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Kathlyn (Kate) MacLean Hall
Kathlyn (Kate) MacLean Hall

Lives Lived: Kathlyn (Kate) MacLean Hall, 99 Add to ...

Nurse, Girl Guide leader, ALS advocate, sailor. Born on Dec. 6, 1914, in Winnipeg; died on Feb. 8, 2014, in Nanaimo, B.C., of natural causes, aged 99.

Kate went through life with a twinkle in her eye and a fabulous smile. She always had a clear sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference in people’s lives. When she made up her mind about something, she pursued it with determination. Whether playing bridge, sailing her boat or pouring her Scotch, there were always “Kate’s rules.”

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As a young girl, the only thing she wanted was to be a Girl Guide. At 13, just after her family moved from Winnipeg, she enrolled in the 3rd Point Grey Company in Vancouver. She went on to become a respected Guide leader, dedicating several decades of her life to influencing, by example, the young women under her guidance. A treasured memento was a photo of herself, her two daughters and Lady Baden-Powell, the founder of Guiding.

Kate also wanted to be a doctor but that was financially impossible in the midst of the Depression. She did the next best thing and enrolled in nursing school at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, graduating in 1936. She met her future husband at the hospital, when asked to assist a young scientist named Ken Hall from Victor X-Ray Corp., who was demonstrating new equipment.

Kate never did anything by halves. In 1950, by then living in Ottawa, she packed up her two girls and drove with a Guiding friend across the country in a 1938 Hudson Essex sedan, stopping along the way to provide training at Girl Guide camps. Gravel roads, flat tires and the occasional bear didn’t stop her. In the mid-1960s, Kate upgraded her education and became a nursing administrator. She proudly graduated from the University of Ottawa and became supervisor of pediatrics at the francophone Montfort Hospital, amazing her colleagues by working in French.

In 1969, Ken retired and they moved back to B.C., settling in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Ten years later, Ken was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Kate learned all she could about this progressive neuromuscular illness and cared for him at home until a few weeks before he died. After his death in 1980, she sailed their beloved boat, Lahaina, by herself, until the three-metre waves in the Georgia Strait became too much for a 75-year-old skipper.

Kate also threw herself into making life better for ALS patients on north-central Vancouver Island. For almost 20 years, she visited their homes, often lugging equipment and supplies; helped to form support groups such as the ALS Society of B.C.; and raised money for research and equipment. Most of all she brought a sympathetic ear to ALS patients and their families. Her philosophy was to encourage and help them to live one day at a time on their own terms.

Kate had other passions. She loved collecting stamps and was one of the founders of the Nanaimo Stamp Club. She was also a birder extraordinaire and, for a 20-year period after Ken’s death, went on birding trips around the world. She was a talented singer and from an early age was an enthusiastic member of several church choirs. A long-time member of the Canadian Federation of University Women, she was a generous, supportive and encouraging role model. Her hobby in quiet moments was petit point and over the years she created more than 900 canvasses as gifts to friends and relatives.

When she was about 85, Kate lost her driver’s licence because of cataracts. She got her eyes fixed, took the test – and failed. With an “I’ll show them” attitude she enrolled in driving lessons, passed the test and got her licence back. That was classic Kate.

Ann Hall and Nancy Mitchell are Kate’s daughters.

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