I was driving by the Whitehorse courthouse the other day and it made me remember a warm sunny day in 1985 in Inuvik.
A customer came into my auto parts store to buy a gizmo he was looking for. I presumed he was just another dumb truck driver. (I’m a truck driver, I’m allowed to say that.) Before he purchased the gizmo, he said my store had a lot of neat things, and they seemed to be priced a little better than Whitehorse, so he was going to look around for a few minutes to see if there was anything else he might need.
“So, you’re from the Yukon?” I asked.
“Yes, I just hauled up a load of freight and now I’m headed back to Whitehorse,” he replied.
When he said he was from the Yukon, it reminded me of a political news item from the Yukon, which had to have been a major story, for us to have heard about it on the other side of the mountain. I asked him if he knew about the story. He did, and filled me in with the precise details, as if the story had happened to him. I didn’t expect such a thorough explanation from a truck driver.
“How come you know so much about this story?” I asked.
“I’m an MLA in the Yukon legislature,” he replied.
I didn’t think I heard him right.
“Do you mean you are an elected politician?” I asked.
He then told me he had been a cabinet minister in the Yukon government. He was fairly young, so this guy made an impression on me—a real politician who actually did real work. I asked him a few more dumb questions and then he was on his way. He had left me with a view that was upbeat and optimistic.
Around 30 minutes later, I went to the plumbing shop on the south side of town. Just as I came out of the plumbing shop, my new friend passed by on the highway and we gave each other a big ol’ wave. Over the rest of the day, I told some of my customers the upbeat story about my political friend with a real job. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell my rosy story for long.
The next morning around 10 a.m., I got the bad news. The Dempster Highway near James Creek had developed a sinkhole. The sun was shining in my new friend’s eyes. He crashed into the sinkhole and was killed. After the shock wore off, I realized that I was likely one of the last people to see him alive.
I think almost everyone who was living in the Yukon at that time has probably figured out that I’m writing about Andy Philipsen. The courthouse is named after him.
In my younger years, I thought that to be a privileged person, you had to be born into money or have made it big somehow. Today, after some thought, I would bet that most Yukoners who knew Andy would say I was privileged that day, when I got the opportunity to wave to Andy one last time.