Mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, volunteer, gardener, traveller. Born Feb. 3, 1916, in Quebec City. Died July 18, 2011, in Kingston of heart failure, aged 95.
The story of how Margaret met and married Jim Sutcliffe is the stuff of romance novels.
She was born in Quebec City, the eldest of eight children, to Ethel Ross and Desmond FitzGerald. The family lived in Loretteville, then a village in the foothills of the Laurentians where her grandfather, Henry Ross, had established a business making slippers, snowshoes and canoes.
The Anglophone community was small with a tiny church and a one-room schoolhouse. Margaret often reminisced about her happy, active childhood with the countryside at her back door and the wonders of Quebec City not far away. She, like her brothers and sisters, was fluently bilingual and had strong friendships with neighbouring Francophone families.
Then Jim Sutcliffe entered her life in 1937. A young Australian travelling the globe, he was on a leave of absence from his job at the Melbourne Herald. He looked up her uncle in Quebec City after getting his name as a business connection. They met when Margaret’s uncle invited her into town to show Jim the sights.
Jim’s travels were cut short by the threat of war and he returned to Australia in 1939 to enlist. By then they were engaged, so Margaret travelled to Australia on her own after war had been declared. She often would laugh about her thoughts as the ship entered Sydney Harbour, wondering what she would do if she didn’t like him any more. As it turned out, that proved not to be a problem. They wed in 1940 with a marriage that lasted 66 years until Jim died in 2006.
Margaret stayed in Melbourne throughout the war, taking on several jobs and volunteer assignments and making lifelong friends. She lived with constant worry about Jim’s fate as he saw active service in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. At the end of the war, her daughter Helen was born. The great sadness of her life was that she was not able to have any more children.
Margaret and Jim sailed for Canada in 1947, first to Quebec City, then to Kingston where Margaret’s uncle had recommended Jim for a job with the Whig Standard, where he ultimately became general manager. Margaret was a dedicated parent, serving as president of the home-and-school association at Helen’s public school and as a Girl Guide leader. In their middle years, she and Jim were able to indulge again in their love of travel by visiting many parts of Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia and China.
Margaret was tiny, a fastidious dresser and a gracious host. Even near death, she was unfailingly polite, asking the doctors at her bedside how they were. As one nurse said, “She’s as cute as a button.” Among her effects is a button that reads “Petite but Powerful,” which describes her to a T.
Helen Cooper is Margaret’s daughter.
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