He was isolated atop a remote mountain radio station for two years, he worked on the famous Lancaster bombers during the Battle of Britain and he once fine-tuned Bryan Adams’ piano in his home, having no idea who the Canadian icon was.
When you get to 100 years old, you usually have a few good stories up your sleeve to regale friends and family around the campfire.
Step forward Richmond’s Jim Acheson, who woke up Monday morning a century young.
Staring out across the middle arm of the Fraser River from the sixth floor of his Dover Crescent condo, Acheson was surrounded by birthday cards, giant balloons and, of course, the obligatory telegram from the Queen.
By the time the Richmond News arrived at 11 a.m. to wish him a happy 100, Acheson had already received a number of well-wishing phone calls, including the annual one from a 96-year-old friend, whom he’s known since a little boy.
And asked how he felt waking up this morning, knowing he’d clocked up a century, he said simply, “I felt fine, just the same as I always do,” smiled Acheson, who’s still in relatively good health, despite having to use a walker due breaking his neck a couple of years ago.
“I woke up at 6 a.m. this morning, as usual. I remembered right away that I was 100. It feels just the same (as any other morning).”
Acheson had nothing particularly special planned for his actual birthday, having spent the last week or so attending big family parties to mark the auspicious occasion, along with his two children, three grandchildren and nine great grandchildren, one of whom is eight months old and named James Robert Acheson II, after the birthday boy.
Born a century ago in a small town in Northern Ireland, Acheson immigrated to Chilliwack, B.C. as a four-year-old with his family.
During the Second World War, he became a “wireless radio mechanic” in the RCAF where, initially, he found himself way up on a mountain by himself for a long time.
“After two years, they said to me, ‘you’ve been in isolation, where would you like to go?’ I said, ‘send me to flying school.’”
Unfortunately for Acheson, with only a few hours of flying time banked at the Calgary flying school, the war kicked up a notch and he was abruptly removed from training and shipped to England to be a radio mechanic again.
In south-east England, on a little farm called Gamlingay, they built an airstrip, where Acheson worked on the famous Lancaster bombers before and during the equally significant Battle of Britain.
Despite playing his part in halting the impending German invasion, it was the English diet that Acheson remembered with the most clarity.
“They gave us fried bread every day; they said ‘here you go, that will stick to your ribs,’” he told the News.
“It was Brussel sprouts for lunch, with the grit still in them, and eggs, which were usually rotten.”
After the war, Acheson settled in Vancouver, where he was to spend much of his life and career as a piano technician.
“I played the piano and when something was wrong, I was very interested in how to fix it,” he recalled of how he got into that vocation.
He made quite a career of it, however, tuning pianos up to the age of 90 for the likes of the symphony orchestra, for CBC and for all the greats that came to Vancouver, including famous Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau.
“People used to come pick him up and drive him to North Vancouver to tune their pianos. He worked for Yamaha for many years,” recalled Acheson’s daughter, Beverley Acheson, who lives with her dad.
“When working for Yamaha, he went to a house in North Vancouver. He had to go through several gates to get in. When he met the guy whose new Yamaha piano needed attention, he said to him, ‘what do you do for a living?’ It was Bryan Adams.
“Dad wasn’t into rock ‘n’ roll.”
Asked about the secret to his longevity, Acheson - who lost his wife, Hilda, 22 years ago, age 75 - said, “No secret. I have hope in the lord.
“And I don’t eat any junk food and I don’t like gravy.”
He has everything plain, added Beverley, and “he eats a ton of potatoes; he would potatoes all day long if he could.”