Optician, volunteer, life-long learner, grandmother. Born May 22, 1920, in Montreal, died Sept. 5, 2012, in Montreal of esophageal cancer and pneumonia, aged 92.
When Frances Yaffe was little, children made fun of her by drawing chalk figures of a skinny girl with huge feet. This was appropriate, as her own children would later learn that nobody could fill her shoes.
Frances grew up in a variety of cold water flats in parts of Montreal that are trendy today, but were nothing of the sort then. Her father had a grocery store that had the only radio in the area during the Depression. Frances would reminisce about how neighbourhood people would huddle around that radio to listen to their favourite nightly shows.
Women at that time were not encouraged to to go to university or pursue a career. Still, Frances took courses to become one of Quebec’s first female dispensing opticians, work she pursued part-time for decades.
She found the perfect mate in her artist husband, Norman Kucharsky. They shared a love of the arts and travel, which started on their honeymoon when they took the bus to Mexico.
For the last 54 years of her life, she made her home in a duplex in suburban St. Laurent. She refused to move to a seniors’ home and succeeded in staying at home even when her body finally faltered.
As her children Cyndi, Judy and Danny grew up, Frances began to take art courses at Sir George Williams University and then Concordia. Later, she switched to commerce and managed to slog through calculus, though she grumbled about allegedly unfair tests. Well into her 80s, she sat in on classes, the oldest student in class by about 60 years. Although she never bothered to obtain a university degree, she undoubtedly had enough credits for one.
Her determination extended to exercise. At 90, she continued to take the bus and metro to her fitness class, regardless of weather.
She and Norman held off on long trips until their children were older, but made up for it in spades, seeing much of Europe, China and Israel, to name a few places. After Norman died in 1999, Frances travelled to Japan, South Africa and Russia. On her last big trip, at 90, she saw the Grand Canyon.
She had a strong sense of community service, working as a volunteer listener at a telephone distress line and teaching illiterate adults to read.
Frances ruled in the kitchen, and was celebrated for everything from her chicken soup to chopped liver. She would grill eggplant directly on the stove element, almost burning the house down every time and cursing when the smoke detector went off.
She always kept up with the latest Woody Allen films and Mad Men episodes. Weekdays were not complete without watching Charlie Rose and Judge Judy in the afternoon and Jeopardy! at night.
Frances’s strong values made her a role model for her children and grandchildren. She was true to herself, optimistic, opinionated, didn’t suffer fools gladly and always made family her priority.
What kind of mother gives her kids gifts on Mother’s Day? This one did. “After all,” she’d explain, “if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be a mother.”