Venerable outdoorsman dies at age 77

Legends live on. Dick Person may be one of them. The internationally known teacher, paddler and mountaineer who called the Yukon home for many years…

Legends live on. Dick Person may be one of them.

The internationally known teacher, paddler and mountaineer who called the Yukon home for many years passed away Tuesday at the age of 77.

Person was at his cabin home beside Teslin Lake when he succumbed to cancer that he discovered had spread through his body during a trip to Mongolia earlier this year.

Person visited Mongolia last spring to paddle Asian waters and slake an insatiable curiosity for all things biological.

He’d been mounting similar expeditions for decades, having adventures in wild places around the world.

In Mongolia, he was visiting an old student and seeking the rare Taimen trout, a large freshwater fish endangered in many parts of the world, when he noticed problems with his bones.

It was during a bouncy road trip across undeveloped terrain that Person realized the pain he was experiencing was beyond normal, said Sharon Chatterton, Person’s wife.

“He was travelling in unsprung vehicles over Mongolian backcountry roads, and they’re really rutted, like horse tracks,” Chatterton said Thursday from the Teslin cabin she shared with Person.

“On one of those trips he realized the pain he was experiencing in his body had to be something more than just hanging on.”

Person returned to Canada and was treated in Vancouver last May for prostate cancer that had metastasized.

“He didn’t really recover his strength,” said Chatterton.

The diagnosis ended a lifelong career of exploring nature and sharing its lessons.

Born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1929, Person first learned to hunt and canoe in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area before moving west, said Chatterton.

“He had read Robert Service. Sitting on the train he said he saw the mountains coming as the train approached to go through them, and it was a staggering moment.”

Person later obtained a degree in wildlife management with a master’s focus on lemmings in Point Barrow, Alaska, before becoming a conservation officer in Idaho, she said.

Person became “disgusted” with the US government during the Vietnam War.

He saw the Canadian government as “more refined, more humane,” said Chatterton.

Person and his young family moved to the Purcell and Bugaboo Mountains of southern British Columbia and he became the recreation director for the Stony Indians, she said.

“That’s where he began living in teepees.

“Ultimately, he lived year-round in teepees for 17 years, and raised his family in teepees.”

When Person moved north to the Yukon, he fell in love with the place and knew he would never leave, she said.

And, in a sense, he never will.

Person spent summers on Yukon mountains and waterways, and in the winters he would travel and lecture about respect for the wilderness and survival skills.

“Many Yukoners know how he affected them, but very few understand how many he affected when he travelled and lectured all winter,” said Chatterton.

“He went from classes of 10 or 12 individuals to auditoriums of 500 people.

“And they all would crowd around him at the end. Some of them just wanted to look at him.”

In recent weeks, as Person’s physical condition worsened, friends, companions and students from obscure places across North America sent their regards, and many came to visit.

“He had a very peaceful period, and his death was very peaceful,” said Chatterton.

“Scores of people came through this house, respectfully, patiently.

“He welcomed all of them, even when he was pretty advanced in the last few days.

“Even though he had gone beyond speaking to them, he would still look at them and nod his head gently.”

During the final days, Person abandoned his bed to sit in his chair, where he could see the lake and the flames of an open fire, which was a tool he used all his life, she said.

“It was a very honourable and beautiful, slow event, the way you might hope death would be — at home surrounded by people who are coming to pay their last respects.”

When he passed, Person had his pack by his side, said Chatterton.

“He had all the things he would normally take with him on a long journey.”

Chatterton asked Person if he wanted to be cremated with a Grohmann axe that he had endorsed and used often.

“He said, ‘God, you wouldn’t burn a good axe,” said Chatterton.

Initially, Person had wanted his remains interred somewhere in the mountains, “Edward Abbey-style,” she said.

But in recent weeks Person changed his mind, and decided on cremation in a private ceremony near his Teslin home.

“When he died we dressed him in his Stilson clothes, top to tail, with his mukluks and belt knife,” said Chatterton.

“We stuffed his pockets with alpine fir, and he had his hat on with his braces.

“With all the alpine fir… it’s going to be a little bit of Sam McGee.”

Person’s ashes will be scattered along the shoreline of Teslin Lake during the summer, she said.

“One day, when I go out fishing, using his pack and sitting in the stern now, I’ll just leave his ashes along the shore.”

A memorial service for Person will be held Monday afternoon at the public library in Teslin.

Another memorial service will be held in Whitehorse in January.