I have deeply sad news for friends of Maj. (ret’d) Nigel Smythe-Browne and his creator, Chris Dalton.
Chris died early on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, with his beloved wife Michelle at his side. He had turned 70 in early April.
For fans of his column, Major’s Corner, that means no more uproarious tales from the gallant old soldier, fuelled by frosty silver yum yums – martinis, to the uninitiated – and an abiding hatred of political correctness. No more antics from the club (the home of homes) and its dotty denizens: the Brigadier, Mrs. Hynde-Quarters, the Very Reverend Mumbles Te Deum and William the Weasel. And no more anticipation on Sunday mornings as we open our emails for the latest instalment of the column. How much darker the world will be without Chris.
I have been Chris’s editor since the Major was born, on June 17, 2007, on the pages of the Times Colonist in Victoria, B.C., where Chris and Michelle were living at the time. Major’s Corner was meant to be a summer series, but it proved so popular with readers that it continued for another 335 columns, until March 2014, when the newspaper dropped almost all its non-staff contributions.
Chris continued to write the Major on this website, however, and in September 2014, he introduced Under the Palapa, a new column about his and Michelle’s adventures in their new home of Puerto Vallarta. Although I too had moved on from Victoria in 2010, I continued to edit his work: the Major and Under the Palapa, and Chris’s two hilarious and no-holds-barred books, Extinct and Still Extinct.
An editor gets to know a lot about a writer. Here are some of the things I came to know about Chris. That he was an acclaimed producer of both films and commercials. That he was entrepreneurial and hardworking. That he loved history. That he never missed a deadline. That he was viscerally creative and truly, deeply funny. That he was a fierce and faithful friend. That he remained a formidable cricket player into his 60s and a bon vivant and lover of life until the day he died.
Chris had a profound sense of duty that had been shaped by the wartime legacy of his father, Colonel Charles Dalton of the Queen’s Own Rifles, a hero of the assault on Juno Beach. He observed Remembrance Day every year and was extraordinarily proud – and frightened – when his son, James, served in Afghanistan with the Canadian Scottish Regiment in 2009.
That was the other thing about Chris. Nothing was more important to him than his family: his children Blythe, Mary, James and Olivia. And, above all, Michelle, the inspiration for Kitty, the Major’s wife of some 50 years. Kitty was mentioned in almost every single one of the 400 or so columns Chris wrote as the Major, and Michelle was his co-star in Under the Palapa as he acclimatized to his new life in Mexico.
I cannot imagine their sorrow at Chris’s departure. Those of us who were lucky enough to know him feel a great sadness too. And at the magical club (the home of homes) where the roast beef is always overdone and Rogers the barman always stands at the ready, the green wingback chair by the window is empty.