Wife, mother, sister, friend, mentor, traveller, ethical advocate, blithe spirit. Born March 29, 1961, in Cooksville, Ont. Died Nov. 1, 2011, in Toronto of complications from breast cancer, aged 50.
As comfortable at the head table of the Empire Club as she was at her own kitchen table, Heather Schoeler was the picture of grace and integrity. Above all, this diminutive woman had one outstanding trait: her courage.
The second daughter of John and Bernice McKenzie, Heather started life as a timid child. But her shyness was overshadowed by her sense of humour and genuine wit.
She met the love of her life, Bob Schoeler, in Grade 2. However, it wasn’t until Grade 12, when Bob invited her to the prom at Thornhill Secondary School, that they fell in love. They exchanged wedding vows in 1983.
Heather started her career as an executive assistant, but soon demonstrated she had the capacity to be an executive herself. While she and Bob raised two children, John and Rachel, Heather strived to further her career. To gain confidence, she joined Toastmasters. To increase her potential, she completed her MBA online through Athabasca University. For three years, the GO train was her study hall – she didn’t want her assignments to interfere with her family life.
Her determination paid off. She served as vice-president at several multinational firms, including Scudder Financial and ING Investments. The final stop in her career was vice-president of social responsibility at Intact Investments, a role that satisfied her passion for ethics.
Being a mother was her greatest joy. She happily drove Rachel to swimming at 5 a.m., arrived at the office by 7:30 a.m. and was home in time for dinner to share her children’s daily triumphs and challenges.
Heather’s boundless energy and cheer made it easy to forget that she spent the last 11 years of her life dealing with breast cancer. On her fridge was Charles Swindoll’s Attitude poem, with the line, “Life is 10 per cent what happens to me and 90 per cent how I react to it.” Heather embraced that philosophy.
Never knowing how many years were left, she revelled in each moment, whether relaxing in the hot tub, spending time with her children, golfing, hosting huge parties or travelling with friends and family. Privately, she resented her illness; publicly, she appeared strong and positive.
Heather supported many charities, including the Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital, where her positive attitude made her an inspiring and much-loved patient. In June, the centre informed her they planned to name one of the new treatment rooms in her honour. Heather declined: “Thank you, but no one knows who Heather Schoeler is. Please name the room for my primary care nurse, Lisa Varity.” Lisa’s support made the most difficult days of Heather’s life more bearable, and Heather wanted her dedication to be recognized.
Heather moved through life with courage, laughter and determination. She understood the importance of the journey rather than the destination.
By Beth Everson, Heather’s sister; Brenda Martin, Heather’s friend; and Bob Schoeler; Heather’s husband.