Mother, daughter, sister, friend, runner, leader, connector. Born Aug. 26, 1958, in Englehart, Ont. Died July 22, 2011, in Newmarket, Ont., of cancer, aged 52.
Growing up in a large family shaped Shannon Connolly-Rheaume, building a strength of character far beyond her petite size and inspiring the leadership skills that became her defining trait.
The fifth of seven children of Maureen and Joseph Connolly, Shannon happily tinkered alongside her siblings in their playhouse, a chicken coop remodelled by their grandmother with a hammer and saw. Their modest means no doubt influenced her penchant for frugality.
In 1977, Shannon and her dear friend Christine backpacked to Calgary, where husbands, children and careers unfolded over the next 35 years. Shannon climbed the Delta Hotels corporate sales ladder quickly, not because of training, her boss explained, but because she regularly landed their toughest prospects with her trademark smile and down-to-earth approach.
In typical Shannon flair, she married Marc Rheaume at the top of the Canada Olympic Park Ski Jump Tower in 1990. Three rambunctious boys followed: Kieran, Rory and Declan.
Shannon took her motherhood role seriously and had high expectations for her children. She led by her inherent values of respect and hard work, which are evident in the three young men left behind.
Although busy with her family, Shannon rarely declined an invitation, or a glass of her favourite red wine. Her enthusiastic “Cheers” summarized her approach to life – celebrating every encounter. No topic was taboo, and her forthrightness forged connections with everyone she met.
At 51, Shannon’s confidence was shaken by a difficult divorce. Anxiety about her financial future meant abandoning her stay-at-home-mom and volunteer roles. Updating her computer skills and dusting off her doubts, Shannon successfully re-entered the work force as a school secretary. She was organized, efficient and, some would say, a bit bossy, yet never insensitive. She’d scold kids from afar at recess to get out of the puddles, then smile and wave at them.
Not knowing she was ill, Shannon travelled to Ontario for a family reunion. When mild symptoms resurfaced, friends insisted she go to emergency. Weak and tired, Shannon received a shocking terminal cancer diagnosis. She died a week later, surrounded by her beloved boys, her new-found love, Ritch Fairbairn, and her entire family. Many friends flew in from across the country to see her, testament to the connections she nurtured throughout her life.
As usual, when the Connolly family congregated, someone needed to take charge. In palliative care, Shannon led the way with stunning courage, grace and humour. Irish ditties were sung, stories were told, hands were held and her three boys took turns lying beside their mother. But a silent despair hung heavily as Shannon’s smile and effervescent “Cheers” faded.
By Cassie Connolly, Shannon’s sister.
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