Larger than life priest helped many

Father David Albert Daws was a priest, a mentor, a recovering alcoholic and a friend. But to Patricia Daws and Nora Sumner, he will always be their big brother. David Daws passed away Saturday in Abbotsford, B.

Father David Albert Daws was a priest, a mentor, a recovering alcoholic and a friend. But to Patricia Daws and Nora Sumner, he will always be their big brother.

David Daws passed away Saturday in Abbotsford, B.C., at the age of 64 after a storied life.

He came with his parents Albert and Florence to the Yukon at the age of two, and was big brother to Patricia, Laurance, Roberta and Nora.

Everyone who knew him remembers him as a humble guy who would do anything for anyone.

Nora recounted a story remembered by her sister, Roberta, in which David had just returned to Whitehorse from Teslin, where he was stationed as a priest.

David was always his mother’s baby. Though he was in his 50s and probably four times her diminutive size, she liked to make sure she was taking care of him, Nora said.

When his mother saw him in midwinter without gloves on, she immediately drove downtown and bought him a beautiful, fur-lined, leather pair.

“She was all happy that she was looking after him,” said Nora.

“She gave him these gloves and said, ‘Now you wear those. It’s cold outside.’ And he drove downtown with Robbie and they were driving down Second and saw a fellow cleaning the sidewalk, chipping ice, and it was really cold out and he didn’t have any gloves on.

“David pulled over and said ‘Here, here, wear these,’ and gave him the brand new gloves.

“They went home and Mom was … Robbie said Mom just hit the roof! So it was back downtown to buy new gloves and she’s like, ‘Don’t you give those away!’”

As a child, David was always the protector of his siblings.

“He just looked after us and made sure none of us would get into trouble,” said Patricia. “I mean, he would (get into trouble), but we weren’t allowed to. It was very important to David that we just… we were home by curfew, we didn’t do anything wrong.”

David managed to get himself into a fair amount of trouble, however.

He suffered a series of accidents, including a car crash that broke both his legs.

He jumped around from career to career, not sure where he fit.

In his 20s he began struggling with alcohol addiction.

He hit his lowest point while working as an accountant in Inuvik, and there he finally reached out for help.

It was in Haines Junction, while working for Parks Canada, that he became more involved with the Catholic Church and finally decided that he wanted to be a priest.

The career switch may have been a surprise for some of his friends, his sisters said, but it wasn’t a shock to them.

Their mother was a devout Catholic, and always wanted a priest in the family.

Even as kids, the house was always full of David’s friends, who came to stay if they were in a bind.

“It was like bringing home stray cats; he would bring home people,” said Nora.

After four years in seminary school in Edmonton, Father David Daws was ordained on May 31, 1986.

A few years later, Nora, her mother and young son would stay with David in the Porter Creek rectory for a few weeks while they were waiting for their new house to be ready.

“It was unbelievable,” said Nora. “I was exhausted living there, because the phone would ring day and night. People would be pounding on the door. You’d hear the door go, or you’d hear the phone ring and he’d be up, and you’d hear him talking, and you know if it was a call that somebody needed him, he’d just be gone, in the middle of the night.”

But it wasn’t until he left the Yukon for Fort Nelson around 2005 that his family realized how much he meant to the community, Nora and Patricia said.

They would get constant calls from people looking for him, saying they needed him for a wedding or a funeral, or a baptism, or just to talk.

David’s own experiences allowed him to connect with the people who needed the help the most.

In particular, he was very important to a community of people struggling with alcohol addiction.

Tom Amson was one of those people. He said that being able to come clean about his past mistakes to Dave was a turning point in his life.

“I wasn’t always a nice guy,” Amson said. “So you take an inventory of your life, and tell somebody like Dave. So that was a huge step, as you might concede. To me it was a really divine intervention that I knew him, because I don’t know if I would have done that with anybody else.”

Twenty-five years later, Amson is still sober.

Amson remembers Father David as a “larger-than-life” priest with big tattoos on his forearms who used to bounce at a local bar and liked to play cards.

For Father David, the normal rules of Catholicism didn’t always apply.

Daws married Amson and his wife Debbie on the banks of the Takhini River in 1990.

Normally, Catholic weddings are not permitted outside, Amson said.

Kevin Barr, who was in the wedding party, kept teasing Father David by calling his stole, a symbolic religious garment worn by priests, a scarf. This one had been knit by Daws’ mother.

“We’re about 300 feet above the river, and David just grabbed Kevin and picked him up and took him over to the bank, ‘You call this a fucking scarf one more time and I’ll drop ya,’” Amson recalled.

Father David never lost touch with the community that needed him, and he was always self-effacingly humble.

“There isn’t another one like him,” said Amson.

Bishop Gary Gordon remembers him as a devout priest and a servant of the community.

“He was a man of prayer. Oh boy, I tell ya. He was a man of prayer. And loved the people.”

Daws moved to Abbotsford in 2008 to be closer to medical care for his numerous health problems.

His family worried about him being away from home, but he found community there with characteristic ease.

At a memorial service in Abbotsford earlier this week, the church was packed with people who all shared fond memories of their short time with David, his sisters said.

“He was not alone,” said Patricia.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at