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Braz Diego AthaideCourtesy of family

Braz Diego Athaide: Engineer. Traveller. Volunteer. Philanthropist. Born Oct. 20, 1928, in Kisumu, Kenya; died April 7, 2022, in Brandon, Man., from respiratory failure; aged 93.

Shortly after Braz was born, his parents moved their family of five from Kenya to India to enroll the children in school. Braz studied in English with French as a second language but he regretted not learning to read and write in Hindi.

Braz attended university in Bombay and was accepted into the textile engineering program; he loved it. After obtaining his master’s degree, he worked for a short time in India before moving to Pakistan.

In 1958, as was the custom, his parents chose a bride. Braz was unique in that he did not ask Nina Siquera Vaz, nor her family, to provide a dowry. Together, Nina and Braz parented four children – Marita, Judith, Melba and Brian – while building their careers. The kids loved his sense of humour and storytelling prowess – even if they knew he had made a story up.

In 1970, Braz left his family to find work in Canada. He wished to raise the family in a stable democracy where opportunities were meritocracy-based. Within a month of arriving, Braz began working at a wool mill in Brandon, Man. It was a job that he loved, working for a man whom he respected. He rented a one-bedroom apartment with two appliances: a vintage fridge and an electric stove.

Braz sprinted up the rungs of responsibility at the mill thanks to his skills, work ethic and integrity.

Two years later, when he heard the good news that his family would finally be arriving in Canada, he rented a much bigger home. But the marriage would not survive the separation. While the children lived with Nina, Braz remained in their lives and continued to support them.

Braz encouraged all his children to pursue higher education – the more the better. He told them to do something that made them happy – and always work hard at whatever they chose to do.

Braz loved travelling. He would pile the children into the car and drive south to the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena, east to Casa Loma in Toronto and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and west to Vancouver Island. Later, as his children became young adults, he travelled farther with them to Israel, Thailand, Brazil, Russia, China, the Philippines and more.

In retirement, Braz returned to college to take cooking classes and began a new career as a cook. He hated seeing hunger. He gave his time, talent and treasure to the Brandon Mental Health Centre and Brandon’s soup kitchen. He later became a co-founder and chief volunteer for a breakfast program at Betty Gibson elementary school in Brandon. He believed in the breakfast program so much that when he was unavailable to help, he paid the wages for a stand-in if a volunteer could not be found. Eventually, Braz resigned from his paying job as there were too few volunteers. He didn’t hang up his volunteer apron until age 82, after suffering a massive stroke.

In retirement, he started to invest. He held a high-risk, non-diversified portfolio – and asked Judith to manage it for him. He ignored his daughter’s stern warnings about its inappropriate assest mix for his age. But in the 10 years she ran it, his portfolio always outperformed her own.

When he moved to long-term care in early 2020, he looked forward to chatting about politics and stock markets with new friends. He was shocked to find that no one in the home shared his interests.

He loved his grandchildren and his face lit up in excitement when he saw them. He would spend hours and hours doing whatever the grandkids wanted (including cutting his hair) and he wore T-shirts with images of their faces or colourful hand prints.

Right until the end, Braz remained a philanthropist, donating his body to the University of Manitoba for research and training.

Judith Athaide is Braz’s daughter, Dariana and Narisse Al-Salam are two of his granddaughters.

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