Mother, wife, world dragon boat champion, artist, project manager, seeker. Born Dec. 25, 1961, in Kitchener, Ont. Died Nov. 6, 2011, in Auckland, New Zealand, of a pulmonary embolism, aged 49.
Most people who knew Iris Schmidt agree she never did anything in half measures. Whether gardening, paddling, sculpting or looking after her aquariums, she put her heart into everything.
The second of four children of Alfons and Christel Schmidt, Iris grew up in Kitchener, Ont. In 1983, she moved to Toronto to study fashion design at Seneca College.
Opportunities were scarce in the fashion industry when she graduated, so Iris found work as a teller at Canada Trust. From there she took on increasingly responsible positions at a number of financial institutions, finding her niche in project management. She spent the past five years as a project manager at RBC Dexia.
In 1993, Iris married Stephen McShane. They had two children, Connor and Matthew.
Iris described herself as an awkward teenager with no obvious athletic ability or co-ordination, but she discovered her real talent when she started dragon boating in her early 30s. At first she paddled for corporate teams, but soon more competitive crews were seeking her out as a team member. She competed for Canada at the world championships in Italy in 2002 and Poland in 2003, and helped her teams win a number of medals, including gold.
In 2005, she took up kayaking. She showed the same dedication to training, often out paddling at twilight in the late spring and early fall, using a headlamp for illumination.
Iris loved being on the water and described how it melted away her stress. In the winter of 2007, she wrote in her journal: “I miss the calmness, the serenity and the quiet of paddling. Just me, the elements and the soothing in my heart that it provides.”
In her early 40s, Iris started to explore her artistic talent, taking classes in painting, wood carving and sculpture. Her wood-carving instructor advised her to start off with a small project, but Iris, never one to shy away from a challenge, had a Haida-style image in her head and produced a full-sized mask from a large wood block. She also loved working with clay and produced many sculptures of mythological creatures that still lurk amid the bushes and flowers of her garden.
Iris always encouraged her children to try new activities and she led the family on many adventures – hiking in the Grand Canyon, snowboarding in Vermont and canoeing in Algonquin Park.
She loved to travel and jumped at the chance to attend her brother’s wedding in Brisbane, Australia, last fall. She was looking forward to a week in New Zealand before the wedding but tragically never got to enjoy the trip. Iris succumbed to a sudden pulmonary embolism just prior to landing in Auckland.
By Stephen McShane, Iris’s husband.