Teacher, mentor, advocate, adventurist, visionary. Fondly called ‘Di’ or ‘Mamgu’, her indomitable spirit was a force to be reckoned with. Despite her diminutive stature, exacerbated over recent years by osteoporosis and scoliosis, the effects of which she acknowledged with her customary grace and humour, my mother exuded an enormous presence that appeared unquenchable. Suddenly and peacefully while at home in Hamilton Ontario on May 29th, the light went out—leaving all who knew her stunned and in darkness. Born March 15th, 1935 in the village of Trehafod, Wales, Dielwen Elizabeth Sault proudly called herself a coalminer’s daughter and never forgot her humble beginnings. Despite living in her adopted homeland of Canada for over half her life, Di ensured her family understood and respected her ‘working class’ roots and their Welsh heritage. It was her personal mission to lead her beloved grandchildren, Tywen and Brynne, on several occasions and as recently as last year, back to the Rhondda valley to perceive where and how she spent her formative years. Her childhood provided the cornerstone to anchor her life in selfless generosity and tireless advocacy for those less fortunate. Ultimately, loss, in a variety of guises, shaped her life’s journey and cemented her unwavering desire to help others. Blessed with keen intellect and natural curiosity, the loss of her mother while still a teen propelled her into a career where she could help others. At that time, an aspiring young woman in a small village in Wales had very few career options. Medicine, for which she would have been a natural fit, was never an option, but fortunately for a generation of young impressionable minds, teaching was. An adventurist at heart, she seized the opportunity to move halfway around the world to take up her first post in Hong Kong. Hong Kong provided a bustling, cosmopolitan community full of opportunity which my mother, despite her unfamiliarity, tackled head-on. Years and two children later, with the first seeds of political unrest beginning to show, my mother, with typical aplomb and resiliency, agreed to immigrate to Canada with my father, Peter Bracken. Our family eventually settled in Oakville Ontario and, once satisfied that both my brother and I were safely ensconced in school, she devoted her considerable time and energy to teaching. Known for her insistence on the “Queen’s English” and uncompromising high standards, she was simultaneously the teacher most feared and loved. Her thirty-five-year teaching career forged enduring friendships with teaching colleagues, many of whom she continued to interact with weekly if not daily right up until her death. She mentored hundreds of students and young teachers and was always ‘tickled pink’ when she received messages from former students on social media attesting to her enduring importance to them. A life-threatening health crisis occurred when I was a young teen, which resulted in the loss of her colon and fundamentally altered her life’s course. She quickly found kinship with the local Ostomy society and over the years built impressive expertise, which she volunteered tirelessly as always, to anyone, anytime. A natural leader, she devoted innumerable hours to local, Canadian, and International groups to champion lifesaving ostomy surgery and access to ostomy supplies. Whether attending a meeting in South America as the first female president of the International Ostomy Association or more recently, negotiating with Iranian officials to secure acceptance of a desperately needed Ostomy supply shipment, her energy and commitment to help others never faltered. Whatever the situation demanded, regardless of her previous experience, Di could adapt and handle it. This was never more evident than honing her impressive and self-learned IT skills to produce the Ostomy newsletter digitally. A devoted teacher, my mother sacrificed her career and retired at fifty-eight in order to look after my children. She wanted to nurture the same respect for education, social justice and equity in them, the same way she had done for my brother Kerig and I. She told me on many occasions that she wanted to have a significant influence on her grandchildren’s lives and was not content to merely ‘babysit’ on the sidelines. She became their Mamgu (Welsh for grandmother) and cultivated a loving, nurturing environment affording both challenges and security. She helped raise Tywen and Brynne as she had with her own children. “Reach for the stars”, ‘’Respect is earned, not given” her mantra in my youth, once again resounded in our home. Her advice and opinion were always forthcoming, whether or not you wanted to hear it. It was during this time that my brother’s life began to unravel. Despite all of her efforts and devotion, Kerig passed away in September 2016. His loss deeply affected my mother, yet outwardly she remained her buoyant self, with renewed resolve and commitment to family. Family has always been her priority and although her biological family is very small, her extended family is legion and spread around the globe. These last four years, my spouse Jim and I have had the immense privilege of living with Di in our home in Hamilton. Our relationship flourished and she became my muse in addition to her already formidable role as anchor. She became Mamgu to Jim’s children, Brendan and Alley, and an ever-growing circle of friends. She leaves her only sibling Teifion (Gayle), my family, and her many close friends in darkness struggling to illuminate our lives from her lasting spark. If you would like to make a donation in her memory please consider some of these; Friends of Ostomates Worldwide (Canada), Workers Action Center, CAMH Foundation, and the Ontario SPCA, and Humane Society. A virtual memorial will be held in the future. Di loved dogs, especially labs, although the recent addition of Lola the Aussie doodle did meet with her approval; licorice allsorts, fish and chips, tennis, and Boney M. She did not “suffer fools gladly” and detested bigotry, racism and social injustice. She was a world traveller.
Published in The Hamilton Spectator on Jun. 4, 2020.