Family says Air France passenger had a 'great life'
GUELPH, Ont. - Norene Clemes hasn't seen her jet-setting son as often as a mother would like during the past 14 years.
But now, as she awaits official word that Canadian Brad Clemes perished with more than 200 others when Air France Flight 447 vanished Monday over the Atlantic Ocean, she's holding dear to her heart their last visit several weeks ago.
"It was one of the few times that I had a one-on-one with him for any length of time, it was really very special, actually," said Clemes when reached at her Guelph, Ont., home.
"I said to him, 'How many times have we, in the last few years, been alone -- actually alone -- together?' So it was very special."
Brad Clemes, 49, was born and raised in the southwestern Ontario city but moved abroad with his family in the mid-1990s.
He's believed to be the only Canadian flying with 228 people on an Airbus A330 that disappeared en route to Paris from Brazil.
Brazilian military pilots conducting a search spotted an airplane seat, a life jacket, metallic debris and signs of fuel in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday, but found no signs of life.
Family members of the married father of two sons in their 20s are focusing on the good times as they come to grips with the fact their loved one may never be found.
"He's one of these people that never sits still, go-go-go, very energetic," Norene Clemes said, adding he was a well-liked, intelligent individual.
"He wanted to live in Europe because he wanted to have his two sons grow up and know the whole world."
Clemes earned a business degree from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., and a Masters degree at York University in Toronto.
He worked in Toronto in the early 1990s before moving abroad to become a marketing manager for Coca-Cola in South Africa. He also worked in Eurasia and the Middle East before eventually settling in Brussels with his wife, Anne.
Air France and Coca-Cola have confirmed Clemes, a more than 21-year employee, was on board the missing plane.
His last visit to Canada occurred several weeks ago, when he paid a brief visit to his hometown during a business trip to the beverage industry giant's Atlanta-based head office, his mother said.
"I wondered if he'd ever wind down, I never saw him sit down and rest," she said.
When his eldest brother Blake Clemes, 55, closes his eyes, he fondly pictures "just him laughing and smiling, that's the kind of personality he was," he said.
His favourite memories include golfing with Brad and his other two brothers all across North America and other parts of the world, including a recent round in Scotland.
"We're a very close family, always yucked it up a lot and always trying to make each other laugh and have a good time," he said.
Although an avid world traveller, the man always had a special place in his heart for Canada, his brother said.
"(He and his sons) still, even though they've lived all over the world, they still see themselves as truly Canadian," he said.
"(It was) a great life he had."
Clemes was a champion gymnast during his youth who belonged to the first Canadian team to compete in Poland, his brother added. He also proudly held the title of youngest flag bearer for Canada during an international meet in Toronto.
Blake said another of his brothers -- there are six siblings total -- has flown to be with Brad's wife overseas, where they'll attend a memorial for all the missing people in Paris taking place in the next few days.
Then the family will return home to mourn together, likely holding their own service in his honour.
Among the plane's 216 passengers were 61 French citizens, 58 Brazilians, 26 Germans, nine Chinese and nine Italians. A lesser number of citizens from 27 other countries were also on the passenger list, including two Americans.
Among the devastating losses were ten salesmen for France-based CGED, an electrical distributor, who were on the plane with their spouses after winning a vacation to Brazil.
Air France said 11 of the 12 crew members were French. The flight captain, 58, joined the company in 1988 and had 11,000 flight hours, including 1,700 on aircraft of the same type as the passenger jet that disappeared. The two co-pilots were 37 and 32 and had over 9,000 flight hours between them.