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McDONALD, Ethel Mary
(nee MacGowan)
"So when your eulogy's being read
With your life's actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?"
Ethel Mary McDonald (nee MacGowan), a devoted wife, a loving mother and grandmother, a generous friend, and a passionate genealogist, who passed away peacefully on Sunday, May 5, 2013, had much to be proud of in how she lived her dash.
Born on December 4, 1919 to a teacher from Coleraine, Northern Ireland and a daughter of one of the first fur traders in southern Alberta, Ethel's childhood was spent on a farm outside of Fort Macleod. When she turned 18, she moved to Medicine Hat, where she attended St. Theresa's College. Upon graduation, she moved to Fort Macleod, where she promptly got a job with the Municipal District of Bright. Before long she was doing the job of two people for the salary of one. Her outstanding work did not go unnoticed by the Imperial Bank of Commerce, which made her an attractive offer that she accepted. The MD of Bright replaced her with two men, both of whom were paid more than she had been, an experience that turned her into a early feminist.
Into the bank one day came a dashing young lawyer named Jack McDonald, who, charmed by Ethel, asked her out by writing a note on the back of his deposit slip. She said yes, and on April 4, 1944 they were married. The young couple soon left Macleod to seek their post-war fortune in Calgary where they spent the next 61 years together, welcoming a son, Bruce, in 1948, and a daughter, Nancy, two and a half years later.
As many women were in that era, Ethel was a stay-at-home mother, something from which her two children benefitted greatly. She always took a keen interest in their lives, providing invaluable encouragement and support with each new endeavour they undertook. Ethel always told her children they could do anything they put their minds to, and both Bruce and Nancy credit a great deal of their subsequent success to her.
A firm believer in supporting her community, Ethel spent countless hours volunteering for a number of organizations, including the Providence Creche, the Cancer Society, Christ Church, and the Glenbow Museum. She also gave generously of her time to the Women's Canadian Club, serving as the organization's president during Canada's Centennial - a highlight of her time as a volunteer.
With her two children at university, Ethel decided to go back to work. While she was nervous about it at first - she had, after all, been out of the workforce for about 20 years - she knew what she wanted to do, and off she went and applied to bookstore owner Evelyn De Mille, who hired her on the spot. Thus began Ethel's second career, one that lasted 25 years and saw her become a manager at WH Smith as well as the Guild Gallery.
As satisfying as her career was, Ethel's greatest joy was always her family, which grew to three granddaughters - Meredith, Pamela, and Alison - who were the loves of her life, and two great-grandchildren, Myles and Adelaide. They all gave her tremendous joy.
The latter part of Ethel's life was filled with challenges. The first - and greatest - was losing her granddaughter Pamela in 2004. Two years later, she lost her beloved Jack. That was followed by a period during which her eyesight and hearing deteriorated steadily, forcing her into assisted living. Through it all, however, Ethel never complained. She grieved privately, always presenting a gracious exterior, and putting the needs of others before her own.
Ethel was a tremendous role model who inspired all she met. While it was impossible for anyone to equal her combination of dignity, fortitude, selflessness and kindness, those who strove to follow her example were better people for having tried. Some called it the "essential Ethel factor."
Ethel is survived by her son Bruce (Pat) of Calgary, her daughter Nancy (Heinz Avigdor) of Stratford, granddaughters Meredith and Alison, daughter-in-law Sandra Hunt McDonald, all of Calgary, and numerous nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her brother Gordon MacGowan of Saskatoon, her sister Irene Quinn of Victoria, and her parents Alfred J. and Annie MacGowan.
Funeral Services will be held at Christ Church, Elbow Park, on Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 1:00 p.m., followed by a reception. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Canadian National Institute of the Blind.
Published in The Calgary Herald from May 7 to May 8, 2013
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