HANTS COUNTY, N.S. — Tributes have been steadily pouring in since Friday morning for a Hants County man who was considered a quiet leader and a mentor to all who knew him.
Donald (Donnie) Dignan, a retired RCMP corporal who served more than 35 years with the police force, died July 6 in the Hants Community Hospital after a brief illness.
Dignan, 58, was an active firefighter with the Brooklyn Fire Department, holding the rank of captain, and since 2015, was the Regional Emergency Management Organization (REMO) co-ordinator for Windsor and West Hants.
He was a dedicated volunteer, giving countless hours to a variety of groups and organizations. His obituary notes he was a man “who wore many hats and could always be counted on for a helping hand and a laugh.”
Aside from being a volunteer firefighter, he was a board member of the West Hants/Uniacke Community Health Board and was on the Hants Community Hospital's emergency planning committee.
When the community learned of Dignan's passing, social media quickly lit up with tributes. Post after post commented on his sense of humour, his quiet leadership, and his desire to help others.
“His passing is a tremendous loss to our community,” said Paul Maynard, a deputy fire chief with the Hantsport Fire Department.
Maynard, like many others involved in the fire service, is still reeling from the news of Dignan's passing. He worked alongside Dignan on numerous occasions and the two became close friends. They spoke mere days before he died.
“I met Don for the first time at a car accident on the 101 highway. We instantly hit it off and developed a relationship... and it only got stronger over the years,” said Maynard, who's known Dignan for more than a decade.
Maynard, who serves as the alternate REMO co-oridinator, said Dignan was the type of person who would go out of their way to help someone.
“When I think about Don, he was so easy-going. It was always a pleasure to have a conversation with him,” he said. “He always had an interesting story to tell, he always took time to make you smile with a joke or a jab at your expense. He was a genuine person who truly cared about everyone in the community.”
Dignan was a volunteer firefighter for about 11 years, the majority of which was in Brooklyn.
Maynard said Dignan believed that building strong relationships in the community would ultimately help in the event of an emergency — a belief that Maynard also shares.
“Don mentored me in a lot of ways,” said Maynard.
“He left a legacy. He touched the lives of many people through his lifetime of work in emergency services. I think that's certainly important to recognize.”
Dignan was born in New Glasgow on Aug. 23, 1959. He grew up in Halifax and attended Saint Mary's University. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and served about 35 years, spending time in various communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, the Yukon, and Nova Scotia. His final posting was in Hants County.
David Baker, a retired staff sargent with the RCMP, met Dignan early on in his career. Baker was the corporal in charge of the two-person detachment on Fogo Island, which is located off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, when Dignan transferred there.
“He was an amazing co-worker; he was totally, absolutely dedicated to anything that you gave him to do. He was so conscientious. If you gave him a task, he was the kind of guy that you didn't have to check up to see if it was done. It was guaranteed to be done,” said Baker.
When Baker began recalling his time on Fogo Island with Dignan, one night stands out in particular. It was the winter time and they came across a vehicle that plunged into an icy pond.
“With no hesitation, he jumped into the water to look at the vehicle and I came in with him. We got a rock and we smashed the window out. We got down under the water and got our heads inside the car to make sure there was nobody in it. I thought the two of us were going to freeze to death that night,” said Baker, in a phone interview from his home in Baddeck.
Baker said even back then, it was evident that Dignan would go above and beyond the call of duty to help others.
“His work ethic was second to none. Don was an amazing worker. He was a good traffic man, he was a good investigator, he was just an all-around good policeman. There was nothing that he couldn't or wouldn't try to do,” said Baker.
The pair stayed in contact over the years, with Baker last seeing Dignan about four years ago when they reminisced about their days on Fogo Island.
“He was an all-around great guy,” Baker said.
Dignan is survived by his wife of 37 years, Karen, and his children, Kimberly and Adam, plus several grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life service is planned for July 12 at 2 p.m. at the Brooklyn Civic Centre, 995 Hwy 215, in Brooklyn. A visitation will be held July 10 from 6-8 p.m. in the Lindsay Windsor Funeral Home, 194 King St. in Windsor.
“Donnie never missed a Tim Horton’s Camp day, which spoke to his love of children and his ever present mug of black coffee,” the obituary reads.
“He was a true role model, loved and respected by all who had the chance to know him. He had a quiet strength, a kind and gentle nature and a sense of humour that made everyone smile. He will forever be in our hearts, no words can express how much we will miss him.”