Wife, mother, music lover, indomitable spirit. Born in Montreal on April 6, 1952; died in Winnipeg on Nov. 26, 2013, of cancer, aged 61.
Gwenda Nemerofsky’s life revolved around helping others, loving music, and sharing that passion with others through her writing. She kept a piece of paper near her home computer, where she wrote music reviews and columns, bearing a quote from J.S. Bach to the effect that “music is refreshment for the soul.”
Born in Montreal, Gwenda inherited a deep appreciation of the arts – especially classical music – from her parents, Norman and Rosalie. In 1977, she completed her fine arts degree at Concordia University, majoring in music and becoming a skilled flautist. She performed in many Montreal ensembles, beginning in high school, and music remained her lifelong love.
Gwenda also loved the written and spoken word. It was a natural fit for her to work as a communications specialist for agencies dedicated to helping others, first with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (Manitoba division) and later with Marymound, a Winnipeg agency that helps disadvantaged youth.
For 10 years, while working at the social service agencies, she was able to blend her two interests by serving as a classical musical columnist and concert reviewer for the Winnipeg Free Press. Tellingly, her music column was titled “Music Matters.”
Gwenda had moved to Winnipeg in 1990 and in 1999 she met David Riach. They were bound from the outset by a love of music, although initially they came at it from radically different perspective (classical for her, progressive rock and metal for him). They began their life together in 2000 and married in 2008. Gwenda opened the door to new musical worlds for David, who grew to love the classical tradition, and, through her writing, for the citizens of Winnipeg.
In addition to her work and music, Gwenda had special and deep bonds with her son Benny, daughter Alice and son-in-law Grant. She loved being Nana to granddaughter Emmy Roslyn, born in 2008.
In August of 2011, Gwenda was diagnosed with cancer. Far from seeing herself as a “victim” of the disease, she chose to remain her own person “living with” cancer, and live she did. She and David never missed their monthly anniversary date at their favourite coffee shop and spent many wonderful times in favourite places such as Falcon Lake, Man., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.
Her favourite Bach quote was an inspiration for her during her illness, and live music helped ease her physical and emotional discomfort. She attended her final concert just two weeks before her death. And she amazed everyone by continuing to drive herself to work half-days at Marymound until a few weeks before her passing.
Even when the cancer finally got the upper hand physically, she refused to cede her dignity. David was alone with her when, quietly and without distress, she achieved the graceful death she wanted.
Gwenda’s passing prompted a huge outpouring of love and respect from the Winnipeg classical music community. Numerous organizations dedicated concerts to her memory, including a wonderfully uplifting performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Musicians from these groups also asked to perform at her memorial, which took the form of a chamber music concert in one of the intimate halls where she had reviewed many concerts and, together with David, attended others for the simple joy of music. There could not have been a more fitting tribute.
David Riach is Gwenda’s husband.