John Olbey or as many people from across Chatham-Kent knew him, “Usher.” John was a family man and a community man through and through. He was an amazing father, grandfather and great-great-grandfather who was always there for his family and his community.
John was born one of seven kids to Howard and Arabella (Hammond). He was the youngest of the family. His brother George saved people when the Garner Hotel went up in flames, and his brother Cliff played on the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, but John also found his rightful place in Canadian history.
John served with the Fourth Armoured Division during World War II and was a survivor of the Battle of Falaise Gap. As a veteran and one of the longest surviving Black military veterans in Canada, John featured in a few documentaries over the last two decades, including, most recently, “Black Liberators WWII,” which aired on the History Channel in 2021.
After the war, John married the love of his life Olive (Steele), and they welcomed three children to their marriage: Pam, Craig and Michelle.
John got his nickname “Usher” from being a lifetime member at the First Baptist Church on King Street East in Chatham. In the earlier years, he would usher the women from their cars or sidewalk into the church every Sunday morning.
John Orval Olbey passed away on 24 October 2022, in his 101st year of life, surrounded by his family.
Daughter Michelle Eaton had this to say about her late father.
“Everyone knows my father as the neighbour in the community and WW2 Vet. I would like to touch base on the everyday man that I knew as my father. Most people know that I was an “oopsy .”My brother Craig and sister Pam are 15 and 17 years older than me. My parents had me after 25 years of marriage, and yes, as they put it, I was spoiled. My father worked hard in life to provide for our family. When I came along, he had more time to spend with me. My dad played baseball with me and took me for walks when my mom was working. He often took me for ice cream and to the drive-in. My dad took me to Hockey games and baseball games in Detroit. When my children came along, he not only was the best grandfather but played a father role in their lives. I watched how my father attended to my mother daily. My mother walked into the mall in the mornings prior to COVID and my father becoming ill. Every day he would have breakfast ready on the table for her after she returned from her morning walk. My dad treated my mom like the Queen that she is. I often said I wanted to meet a man that could replicate my father. My mom told me that I never would because this would be impossible because there is no other man like him. Recently I did get her blessing, stating that I finally did. I was blessed to have such a great father in my life, and I miss him every day.”
The community and neighbourhood definitely miss watching John going out for his daily walks and having our conversations with him. John was a pillar to our community and an overall extraordinary person who left an amazing legacy on our community.
You can watch Black Liberators WWII at the following link: https://watch.globaltv.com/series/HIST0056520800000000
(Credit: The Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society)