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Ottawa D-Day veteran Roly Armitage dies at age 99

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An Ottawa D-Day veteran has died just weeks after the 80th anniversary of Canadian soldiers landing on Juno Beach in Normandy, France.

Second World War veteran Roly Armitage died this week in Ottawa at the age of 99.

"Very sorry to hear about the passage of Dr. Roly Armitage. A WW2 veteran, mayor of West Carleton, veterinarian, author and a good decent human being," former mayor Jim Watson said on Twitter.

Armitage was also a a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and was inducted to the Order of Ontario and Order of Ottawa.

Kanata MP Jenna Sudds said, "I had the pleasure of meeting Roly on several occasions, and he has been a friend and hero to so many.

"You will be missed, Roly, but your legacy will live on forever."

Ottawa MPP Karen McCrimmon posted on Facebook, "with a broken heart, I share with you that my friend and hero Dr. Roly Armitage died (Wednesday) at Perley Rideau Veterans Home."

"Big hugs and heartfelt condolences to his family and the legions of friends who loved him like we did!"

Armitage had hoped to travel to France earlier this month for ceremonies marking the anniversary of D-Day, but was unable to make the trip due to medical reasons.

Former coun. Eli El-Chantiry posted a photo on social media on June 4 with Armitage at the Pearley Health Veterans Centre, saying it was a "nice and inspiring visit with my friend and mentor."

Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance meets Army veteran Roly Armitage at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. (Justin Tang / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Armitage was born on Feb. 8, 1925, in South March.

"Roly joined the army at the age of 17 (before he was officially eligible) and served in World War II in the 3rd Medium Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery," says the obituary on the Highland Park Cemetery website.

"After the war, he completed his high school, then attended Guelph Veterinarian College.  He graduated in 1951, and set up his veterinary practice in Shawville, Que., shortly thereafter until moving to Dunrobin, Ont., in 1968, where he was a Standardbred owner, breeder and manager of Armstead Farms, along with sons Blake and Donald."

Last year, CTV News Ottawa shared the story Armitage reuniting with the girl he rescued when she was just three years old in Holland during the Second World War. Sonja Jobes travelled from Minnesota to Ottawa to meet Armitage, after coming across an article online in the Dutch media sharing Armitage's story.

Armitage was behind the wheel of a jeep on a cold night in 1944 when something caught his eye in a nearby ditch.  He brought two children out of the ditch and to a nearby field kitchen to eat and warm up.

Jeff Armitage was one of Roly's nephews. "I always had him as an uncle, but I gained him as a friend. And that meant more to me," said Jeff.

He said he learned so much about the war through his uncle. "We spoke about the war, we spoke about just life in general. There's just so many things he's done in his life that, you just pick one- you could talk about it forever.

"A great storyteller- most of the Armitages have the gift of the gab," Jeff added. "He was always very friendly. He always go out of his way to talk to people. He'd find a friend right away. He would talk to whoever would talk to him. You know, he liked that one on one, talking to people, finding out what they did and what they do and finding out about the person themselves."

Armitage spent his final days at the Perley Health centre, and Jeff visited often. "He's a remarkable man. Everywhere you go, people are drawn to him," said Jeff.

Perley Health CEO Akos Hoffer gave this statement to CTV News:

 

"Roly was a proud Veteran and a role model for so many. He embraced the Canadian Remembrance Torch during a visit to Perley Health and he was dismayed that he could not attend the D-Day events in person. During his time at Perley Health, he embraced art and cherished family and new friends, especially engaging with fellow Veterans. His presence will be missed by the Perley Health community."

Karen McCrimmon, the MPP for Kanata-Carleton and a veteran herself, knew Armitage for decades. "He means the world to me. Even today, as a leader, he gets it. He thinks that we should all be here to serve other people."

McCrimmon said she visited Armitage days before he passed away. "He was so powerful … you just thought he would just go on forever. So it was it was heartbreaking. But I know he was loved. He had lots of people who went to visit him. He knew he was loved. And I think that made a big difference."

McCrimmon said Armitage gifted a wood carving to her with a rose on it, knowing how much she loved flowers. "Very demonstrative when it comes to his love and affection with everybody," said McCrimmon.

She said, "He was in it for all of us, that he would be there and help if there was anything he could do."

Armitage's political connections run back decades, working with many politicians across the city. Former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson worked with Armitage as a rookie regional councillor. Watson said, "What was remarkable was Roly was so accomplished but so humble."

Watson said he fondly remembers Armitage's stories and his three books. "He really was a great storyteller, but he wasn't a braggart," said Watson. "He was very humble, but very, very accomplished. You can look back with a sense of pride that he gave a lot back, a lot more back to his community and his country than he got from them."

Jeff Armitage said his uncle never slowed down, even at the age of 99. "Our goal was to go and jump out of an airplane together at when he turned 100. And unfortunately, it didn't work out. But given the chance, we'll do the jump and he'll be with me for sure."

Jeff said he will place a memento of his uncle when he does the jump.

Jeff hopes to return to the Netherlands with some of Armitage's ashes to place in a cemetery. "Roly had a favorite saying, and it was give and you shall be given. And he lived his life by it. He gave to everybody. And in turn, everybody loved him." 

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque

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