CORNWALL, Ontario – Chances are if you passed Wilfred Tyo on the street you wouldn’t know the impact he has had on countless lives in Cornwall.
But after peeling back the layers it’s clear the first man to ever be a Big Brother in Cornwall touched the hearts of many.
Tyo’s life was remembered Wednesday by dozens of people whom he had come to know through years of volunteering his time as a mentor to young people. He passed away Wednesday morning following a short stay in hospital at the age of 89.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Tyo’s time as a Big Brother is Ron Graham. The two were the first match created by the fledgling Cornwall chapter back in 1973.
“He was such a positive role model,” said Graham. “It was nice to have someone to talk to all the time.”
The pair spent the next 40-plus years together, sewn at the hip some might say. While their match officially ended when Graham turned 18, their relationship continued to blossom.
Tyo was best man at Graham’s wedding and the two attended every Big Brother banquet that was held – including the last event when the elder part of the duo was in a wheelchair.
“He told him he was going to bring him to the banquet, even if he had to carry him in,” said Big Brothers and Big Sisters Cornwall office executive director Amanda Brisson in an interview. “I just stopped crying so I could answer the phone.”
Despite the march of time, the two stayed committed to each other. As the years went on it became clear that Graham was assuming the role of Big Brother to Tyo.
“I think I took him on his first goose hunt,” said Graham, who added the outdoors was a staple part of their relationship. “We would spend hours on woodworking in his shop.
“And a weekend camping trip would turn into all summer.”
Tyo’s family is mourning a man who dedicated himself to helping young people.
“The kids just gravitated towards him,” said Yvonne Last, one of Tyo’s three children. “Dad just wanted to help other young kids. He was no nonsense. He was kind to them and helped them out.”
Brisson said the agency is planning a tribute to Tyo in the future.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.
Tyo is predeceased by his wife Doreen and survived by his children Last (Eric), Ron Tyo (Joanne) and Joanne Labelle (Robert) as well as seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.