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MULLIN, Edward (Ted)

August 31, 1919 - August 13, 2017


‘The Great Survivor’
August 31, 1919 – August 13, 2017


Edward Mullin — known to his family as ‘The Great Survivor’ because of several remarkable escapes from death — has died at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Comox, just short of his 98th birthday.


Ted was born in Consett, County Durham (UK), into a very poor family, one of five sons of a second generation Irish immigrant coal miner, Thomas Mullin, and a local girl, Gertrude Hope. Ted had a twin, Charles, but he died within a month of birth. Ted himself only just survived infancy, being diagnosed as dangerously ill on five separate occasions.


After leaving school, Ted’s first job was selling eggs from a pushbike around Consett, but he was soon taken on as an apprentice boilermaker by the Consett Iron Company, the biggest employer in town.  However, at age 19, heavy work and desperately poor living conditions at home saw him bedridden with rheumatic fever and concern for a damaged heart.  But after four months, he pulled through and returned to work.


In the Second World War he volunteered for the Royal Navy, in which he rose to the rank of Sub-Lieutenant.  ‘The Great Survivor’ moniker his family had given him was justified again when on two occasions he was rescued after ships had been torpedoed: the troopship Mohammed Ali el Kebir in the Atlantic — just two days into his active service! — and the cruiser HMS Arethusa in the Mediterranean two years later, the latter with huge loss of life.  While on leave in 1943, he married Consett girl Ivy Sheldon.


In 1945 the Royal Navy dispatched him to Vancouver to oversee the testing of machinery being installed on HMS Duncansby Head, which was being built at the Burrard shipyards to support the ongoing war in the Pacific.  It was while in Vancouver he first met his mother’s cousin and her family, including 23-year-old Iris Beatty, who had also not long been married herself.  He sailed with the ship to Singapore in 1946, completing his Navy service helping reorganize the dockyard there after the Japanese surrender.


In 1947, Ted and Ivy had their first child, Judith, and her arrival made Ted think more about the contrasts between Canada and his hometown Consett. They made plans to emigrate, but in the end did not take the plunge.  Instead, they headed south to London, where both pursued careers as teachers in elementary schools. In addition to teaching classes of 40 or more students, and preparing them for the dreaded 11+ examinations, Ted coached boxing, ran soccer teams, played field hockey, crafted pottery, studied for his own degree, and even performed in the school pantomime. He got himself into mischief at times, being caught one day by the strict principal after he clambered out of a classroom window for a quick smoke!


In the early 1960s, Ted decided his mission was to teach and encourage children with special needs, especially those with sickness, disabilities or from poor backgrounds like his own.  He was hugely successful in this work, rising to become principal of a South London school for children with physical handicaps; Ivy herself was already principal of an elementary school. And during this busy time for them both, son Andrew was born — 17 years after his sister Judith.


Ted was later appointed principal of Mossbrook School, Sheffield — a pioneering nationally-acclaimed school for teaching children with spina bifida.  While there he was also elected to represent special school principals in national negotiations with the UK government’s Department of Education. He led the school for 11 years until his retirement, aged 60, in 1979.


In his retirement, he campaigned unsuccessfully as a Liberal for a seat on Sheffield City Council, but by becoming the surprise runner-up in the poll, he helped lay the foundations for a future national leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, to represent the same area.


His wife Ivy died in 1984, and the idea of emigrating to Canada was revived and approved in 1985.  Back in BC, he and Iris renewed their acquaintanceship from 40 years prior, and as she was widowed, they became sweethearts in their senior years, marrying in 1987.  It has truly been a romance for the ages, the best thing that could ever have happened to both of them in retirement.  They bought land on Comox peninsula and assisted in the clearing of the lot, building a house and creating a very productive garden, while spending vacations cruising and touring on countless occasions in the Americas and Europe.  For many years of his retirement — during which he became a Canadian citizen— Ted enjoyed fishing, golf and painting; and right up until his final days, his vast general knowledge and sharp brain meant he was a sought-after quiz team member.  He was also self-taught in computer-aided design, enabling him to produce scores of personalized, illustrated greeting cards for family and friends until just days before his passing.


Two years ago he was diagnosed with a serious illness with maybe only a short time to live, and one year ago — in August 2016 — he was admitted to St. Joe’s with a prognosis of “2-3 days.”  Yet again, The Great Survivor defied the odds, and those days turned into weeks and then months with Ted and his loving wife Iris eventually able to resume substantially independent lives in their own apartment in Comox.


On BC Day earlier this month, they hosted their annual open house lunch for family and friends following the Nautical Days parade, but two days later he was admitted to hospital.  As he recalled that night, it was exactly 77 years to the day from when his first ship was torpedoed. Then, during the early hours of Sunday morning, The Great Survivor asked his wife and daughter at his bedside to let him go, and he passed peacefully 20 minutes later.


Edward Mullin leaves his wife and sweetheart Iris; his daughter Judith (Philip) Round in Courtenay and son Andrew (Carol) Mullin in Stockton-on-Tees (UK); seven grandchildren — Simon (Italy), David, Adam, Bethany, and Alex (UK), and Lindsay and Chris (Australia); and nine great-grandchildren in the three countries.


Ted privately wrote up his life experiences in great detail, but refused to allow his memoir to be published.  But his family believe he should not pass without a full acknowledgement, through this extended obituary, of how a man from the poorest background made such a positive difference to so many lives. He requested no funeral, but any donations in his memory should be directed to the local Hospital Foundation, to which he and Iris have contributed regularly for many years.  Special thanks from the immediate family go to Ted’s long-time family doctor, Dr Brailey; to Toneff Funeral Services for their arrangements; and especially to cousin Nancy Riva for her support over the past decade.

Arrangements have been placed in the care of Eric Toneff of Toneff Funeral Services.



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