By Sandra Birungi
John Sheardown, according to his wife, Zena, died in a hospital in Ottawa on 30th December as he was being treated for the Alzheimer’s disease which had been ailing him for four years.
Sheardown was the first secretary at the Canadian embassy in Tehran. He sheltered fugitive American Embassy staffers at his home during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. His wife, Zena, said Sheardown was being treated for other ailments.
Almost a week after militant Iranian radicals seized the US embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979, he received a call from one of the six Americans who had managed to evade capture, American consular officer Robert Anders. After the phone call, the Sheardowns agreed to shelter four of the six Americans in secrecy in their 20-room house in Tehran while the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor, housed the other two Americans. “It would have been selfish for us not to do so,” Zena Sheardown said. “There weren’t many places to hide in Iran, we had the room, they needed our help and it was just not in John’s nature to refuse help to anyone.”
“We have a lot of fond memories. We spent American Thanksgiving together, New Year’s Eve together. Every night we would all sit around for dinner together. There was a lot of humor and laughter. It was a nice time to have to spend together,” she said. “We tried to be protective, but we also went out of our way to make them feel as if they weren’t imposing on us.”
She said her husband became the father figure of the household, whom everyone would turn to for advice when they went through moments of fear. “He kind of became our leader and since he was a pipe smoker and had more of a mature nature, he became known as ‘Big Daddy,’ everyone would wait for Big Daddy to come home,” she said, chuckling.
Sheardown was made a Member of the Order of Canada for his role in the rescue; his wife later also received the award for her role.
He was born in Sandwich, Ontario, later absorbed by Windsor, on 11 October 1924, John Vernon Sheardown joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at 18. “I often thought he had nine lives with the way he lived his life,” his wife said. He stayed in the Canadian Armed Forces after the war, serving in Korea, before joining Canada’s immigration service around 1962. He was posted in London, Glasgow, New Delhi and Los Angeles, during a 27-year diplomatic career.
“He was a proud, dignified man, proud to serve his country, a dedicated foreign services officer and well-respected by all,” his wife said.
The two were married in Los Angeles in 1975. It was his second marriage. “It was a long love story,” Zena said, her voice cracking with emotion. “He lived a wonderful life and we shared many wonderful years together.”
Besides his wife, the former Zena Khan, Sheardown is survived by his sons, Robin and John; his sisters, Jean Fitzsimmons and Betty Ann Whitehead; six grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.