Teacher, librarian, editor, aunt, cousin. Born April 18, 1924, in Toronto, died Aug. 31, 2012, in Toronto of complications from surgery, aged 88.
Jean called herself a “rare bird” because she was born, raised, educated and employed all of her working years in Toronto.
Indeed, Jean was a rarity, endowed with unusual qualities. Her sharp intellect tempered with a delightful sense of humour and her keen interest in people accompanied by devout faith in God made Jean a truly rare friend.
She was the first child of WinifredfixedbyJG and George Vale. An outstanding member of the first graduating class of Lawrence Park collegiate in 1941, she earned an Honours BA in English from St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto in 1945.
After working as an editor for the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants for 13 years, she began her teaching career in 1962. After persistent part-time study, she earned an MA in English and became associate head of English at North Toronto Collegiate in 1970. She was head of the school’s library when she retired in 1987.
Jean’s knowledge was encyclopedic. She could answer questions raised by people around her and by Alex Trebek in Jeopardy!, which she enjoyed daily.
She did not find computers user-friendly, and often jokingly attributed her early retirement to fear of the “computer invasion.” Jean never learned how to Google, but with an unshakable faith in printed words she was expert at navigating labyrinths of volumes.
To explore other cultures and meet people different from her, Jean travelled widely before rheumatoid arthritis robbed her of her mobility. She not only made trips to England, her ancestral homeland, but also to numerous countries in Western and Eastern Europe, North, South and Central America, China and Zimbabwe.
Throughout her life, Jean developed bonds with people of diverse racial and religious backgrounds. She volunteered countless hours helping people learn English as a second language. She always treated people the way she wanted to be treated. In her last years, she fostered close relationships with the diverse staff at her retirement home.
Although the Great Depression taught her how to live thriftily, Jean had a charitable spirit and was generous with her money when she saw a need to help others.
Unmarried and childless, Jean left behind her a large family gathered from beyond all conceivable boundaries. She touched many people’s hearts and lives, be they her niece, her cousins, friends, fellow Catholics, Afghan refugees or Chinese-Canadian families.
Jean was a unique person, a “rare bird” who earnestly believed in serving God through helping her fellow human beings.
Jennifer Jianghai Mei is a member of Jean’s inclusive family.