Gwendolyn Marion (Clarke) O’Donoughue 1925-2011

January 25, 2012

 Excerpt from the Eulogy delivered by April O’Donoughue for her mother’s funeral, January 7, 2012.

Gwen was born in 1925 in Upper Kennetcook – a tiny hamlet inNova Scotia.  A proud Nova Scotian (she called it God’s country!), she was also very proud of her Celtic roots — a mix of Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Cornish.

When she would talk about her childhood, a whole era would come alive.  From the one-classroom school, her father’s general store, the first telephone and television … life during the depression when homeless travelers would stop in for a bed and a meal in exchange for some work, and the days when her family welcomed airmen during the war…


Those were the years where she learned about generosity and compassion for others… something she never lost.


I remember when she taught me as a child to put myself in another person’s shoes.

This is what she always did, throughout her life – put herself in other people’s shoes.


I was always impressed with how thoughtful she was, how she remembered everyone’s birthdays, how she took a deep interest in people’s lives and truly cared about them as though they were all her children.


Little Gwennie was a tom-boy, who loved fishing in the nearby creek, and riding neighbours horses…


She was a voracious reader.  When reading, the sky could fall around her and she would keep on reading.  In fact, in her final weeks, she asked us to read to her every day.


She loved music and was a great dancer…


She was courageous and bold.

– When WWII broke out, she was too young to enlist but she wanted to serve her country so badly that she tried to stow away on a navy ship inHalifaxharbour and almost succeeded in going to war!

– She eventually joined the CWACs (the Canadian Women’s Army Corps), and served for a year.

– When we were kids, she was the only parent who would brave snow storms to pick up everyone’s children at boarding school inMontreal. One such snow storm hadMontrealshut down, people going around only on ski-doos, and guess what? My mother came to get us. I was so proud!


Mum had a sense of adventure.  Her mother used to call her “Restless Gwen”.


She never let anything stop her from doing something she wanted to do, whether it be distance, money, convention or sexual bias.


There are too many stories to tell here about her adventures.

However, had she not had this desire for adventure, she would not have moved to exoticMontrealand met our Dad – a French-Canadian Catholic. 


In this, her biggest adventure of all, she had 5 children in 10 years, and raised 8 dogs, 7 cats, two horses and a cow. 


Together with Dad, they opened their home and their hearts to everyone:

She was a mother to all. Everyone who knew her loved her.  She always listened and went out of her way to help others.


She had an unbelievable memory    Recently she hated that she could not remember everything perfectly… But even then, her memory was 10 times greater than mine!


Mum had a very strong moral compass. As much as she was a kind soul, she was also a fierce defender – passionate and strong – of her family and friends (including the four-legged variety).


One such story that exemplifies this is when she was about 17 inHalifaxand she spotted a man whipping his poor old undernourished horse who was struggling to pull a wagon full of coal up a steep cobblestoned street. Before he realized it, she had grabbed the whip out of his hand and jumped in front of him yelling at him to stop. He was very angry and aggressive, but she had no fear.  She ended up with a crowd cheering her on. 


Mum was also forgiving of people’s foibles – (unless they had deliberately been mean to someone and had no regrets!)


She was a peacemaker

In fact, she said to me two weeks ago that she hoped all of her children would remember to practice tolerance, to accept others as they are.


She was wise and possessed an abundance of common sense.


MUM LOVED ALL LIVING THINGS…She loved nature, especially trees.

In fact, our home was built in an odd shape because there was a big old tree that she refused to have cut down.  The veranda had holes in it to accommodate trees…


She loved animals and she loved people (she made friends in all walks of life).


I think she connected with people because they sensed that she was genuinely interested in them and cared.


Mum always looked at the bright side of things.   She was always positive and cheerful.


Our cousin Tracy told me yesterday of when Mum once drove toNova Scotiaat the most dreary, rainy and foggy time of year in early spring before the leaves are out but after the snow has gone… When she arrived, they said: “That must have been a long and depressing drive in this terrible weather.”  And she exclaimed that on the contrary, it was absolutely beautiful, that you could just feel life bursting at the seams, with the buds ready to open, and the rivers filled to overflowing…” 


Mum believed that anything was possible.  She taught us that if we followed our dreams, and if they were aligned with our values, then everything was possible.


When in the 1940’s, women were told that there were things that a lady could and could not do… Mum bought a Harley Davidson with oversized pistons.  She was one of those pioneers…


She always had a mischievous side and knew how to have fun. I can still see that glint in her eye and that smile…She also always kept a childlike sense of wonder and awe.


I will miss her rich and deep voice as cousinLynnsaid: “I always loved to hear Gwen speak.  Her voice was very warm, rich and colorful, with thatNova Scotialilt.  It was like listening to music.” 

Mum loved life, she embraced it, and she truly lived it!

Mum we will all miss you so much. 

And every time I see a cheerful little chickadee… or hear the wind in the trees… or see the bright stars at night… I will know that you are near.


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