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Florence Rother
Florence Rother

Lives Lived: Florence Rother, 97 Add to ...

Wife, mother, medical secretary, unofficial social worker. Born on March 30, 1919, in Toronto; died on July 9, 2016, in Toronto, of natural causes, aged 97.

“Two bathrooms and two TVs.” That was Mom`s stock response to the oft-repeated question about what accounted for the success of her extraordinarily happy 73-year marriage.

She grew up the only daughter in a family of five boys born to Russian Jewish immigrants. Her experiences as a first-generation Canadian influenced her entire life. Her father died when she was young and her mother took in boarders to support the family. Toronto in the 1930s and ’40s was a very different place. When Florence Warshavsky applied for a job as a receptionist, she was asked: “Are you of the Jewish persuasion?” She answered honestly and, coincidentally, did not get the position.

She was 16 when she met Irving Rother and, despite her numerous stories of a busy teenage social life, he was always “the one.” They married just as Irving entered the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1943 and immediately moved to Ottawa, where she remained while he served overseas in England and Belgium.

Theirs was a true partnership. When Irv returned home and was unable to secure a medical residency because of the common practice of Jewish “quotas” for specialty training, Florence typed dozens of applications to U.S. hospitals. They settled in Baltimore where she worked as a medical secretary, supporting the two of them while he finished his medical studies. The lure of a more open, accepting U.S. society was strong, but the pull of their two extended families proved stronger and they returned to Toronto in 1948 after the birth of their first child, Annalee.

Irving specialized in hematology, a relatively new field at the time. As his practice grew, Florence was often light-heartedly accused of practising medicine without a licence. It was an era when patients called doctors at home and if Irv wasn’t around, she would speak with the patients. At the end of a conversation, the patient often no longer needed to talk to the doctor. She always understood the importance of careful listening and emotional support.

Eventually three more children (Judy, Barbara and Mark) arrived and, busy with her young family and a large old home, Florence chose to have an extra pair of hands around. These helpers were frequently new immigrants who seldom lasted longer than a couple of years. It wasn’t that they were unhappy in the job, but rather that Mom was convinced that household work was only a stepping stone for these newcomers. She found the closest English-language programs for them to attend, helped them learn how to use the transit system, and researched night classes that might lead to good careers. They frequently came back to visit her (and we know of at least one child named in Mom’s honour).

Perhaps because her own formal education was abbreviated by the Depression, Florence was a lifelong learner, attending lectures and cultural events. When Irving retired at 75, they continued to pursue their passion for early Canadian art. They also spent endless hours exploring far-flung neighbourhoods in their beloved hometown.

Florence welcomed six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. At 93, she and Irving danced at their granddaughter’s wedding. She died in the house where she had lived for 67 years, her adored husband by her side. In her final years, she frequently expressed gratitude for a long life filled with much good fortune and few tears.

Annalee Schnurr is Florence’s daughter.

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