Renowned cook, killer bridge player, compassionate soul, woman on the go. Born Aug. 13, 1920, in Chipman, N.B. Died Sept. 16, 2011, in Kentville, N.S., of natural causes, aged 91.
Some people never grow old. At 89, Gwen Healy was still crisscrossing the countryside in her trusty Volvo – off to bridge one day, an auction the next. At 90, between walking the dog and entertaining, she’d bake a perfect pound cake, make pickles and prune the roses. On the day she died at 91, she joined family on a tour of the art exhibit at the hospital where she was an inpatient.
A twin to brother Garfield, Gwen was one of five children of Jennie and Wilson Fraser. At 7, Gwen lost her mother to appendicitis, and two years later, her youngest sister, Barbara, died of pneumonia. Whatever scars remained she kept to herself.
As a child she was, like her brother Andy, antagonistic toward her stepmother, Agnes. Motherhood softened Gwen though, as did discovering that she and Agnes had the same generous nature.
When Gwen was a teenager, she and her sister Evelyn, both organists, would accompany the local minister from church to church for Sunday services. Upon graduation from high school, Gwen entered the Saint John General Hospital School of Nursing. As a registered nurse there, she was the first to administer the new drug penicillin. Others feared it. She believed it would save lives.
In 1942, she joined the army as a nurse and moved to nearby Sussex, N.B., where she met a lieutenant with a broken leg named Bob Healy. They married within months of meeting, and for the next 12 years, Gwen nurtured their growing family while Bob completed university, medical school and a surgical residency.
In 1957, they moved to Kentville, N.S., and Bob established his practice. They bought a farm overlooking the Annapolis Valley and accumulated a hoard of animals. For companionship following Bob’s death in 2006, Gwen got a puppy and kitten. Her devotion to animals was legendary – she never turned away a stray and once nursed back to life two abandoned infant raccoons.
The well-being of her children, Robert, Stephen, Paul, and Elizabeth, was paramount to Gwen. Caring sustained her. Over the last half of her life, she occupied herself making more than 20 quilts, one for each member of her growing family.
Gwen was a lady, a model of calm poise. Grammar and etiquette mattered. As did discretion: “Is that so?” she’d reply to rumour. But she also had a cheeky sense of humour. Her love of reading nourished her intelligence and gave her an open mind. Passing on the books and heirlooms that filled her home made her happy.
Few people were kinder than Gwen, and fewer still could make you feel as welcome. We’re fortunate that, in the absence of her embrace, we still have “Nanny’s quilts.”
By Elizabeth Clarke, Gwen’s daughter.