The story of Fortune's own Albert Snook, who led a life well-lived
The American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "The purpose of life is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."
I feel those words describe the late 77-year-old Albert Snook of Fortune — a barber for 57 years – who died Feb. 21 , after a brief battle with cancer.
Although barbering had been his main source of income, he wore many other hats and acquired many skills during his working lifetime: mariner, fish-plant worker, truck driver, meat cutter and taxidermist are other things he worked at over the years.
During his nearly six decades of barbering he had seen local hair styles go through many changes – from the days of the crew cut and brush cut to the "hippie stage," and now today's "anything goes" styling.
Alb, as he is known to most people, and I had a very close relationship for almost our entire lives. There were times, when I sat in his barber's chair that we would reminisce about many things, including when the grandfathers and even great-grandfathers of some of his clients dropped by for a trim.
He had come a long way since the age of 14, when he was in Grade 7 and decided to give up his education to go to work. There were seven children in the family. "We were very poor," he told me. His father, Albert, was gone away most of the year — first on banking schooners and then on trawlers — while his mother Emily worked on the beach spreading salt fish to dry and later in the local fish plant, until she retired at age 65.
When Albert was only two months old he was rescued from their burning home by a neighbour. The family home caught fire, and Albert's mother and three children were inside. Emily grabbed the two oldest children and rushed outside with them but was unable to get back into the house to get Albert due to heavy smoke and flames.
Percy Savoury, a neighbour across the street, came running, grabbed a jacket, soaked it in water and pulled it over his head, entering the burning home without any concern for his own safety.
He grabbed Albert, mattress and all, and carried the little fellow to safety. Luckily on the beach where his mother worked there was a shed with swings where the young ones could play and Emily could keep an eye on them, no doubt still very nervous because of the fire some years earlier.
Albert, as a teenager, very strong and mature for his age, had no trouble getting work and thus he contributed financially to the family.
His first full-time job was on the trimming-line at the fish plant in his hometown of Grand Bank. After six months trimming fish he joined a freighter as a deckhand on a southern run to the Caribbean and stayed with that for a year. Then it was back into the fishing industry, this time as a deckhand on a side-trawler.
His fishing career came to an abrupt end when he injured both knees in a shipboard accident. The cod-end section of the trawler's fishnet fell on him and trapped both of his legs.
While he was hospitalized, Alb read an advertisement in a newspaper calling for applicants to fill a vacancy in the barbering class at the Gander Vocational School. He applied and was accepted, and after he was released from the Grand Bank Cottage Hospital, he left for central Newfoundland and the nine-month barbering course. Following his graduation, he rented a restaurant at Fortune and began barbering on the side.
The restaurant wasn't his cup of tea. Alb and his wife, June (née Thornhill), closed the business after six months. He then went to work with Lake and Lake Limited driving a delivery truck. It wasn't long before he took an interest in the meat-cutting end of Lake's business, and eventually he got his chance to try his hand at it.
He took a nine-month meat-cutting course and pursued that career, staying employed with the firm for 12 years. During those years with Lake and Lake Limited, he also ran his barbershop after hours, holding down two jobs and punching 14- and 15-hour days.
Meanwhile, he worked at improving his educational qualifications by taking advantage of local night-school classes, acquiring his Grade 10 diploma.
Never a person to stop learning, Alb then completed a home-study course in taxidermy along with a friend, Randell Mayo. The two entered one of their stuffed muskrats in a provincial arts and handicrafts competition, capturing second place in the taxidermy category. Over several years, the two mounted more than 30 different species of birds and animals, including a full-grown black bear.
Alb always lived up to his civic responsibilities, serving as a town councillor for four years and as master of the Victoria
Masonic Lodge for three years. For some 15 years he was also the commissioner for seven towns on the Burin Peninsula to hear appeals filed regarding municipal taxation cases.
June and Albert are the parents of a son, Todd, a daughter, Erica, and one grandson, Chase. During their children's "growing up years" they always set aside Sunday for their family and church. In fact, Alb was still very involved in the day-to-day activities of his church up to the day of his passing — as chairman of the official board of the Fortune United Church, a member of the choir, a member of the board of stewards, and not only as chairman of his church's cemetery committee but doing a lot of hands-on physical work at the cemetery.
Rev. Marilyn Rees served Fortune United for seven years and knew Alb well.
"Alb was a man who always lived up to his promises and he was always there to lend a helping hand. When the church hall downstairs underwent renovations from water damage, he came at 6 a.m. every morning for a four-month-period [before going to his barber shop], putting in his time before the other volunteers arrived at 8 a.m., and he would always return later after work to offer his help."
An avid golfer, walker and very health-conscious, Alb told me in an interview seven years ago he was interested in everything around him and was never bored. It is very obvious that Albert Snook was a man who enjoyed life and lived life to the fullest.
When asked at that time about how much longer he planned to work, he replied, "At present I have no plans to retire, but good gracious, who knows?"
Albert Snook truly never stopped contributing to his community. The last day he worked was Feb. 1 of this year. His funeral was held 3½ weeks later, on Feb. 26.