (Submitted by Diane Koe)

"He walked around saying Happy New Year's, and they started calling him Happy, and it stuck to him."

But that wasn't his only nickname.

His grandchildren, right down to his great-great-grandkids, called him 'daddy' — an affectionate term to describe Happy's father-like nature.

"Everybody calls him that. Even kids out of town from Inuvik and Aklavik," said Charlie.

"He never ever heard grandpa."

Happy was a storyteller, and that's one of the ways he shared laughter with his loved ones.

"We were just talking about him … All we did was kill ourselves laughing," said Charlie. "He always tells stories."

With files from Wanda McLeod

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