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OPINION: Charlie and I both knew the power of love at first sight

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One long weekend in Georgia was all I needed to know I’d met the love of my life.

She was part of a flight crew laying over for the weekend. I was there on business.

Flying home that Sunday night, I announced to my horrified mother I was getting married. I drove to Windsor the next day where I was two months into my third year of university, packed a bag, said goodbye to my roommate and the girl I’d been dating for a year, and never went back.

Ten weeks later, I was a married man. That was 47 years ago and I’m still just as crazy about that girl as the day I kissed her in Georgia.

But Charlie has me beat.

I learned Charlie’s story after someone handed me a 1938 “Elect Fairbank” brochure with a photo of the handsome, 34-year old petroleum engineer on its cover. A scion of the distinguished Fairbank Oil family of Petrolia, Charlie won the provincial by-election for Lambton East as a Hepburn Liberal, serving until 1943.

The book, The Story of Fairbank Oil by Patricia McGee, tells the tale of four generations of Fairbanks who have “produced oil longer than anyone in the world.”

It was during his time as an MPP that Charlie, walking down Petrolia’s main street with his friend, Dr. MacCallum, spotted Jean Harwood. The striking beauty was a stranger in town, and, it was claimed, bore a close resemblance to the Hollywood actress, Carol Lombard.

“I’m going to marry that girl,” Fairbank told his friend as they passed her in the street. Harwood, a nurse from Moose Jaw, remained in Petrolia and took a job as night supervisor at Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital.

Charles Oliver Fairbank was a busy man. In addition to being the youngest MPP in the Ontario legislature, he split his time between the family oil field in Oil Springs and another family business – VanTuyl Fairbank Hardware in Petrolia.

As a result, Charlie waited longer than I did. During an illness in 1939, Jean nursed him back to health. Their first date followed, which led to their wedding in Moose Jaw in 1940. A son, Charles Oliver III, would follow in 1941 and a daughter, Sylvia Jean, in 1943.

Charlie died in 1982 and Jean in 1998.

In 1997, Charles Fairbank III would be inducted into the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame after taking over the 150-year-old Fairbank Oil enterprise.

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