Sunday, March 22, 2015
Leather & Lace
Scott friends and family fill Rotary Hall for Celebration
Anne Russell, Rosedale/Voice photos
Jean Scott goes face-to-face with Adrian
Dix in January 2013. Below, Patti Macahonic together with Scott in
lost my oldest friend a few weeks ago. Not oldest in terms of duration of
the friendship, although we were going on 14 years. No, my friend Jean was
simply the oldest person I had ever known, two months short of her 103rd
Jean had been a social activist
longer than most people have been alive. She devoted her life to
causes that promote social justice, women’s equality, and the rights
of the common person.
Many know the public Jean, but I was lucky enough to get to know the
private Jean, as we forged a strong friendship borne of mutual
admiration. I love to hear stories, and she loved to tell them, so
for a decade and a half I heard many chapters from the story of
Back in 2001 I was a busy mum, juggling kids, marriage, and a
full-time job, when I met Jean. She called me up at work, having
somehow got my number, and demanded to know: “What is the university
planning to do to commemorate Person’s Day this year?”
boss, who knew her, told me to do anything Jean wanted.
First Jean had to educate me about the Person’s Case of 1929 and why
there even is a Person’s Day, commemorating when the Privy Council
recognized women as persons under the law. Then I helped her find
speakers, order refreshments, and promote the event, which went
Fascinated by the impact this octogenarian had had locally,
provincially, and nationally, I decided to nominate her for an
honorary doctorate at the local university. That continued our
formal relationship a while longer, and I was delighted, as was she,
when the nomination was successful.
That could have been it for Jean and I, but I was intrigued by this
feisty senior who seemed to have personal experiences relating to
every major event of the 20th century. The Titanic? It sank in the
weeks before she was born. World War I? She could remember her uncle
going to fight in it. The Spanish Flu? It nearly killed her father.
The Depression? She scraped through it doing menial labour. World
War II? She had a dalliance with a German POW. The 60s? She helped
arrange health care for the hippies on Vancouver’s Fourth Avenue.
The 70s? She was a driving force nationally in feminist issues.
I didn’t have time for a new “old” friend, but I was won over by her
energy, her relentless positivism, and her verve, and we quickly
became close. How could I resist? Besides, I figured, she was almost
90. How long would this friendship go on for anyway?
Although I escorted her to many public events and she loved them
all, the best parts of our friendship were the private moments.
and Scott at the Chilliwack Cultch on her 100th birthday in March
She became a treasured elder in our family, and loved nothing more
than being invited to share dinner around our table after a country
drive out to our house. (She loved food in all forms, had a robust
appetite, cooked for herself into her 100th year, and the last word
I heard her speak was “delicious” as the nurse fed her some
I wasn’t her only friend, of course. She was so effusive that many
were drawn to her positivism. Jean had a healthy ego and an
extremely strong need for her voice to be heard. I think she lasted
so long partly because she couldn’t stand to think of a world
Her drive to share the narrative of 20th century women’s experience
through the lens of her own life led to her writing and
self-publishing Brown Sugar and a Bone in the Throat, her memoir of
growing up in poverty, overcoming abusive relationships, and
emerging into a political consciousness that inspired her to speak
up for others. One of my proudest achievements was helping to stage
a public reading of the book, with my daughters reading the part of
young Jean and women friends of every age reading the other stages.
also enjoyed taking her to visit my son’s Grade 3 class as a
living example of a 100-year-old, who proved to them that
centenarians CAN dance (AND play the ukulele).
Jean was a living link to many stages of Canadian history and an
inveterate name dropper who had known Pierre Berton, Alice
Munro, Margaret Laurence, and every left-leaning politician, it
She demonstrated how to grow very old gracefully while remaining
extremely engaged with loved ones and community, all the while
retaining a sense of humour, vivaciousness and a lust for life.
(Did I mention she was also a notorious flirt?)
When she began suffering with heart trouble late last year, she
“All this time I never knew I HAD a heart, it just kept ticking
away and giving me no trouble. Now the bottom half works but the
top isn’t doing so well, and apparently you need your WHOLE
heart to work.”
I replied: “Oh, believe me, your whole heart has been working
hard for a long time! Just look at how you’ve shared it with so
Having lost Jean, but not begrudging her passing (she was 102
after all) I reflected on her attitude towards life, which is
part of what kept me so eager to continue to be her friend.
I recently read that only 10% of those born in 1917 made it to
age 85. Jean, born five years before that, made it to almost
103. So she outlived her peer group by a long shot, but stayed
connected to the world by continually making new friends from
Scott flanked by Patti MacAhonic (L) and Gail Johnson at Gwen
O'Mahony's constituency office opening April 2013.
So in the hopes that we should all
have the good fortune to live life to the fullest for as long as
we get to be here, I offer you some life lessons from our friend
1) Embrace life with passion
From an early age (I know, because I listened to her stories and
read her book), Jean met the world with excitement and unbridled
enthusiasm. From the brown sugar she recalls sneaking from the
barrels in her father’s grocery store, to the beauty of the
blossoming fruit trees on Spadina Avenue, to the many types of
music that she played and enjoyed listening to, to men she
flirted with and the women and children she engaged with and
encouraged, Jean brought a certain gusto and appreciation to
everything she encountered.
2) BE engaged, with your causes, your passions, your
I often thought that what was keeping Jean alive was one more
project, one more cause. She moved to Chilliwack in her late
60s, ostensibly to retire, but took on project after project,
all of them for the betterment of the community. I know she did
this in her six previous decades as well. The Chilliwack Museum,
housed in our heritage city hall thanks in part to Jean, the
transition house movement, the Academy of Music, the local NDP
chapter, the Heritage Singers, the Carman United Church, and
others all benefited from her devotion to causes that Jean cared
about and that helped others.
Inspire others to care about the things that matter to you
Jean didn’t have Facebook or Twitter to spread the word about
her projects and causes (although someone – not me – did create
a Facebook profile for her that you can check out if you want).
No, she spread the word about her causes the old-fashioned ways:
letters to the editor, photocopied flyers (she would say
mimeographed), telephone chains, and fiery speeches. A few years
before I formally met her, I encountered her at the campaign
offices for the Alliance for a Better Chilliwack, where she was
improvising lyrics to a campaign song for the municipal election
coalition. Whatever approach she used, she was always
inspirational, infecting others with her enthusiasm.
4) Value education
It brings joy to my heart to know that something I instigated
brought joy to Jean’s heart. Receiving an honorary doctorate
from UFV was one of her peak life experiences, because she had
always regretted not getting a university education. But Jean
was a lifelong learner. One of her prized possessions was a
plaque with a quote from Michelangelo that said: “I am still
learning.” Among her favourite sources of knowledge and culture
were CBC Radio, library books, concerts and theatre outings, and
courses taken through UFV partner Elder College.
5) Appreciate friendship and family
Anyone who was friends with Jean became friends with her entire
circle by proxy. For years I heard stories about Spencer and
Sonia and their kids and grandkids, her sisters and nieces and
nephews, long-lost relatives who came back into her life, and
friends Sharon and Phil Blaker, Pat Carfra, Jean and Jim Servizi,
Doug Wickers, Bobbi Jacobs, Brenda Janzen, and others. She
thanked me every time we saw each other for being a good friend
to her, and always insisted on hugs and kisses. She was
appreciative of every outing, especially one Christmas Eve when
she was snowed in – unable to get to Langley, and we brought her
out through the storm for prime rib at our house and an
impromptu trip to the Rosedale United Church’s candlelight
ceremony. And she remembered incredible details about me and my
family –- not always accurately -– but very vividly. For years
she mistakenly thought my daughter Molly wanted to be an
architect and would tell her about famous female architects.
When two of her sisters died in their 90s a week apart in 2008,
she felt so adrift that she sought formal grief counselling. On
her last good day, she asked me to bring my kids to see her, so
the next day I did, on what turned out to be her last -– not so
good -– day. But she still beckoned my girls to her bedside and
grasped their hands for a final loving connection with her
6) Be grounded
Jean loved social life and the adrenalin buzz that came along
with it but she also appreciated the basic good things in life,
such as home-made food. Up to the age of 100, the woman could
take a butcher’s bone and an onion and come up with a tasty
soup. She didn’t understand why you’d buy muffins from a store
when you could make your own. Until she left her own home with a
yard she grew a bounteous garden. Simply listening to music,
singing, playing the piano, or meditating on a poem or a prayer
also grounded her. And of course there was the soothing company
of her cat Nicky -– unfriendly to so many but so devoted to her.
7) Spread love and joy as part of your daily life
You couldn’t be friends with Jean without hugs and kisses -– on
the lips! But I also saw her share love wherever she went. She
would have kind words for the waitress, ask after the taxi
driver’s family, encourage the many UFV students she met at
events, throw cheerful words out as she pushed her walker down
the hall at the Lynnwood, and profusely thank the nurses as they
tended to her in her hospital bed. A fine example to follow!
8) Share what you know
When I was interviewing Gwen Point, the new Chancellor at our
University, she told me that her grandmother told her this:
“What you know has no value. It’s like sand falling through your
hand unless you pass it on to others.” Jean understood this, and
was forever teaching others, about the importance of women’s
rights, major achievements in the labour movement, local history
from both Chilliwack and her prairie homes of Rocanville and
McAuley, and lessons learned from years in the trenches fighting
for the common good.
9) Make sure your voice is heard and your story is told
Not all of us have the gift of rhetoric and a whole
autobiography itching to be written, but we all have a story.
Jean’s keen desire to tell hers so that it would not be
forgotten led to her writing her memoir. That should inspire us
all. You may not write 20 chapters, but your story shouldn’t die
with you. All of our stories are important. History is the
collection of individual narratives. Start telling yours to your
family and friends so that your stories and the experiences and
wisdom that shaped you lives on in their hearts.
And speaking of hearts, here’s the final life lesson we can
learn from Jean:
10) Keep hope in your heart
Jean was an eternal optimist, despite a life filled with
struggle. She NEVER gave up. As she languished at home with the
heart trouble that eventually led to her demise, she told me she
had to get better so she could host one more birthday party in
April. So as we celebrate the equinox today, one month from what
would have been Jean’s 103rd birthday, let’s all take a little
hope in our hearts home with us.
The Original Feminist - Friday, March 30, 2012
See photos below from Scott's
Celebration of life March 21, 2015 at the Rotary Hall at the
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Thanks for looking.