Independent thinker, voracious reader, devoted mother, wife and nurse, delightful friend. Born in Calgary, Jan. 22, 1923; died in Eastend, Sask., Oct. 29, 2013 of natural causes, aged 90.
Marye Moodie came from a long line of strong, independent and famous Canadian women: In the East, great-great-grandmother Susanna Moodie, great-great-aunt Catherine Parr Traill and great-grandmother Agnes Fitzgibbon Chamberlin; and in the West, grandmother Geraldine Moodie, a pioneer professional photographer of ranch and aboriginal life.
Marye was raised on a ranch in Saskatchewan’s Cypress Hills. She and sister Biddy grew up riding horses to a one-room school and going to dances by wagon or sleigh, often sitting alongside their mother’s piano which was also going to the dance.
In her first term of nurse’s training at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Regina, Marye fell afoul of authority. She refused to compromise her principles and came home for a year to regroup. During this interlude her heart was won by a childhood friend, Alec Howard. Harsh conditions and rugged country were no obstacle to Alec, who rode over the hills and through the coulees to pay court.
She continued her training at the Medicine Hat Hospital and graduated in 1947. She then worked in Calgary and Victoria. But her heart won out and she returned home to marry Alec. He was her perfect partner; kind, gentle and possessed of a lovely sense of humour. The couple settled in Eastend and raised three children, Alan, Renee and Susan. Marye continued nursing, working at Eastend Hospital. Alec was a grain farmer and raised cattle on land which had been his father’s, and on which Susan still ranches.
Through each generation of Moodie women ran an acute awareness of the life they were not living. It was not discontent, but a great interest in the world beyond their doorsteps. This is evident in their writings and in their career choices: author, illustrator, photographer, nurse, in times when few women pursued careers outside the home. Marye fed her passion for the larger world by reading. She was seldom without a book.
Marye’s manners were gracious, almost courtly, perhaps echoing Susanna and Catherine’s genteel beginnings in England. As a guest in Marye’s home, you were treated with loving attention, met at the door, ushered to the living room, made comfortable and served tea; when you left, you were accompanied to the door and wished Godspeed. However, woe to you if you allowed Marye’s charming manners to lull you into a comfortable complacency. She was a wicked tease, delighting in animated conversation and witty repartee. She did not tolerate boring. You needed to adjust your armour before entering the Howard household.
It happens that I love Western Canadian history; I want to talk about the past with those who, by my lights, were lucky enough to have lived it. But Marye would have none of that. More than anyone I have known, she lived in the moment. My attempts to woo her into reminiscing about her family and early life fell on deaf ears.
After Alec died in 2011, Marye continued to live in the home they had shared for more than 50 years, lovingly cared for by her children. She died there, lucid and feisty to the last: “This end bit is just disgusting.”
There is a bay window in the Howard kitchen. The image of Marye’s lively, welcoming face in that window, and her tap on the pane and wave as you departed, will always be with her family and friends.
Mary Stratford Thomson is Marye’s friend.