PENNFIELD - Ernest Millen McDowell lived in Saint John for years without really leaving his
birthplace of Pennfield.
McDowell, who died Wednesday at 82, worked as a railroad brakeman and conductor for 42 years without completely getting out of the blueberry business, either.
He and his wife Verna (Sullivan) McDowell moved permanently to their Pennfield summer place in 1980. When he retired in 1985, McDowell immediately took the volunteer job as Pennfield's first fire chief, a post he held for about four years.
"He was kind of a jack of all trades," McDowell's oldest son Kenneth said.
Ernest McDowell's parents made their living in the blueberry business. Their son inherited part of their holdings - so his own children growing up in the city learned the business, too.
"Not my favourite activity, by the way," Kenneth said. "It had to be done, part of the family operation."
"I don't want to call it a business, but it was kind of a hard-core hobby," Kenneth said. "But he was brought up in that."
In the past, McDowell sold his crop to Lester McKay, a blueberry broker now retired. They both grew up in Pennfield. They share a history in blueberries and railroading, in fact.
"Bud was a decent fellow," McKay said, referring to the name that Pennfield people called McDowell.
"He was an all-round guy, I would say," his cousin John (Jack) McDowell said. Jack McDowell worked 15-16 years on the railroad himself, with Canadian Pacific and Canadian National.
"He just had his own garden there, grew a lot of his own vegetables, gave a lot of them away," Jack McDowell said.
"He was a blueberry guy. He kept his own bees for pollination," McKay said. "When you're born around here it (blueberries) seems to get into your blood as well."
"He did it as more of a hobby, something for his grandchildren," Jack McDowell said.
McKay served on the local service district advisory committee when the community decided in the 1980s to build a fire station, not long after building a Lions Club hall.
"He was retired at that time," McKay said.
McDowell used his administrative skills dealing with government officials, filling out forms and the like on the fire department project - and fell into the role of chief, Kenneth said.
Jack McDowell volunteered for the fire department under his cousin's leadership.
The Pennfield Fire Department has trouble keeping volunteers today. Negotiations are under way to amalgamate the Pennfield and Blacks Harbour forces. Dale Shaw Jr. now serves as fire chief for both communities.
Stricter rules for training explain part of the problem finding volunteer firefighters today, Kenneth suggested.
Ernest McDowell liked to talk and reminisce, making sure his three children knew the family connections and history of the Pennfield area.
"He was raised here and went to the Pennfield school . . . he was really into his family tradition."
Besides his wife McDowell leaves three children, Kenneth, Gregory and Susan, and eight grandchildren, two brothers, two sisters and several nieces and nephews. The funeral was at Brenan's Bay View Funeral Home in Saint John Saturday.
SOURCE: New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal (Saint John, NB) - February 8, 2010.