James Muir was a devoted husband, father, friend and employee. He would brush off his wife’s car every morning before he went to work, never missed his teenage daughters’ badminton or soccer games, and had intimate friendships from as far back as kindergarten.
For more than 23 years, James worked at Dalton Engineering and Construction most recently as the company’s chief financial officer. He was also an accomplished athlete, having competed in badminton’s Thomas Cup.
“James was a connector,” says his wife, Mary. “He stayed in touch, and … many friends came to him when they were struggling or needed help.”
On most evenings, James and Mary would walk around Wanless Park and talk about their days, their daughters and their future together.
After coming home from work on Apr. 18, 2012, James went to bed as usual. Early the next morning, he woke up, drove to the family’s cottage, and hung himself.
Mary didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary as she thought James was playing golf that day and out for dinner with friends, as planned.
She still remembers waking up the following morning, on Apr. 20, and realizing her husband wasn’t home.
“It occurred to me he could be dead, but never by suicide,” she says.
Authorities found James by tracing his cellphone to the cottage.
Determined to glean something positive from the tragedy, Mary has since made it her goal to spread awareness of mental illness and suicide, emphasizing the importance of seeking help early.
Thousands of Canadians take their own lives every year. Few leave notes, and James was no exception.
[quote]It occurred to me he could be dead, but not by suicide.[/quote]
But he had been facing difficulties at work.
In Apr. 2011, the Toronto Star published allegations that Dalton had siphoned $1.8 million in taxpayer funds from a Gravenhurst construction project. After a thorough investigation, the OPP cleared the company and its officers of all charges that December.
“They had to go through a very long process, and my husband being the CFO, they were audited,” Mary says. “It was a very, very difficult eight months for all of them.”
The firm also had to let several employees go for business reasons, she says. “He was the type of person who felt others’ needs very much, and I think it wore him down.”
“It’s never a simple thing when someone dies of suicide,” she says. “However, I believe in my heart that if he hadn’t had that year, he would still be here.”
Despite the job-related stress, James never showed any red flags, Mary says.
“We went for a walk Wednesday night,” she says. “We had dinner together. We were supposed to go out Friday night with friends, and a friend was coming in on the weekend.”
“It was a shock,” she adds, “and it made me realize that there are many faces to mental health.”
With support from Delisle Youth Services, Mary recently organized an ambitious fundraising event called James’ Journey: Ending the Road to Suicide. With Mary and her daughters leading the way, hundreds of family, friends, neighbours and colleagues retraced the steps that Mary and James took most evenings around Wanless Park.
Mary hopes to make the walk an annual event, building on the message that mental illness is a disease like any other, and needs to be openly talked about so that sufferers can receive the help they need before it’s too late.
“I think we all have it in us,” she says of depression. “James was tested at a tough time.”
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