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Nanaimo family pays glowing tribute to late father with Christmas display

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NANAIMO, B.C. -

To appreciate Dianne Brown’s Christmas present, we need to go back to her Christmas pasts, after meeting her husband Rohn Brown.

“We went on one date,” Dianne smiles. “And we never left.”

Early on, Rohn revealed he was the youngest of 13 children, and his Christmas gifts were always hand-me-downs that had been passed through all his siblings.

“By the time it got to [Rohn] it was always broken,” Dianne says.

So Rohn tried to make their first Christmas together special, beginning with a big tree.

“And the doggone thing fell down three times,” Dianne recalls with a laugh, “All the decorations broke!”

Christmas could only go up from there, and their daughter Kim MacGillivray says her dad made sure it did.

“From the moment Christmas ended,” Kim smiles. “That’s when his search would begin for [decorations] for the following year.”

Months before the holiday season, Rohn would start planning designs and constructing characters before transforming their home into to a popular seasonal spectacle.

“It looked like an airport,” Kim says. “It illuminated the road.”

“You almost had to wear sunglasses,” Dianne recalls. “It was so bright!”

While some might tease Rohn for being like Clark Griswold from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, they would also be quick to credit him for being like Kris Kringle from the North Pole, volunteering his time to dress in a Santa costume to visit care homes and community groups.

“The more joy he saw in people the more his heart felt full,” Kim smiles.

Which is why after the accident this spring, after they were told Rohn wouldn’t make it, the Brown family felt lost.

“How do you come back from that?” Kim asks, fighting back tears.

How do you celebrate the holiday season without the father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and husband of 40 years who made every Christmas so magical?

“I remember it was the day we took him off life-support,” Dianne says. “I turned to the kids and said, ‘We have to do the decorations for dad this year.”

So they started unpacking some of his lights and began putting out a few of his decorations in the front yard.

“If it means we can have just a little bit of him with us this year,” Kim says, after setting up illuminated penguins and candy canes. “Then that’s what we’re going to do.”

Although the display is not as elaborate as before, they say Rohn’s work was never really about the quantity of the seasonal stuff on display. It was always about the quality of happy memories it inspired for their family and neighbours.

“It’s not about the gifts and it’s not about rushing around here and there,” Kim says. “It’s about who is present in your life right now. Enjoy that. Embrace that.”

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