By Emily Stonehouse
Caring. Compassionate. Hard working. Critical thinker. Friend. Husband. Son. Father.
When I write articles on people who have passed away, one of the first questions I ask those who knew them, is for the top three words they would use to describe them so that our readers can catch a glimpse into their lives.
Words are powerful. They create an image of a person that although some readers may not know them personally, they feel a connection.
With Ryan Reesor, despite the many interviews and conversations I had with his friends and loved ones, I still don’t think I could properly capture all the words that were used to describe him; the impact he had, and the lives he touched.
When I called Adam Thorn, his friend and colleague from the Algonquin Hills Fire Department, I asked if he had a minute to chat. Not knowing what I was calling about, he said yes. When I went on to say I wanted to learn more about Ryan Reesor, he simply said, “oh, I will need more than a minute then.”
When I asked Ryan’s wife, Amy, about her top three words for him, she took some time to consider before sharing her thoughts on the page. “Sorry, more than three words!” she said.
He was a man who paved the way for others to follow, while simultaneously stepping back and letting others lead. “There wasn’t anyone else like him,” said Adam.
Ryan Reesor grew up in the Haliburton Highlands with his family at Ox Narrows Lodge in Algonquin Highlands. He met his wife, Amy, when they both attended Haliburton Highlands Secondary School on the track and field team, and instantly became friends. “I remember sitting across from him at his family’s business, Ox Narrows Lodge, watching him laugh one day,” said Amy. “This was probably 20 years ago, and I can still see his face so vividly. He was laughing so hard and with such joy, his eyes were bright and his body radiated this energy, and I remember thinking he is the most beautiful man I had ever seen.”
Their first real date together was at the Stanhope Fire Department Christmas party.” We married in 2008, but were together for 26 years,” Amy said. “He was my best friend and made sure that I was always cared for and happy.”
After graduating from Hal High, Ryan went on to take Humber College’s Pre-Service Fire program, and continued working at Ox Narrows Lodge, as well as building homes and working in tree services. He worked for 27 years as a dedicated firefighter, in both Algonquin Highlands and Toronto, where he became Captain.
When asked about what Ryan would be most proud of, Amy did not hesitate. “His children,” she said with confidence. “Ryan was an exceptional father. His purpose in life was to be an amazing dad to his kids.” Amy shared that not only did he support them in every way, but he was dedicated to giving his two children, Anna and Anson, the gift of time. “Everything he did, he included his kids. If he was fixing something, he taught them what he was doing and had them do it with him. He played with them daily, sometimes for hours, laughed with them, read them stories, and helped them with their homework. He was an incredible father.”
When Ryan wasn’t at home, he would often be found at the fire department. Adam Thorn had vivid memories of working many shifts with Ryan as he learned the ropes of becoming a firefighter. “Some people just walk through life,” said Adam, “and we all leave stepping stones along the way. But Ryan was the kind of guy that built a foundation wherever he went. People would learn from him, and he was always there to hold you up.”
Adam shared that Ryan was the one who introduced the concept of shared emergency training across Haliburton County, ensuring that if additional support was needed on calls, everyone who showed up would be in sync, and working swiftly as a team. “I think that idea has helped us more times than we can count on our calls,” said Adam, reflecting on the progress that has been made over the years surrounding the initiative.
At the age of 45, Ryan died in an accident on May 17, 2023. Upon his death, news outlets and social media blew up with memories and stories about Ryan. His impact was immeasurable, and his dedication to his family, his career, and his community were crystal clear.
On Oct. 1, friends and family joined together for what they hope to be the first of many poker runs in Ryan’s name. “This weekend’s first annual Ride for Ryan was the perfect day and perfect way to have some fun, enjoy the outdoors, give back to our community and the much needed fire services,” said Brandi Hewson, one of the organizers of the event, “and above all, honour a pretty incredible guy who tragically lost his life far too young.”
The event raised over $3400, all of which was donated directly back to the Stanhope Fire Department, which Ryan gave his heart and soul to.
“We wanted to take the day and the moment to live a little and make the memories,” said Hewson. “I think losing a friend so young reminds us of just how short life can unfairly be and how important it is to honour those who made an impact, and hold so tight to those special people, friends and family.”
As the seasons have changed and the stories have continued to be shared about Ryan, perhaps there is joy in the words left behind. Because in a life so fully lived, sometimes there are still not enough words.
Amy was clear that there was one word that would always stand out for her: love. “Ryan told us each and every day that he loved us,” she said. “He told the kids and I that we were beautiful and strong. And I know that he knew that we loved him because we told him. So be sure to say it each and every day to the people that you love.”
Because those little words can make all the difference.