Mother, teacher, actress, generous host. Born on Aug. 29, 1922, in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon; died on Nov. 12, 2013, in Cornwall, Ont., from leukemia, aged 91.
Gertrude Parsons was born in 1922 on the island of Saint-Pierre, 20 kilometres off the coast of the Burin Peninsula. Her father Basil was a telegraph operator who met and married Frances Rowe Ash, a widow with a young son, while working in Heart’s Content, Nfld. They moved to Saint-Pierre, where Basil managed the telegraph office, and had three more boys. When Frances was ready to give birth to her fifth child she could not make the dory trip to the mainland, so Trudy was born on the French island.
Trudy was educated in French at a convent school in Saint-Pierre. When she was about 12, she moved with her mother and brothers to Montreal. Frances wanted her children to have better educational opportunities. Basil remained on the island for several years, visiting his family as often as possible.
As a teenager, Trudy was passionate about movies and hoped to become an actress. She wanted to move to New York to study but her mother would not allow it, so she remained in Montreal and found work as a switchboard operator. It was wartime and an encounter with a handsome flight lieutenant changed her future. In 1943, after a five-month courtship, she married Edgar Levy, a navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force attached to the RAF Ferry Command.
After the war ended, Ed decided to leave the military so his family would not have to move too often. He joined the Zeller’s department store chain, which turned out to involve many transfers. By the time he and Trudy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, they had lived in 28 homes and three provinces.
Trudy was a wonderful hostess, reflecting her hospitable Newfoundland roots. Her first words to visitors were usually: “Have you eaten yet? Can I get you a cup of tea?” Her vivacious personality also showed in her work with community theatre in several cities. She won several awards for acting and directing.
In the 1960s, while living in Cornwall, Ont., Trudy’s Saint-Pierre roots helped her launch a rewarding career as an elementary-school French teacher. Her classroom became her stage, and former students recalled her classy appearance (dangling earrings and high heels) and memorable teaching style. She taught for more than 20 years with the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry public school board.
Trudy and Ed raised three daughters, Joan, Diana and Carol, and a son, Edward, who was killed in a 1978 farm-machine accident. His death at age 29 drew his parents even closer together, but Ed never really got over the accident.
When Ed was turning 90, he gave Trudy a small diamond pendant, which she never took off. Two weeks later they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, and three weeks after that, Ed passed away. Knowing he was dying, he told Trudy to “be strong” and to stay in their apartment on her own as long as possible.
She repeated those words often and followed his instructions, despite severe arthritis which made it difficult to walk. For the next five years, with help from a caregiver and frequent visits from family, she persevered, knitting more than 40 afghans for grandchildren and friends, and staying up-to-date with current events. “My legs are finished, but I still have my marbles,” she would say.
Trudy’s Anglican faith intensified and her fear of facing her final days lessened. In November, she entered hospital. She prayed aloud with one of her daughters, saying, “Lord, take care of my three girls and, please, make it easy when the time comes.” Five days later, her prayer was answered.
Joan Levy Earle is Trudy’s daughter.
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