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Editors combed through The Globe’s obituaries and reader-submitted Lives Lived columns for inspiring and uplifting stories of Canadians who made their mark

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Some of the people whose remarkable lives ended in 2019: Disability advocate Jean Vanier, Toronto restauranteur Norman Chin, baseball player Marge Maxwell, Tim Hortons co-founder Ron Joyce, singer Jackie Shane, CBC executive Margaret Lyons, teacher Dora Anie and engineer Alexa Danyliuk.Photos: The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press, Jeff Goode, family handouts

Obituaries of note from 2019

Marge Maxwell

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Lyle Stafford/The Globe and Mail

Played in the professional baseball circuit that inspired A League of Their Own; died Jan 11 at 97.

In 1944, Marge Maxwell supervised women stamping metal for use in warplanes to be flown against the Nazis and Imperial Japan. When spring arrived, she traded her red kerchief and blue coveralls for a wool cap and the pastel flannels of a baseball team, leaving Vancouver to pursue a summertime career as a professional ballplayer in the American Midwest.

Ms. Maxwell spent eight seasons wearing bloomers and a skirt as she slid into bases, dove for ground balls and crashed into opposing catchers. She often played alongside her younger sister, Helen Callaghan, a terror at the plate who was described as the “female Ted Williams.” A broken ankle shortened Ms. Maxwell’s career and she returned home, where she played amateur sports and raised a family.

Even as social movements broke down barriers to women in the workplace, she rarely spoke of her pioneering role as a pro athlete until after the 1992 release of the Hollywood movie A League of Their Own, starring Madonna, Tom Hanks and Geena Davis. The movie was inspired by a documentary of the same name made by her nephew, who was inspired by his aunt’s scrapbooks.

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Ron Joyce

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FRED LUM/The Globe and Mail

Co-founder of Tim Hortons; died Feb. 1 at 88.

It was a daily habit for Ron Joyce to put in time at his desk wearing a suit, tie and his Order of Canada lapel pin, regardless of whether he planned to receive company or even leave the house.

The self-made billionaire and lifelong entrepreneur granted The Globe and Mail a rare interview at his home office in Burlington, Ont., last December to discuss his life and legacy. The octogenarian’s career began during the Depression when he was just 15 and, though his wit remained sharp, Mr. Joyce knew that his body was flagging. A plane crash in 2007 – the second of his life – left the entrepreneur with chronic back pain that rendered him home-bound more than he would have preferred.

Twice divorced and a father of seven, Mr. Joyce attempted to sum up what he has learned on his rags-to-riches journey: “The more you give, the more you get back,” he said, sipping iced vodka from a vintage Tim Hortons mug.

Mr. Joyce is best known as the force that transformed Tim Hortons from a fledgling Hamilton coffee shop into one of the most iconic businesses in the country. However, the Tim Hortons days are not what Mr. Joyce wants to be remembered for. Instead, he pointed to his long effort to help youth in need.

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Joe Schlesinger

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Holocaust survivor and veteran CBC journalist; died Feb. 11 at 90.

Before he embarked on his remarkable career as a globe-trotting journalist, Joe Schlesinger had twice been a refugee, first escaping from Nazism, then from Communism. Having fled his home and lost his parents in the Holocaust, he brought to his reporting the insight and empathy of a man all too familiar with conflicts, asylum-seeking and political betrayals.

From the 1970s to the mid-1990s, Mr. Schlesinger was a household name across Canada, bearing witness from the world’s hot spots, whether at Pakistan’s Khyber Pass, on the battlefields of Indochina and Central America or in the middle of a street riot in Buenos Aires.

Before his broadcast career, he honed his skills working for newspapers, where he learned “to make the banal look interesting and the interesting sound fascinating,” he recalled in his 1990 memoirs, Time Zones.

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Jackie Shane

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Courtesy of the Numero Group.

Soul singer; died Feb. 21 at 78.

Jackie Shane broke all the rules. An American-born, black, transgender woman, Ms. Shane first came to Canada in the conservative early 1960s and won over audiences with her glamorous image and soulful singing. For the next decade, she packed clubs in Ontario and Quebec and landed one memorable song, the slinky, sassy Any Other Way, near the top of the charts. But then Ms. Shane disappeared and erroneous rumours circulated of a possible murder or suicide. For the next 40 years, the mystery grew until word came that the retired performer was living back in her native Nashville.

Ms. Shane’s rediscovery resulted in a massive comeback that the former singer never planned – nor actively participated in – including a radio documentary and a reissued 1967 live album that earned Polaris Music Heritage Prize nominations for four consecutive years. Her story was featured in a TV documentary series, while her face appeared on a prominent, 22-storey Toronto wall mural of local music legends. Meanwhile, Ms. Shane became an LGBTQ icon who last year inspired an anthology on the history of Toronto queer culture. But, through it all, she remained reclusive and never made a single public appearance, communicating only by mail and telephone.

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Jean Vanier

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Ian Brown/The Globe and Mail

Founder of L’Arche, the network of communities for the intellectually disabled; died May 7 at 90.

Jean Vanier, the world’s most radical philosopher of disability for the past 60 years, founded L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil, the small town 90 kilometres northeast of Paris where L’Arche still maintains its headquarters, where Mr. Vanier bought the first L’Arche home in 1964 and lived as a member of the community until his death. Acquiring the tiny stone house was a big risk. Mr. Vanier had zero formal training in caring for the disabled, but planned to share the home with two intellectually delayed men in their 40s, Philippe Seux and Raphaël Simi. Neither could speak, and the house had rudimentary plumbing and electricity.

Mr. Vanier’s talent for staying calm while taking risks eventually resulted in the global miracle L’Arche is today – 152 communities of the intellectually disabled in 37 countries (from India and France to Kenya and Canada), as well as an even larger chain of Faith and Light support communities in 83 countries, all serving some 5,000 disabled core members. He wrote 30 books, won countless honours and was a friend and inspiration to thousands of parents, colleagues and L’Arche residents all over the world.

His most significant accomplishment, however, was to establish the unique value of an intellectually disabled life. In the laboratories of human transformation known as L’Arche houses, where residents live on equal footing and status with the assistants who help them, and where everyone sits down to at least one meal a day around a common table – a simple rite that defines the entire project – Mr. Vanier demonstrated that the able-bodied need the fragility of the intellectually disabled as much as, and probably more than, they need us.

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Howard Engel

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Patti Gower/The Globe and Mail

Mystery author who lost the ability to read; died July 16 at 88.

One summer morning in 2000, Howard Engel, a successful and admired author of detective novels, awoke and began his usual routine. He made his coffee and picked up his copy of The Globe and Mail from the stoop of his home in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. However, when he looked at the paper, it was a puzzle; he could not make out the words. “It might have been Cyrillic or Korean,” he later told an interviewer.

Initially, he thought it might be a prank, but his son Jacob, with whom Mr. Engel lived, realized something was very wrong. They went to Mount Sinai Hospital, where it was determined that Mr. Engel had suffered a stroke. It left him with a very rare condition known as alexia sine agraphia, which meant that he was unable to read, although his ability to write was unaffected.

It is a disastrous diagnosis for a writer. But Mr. Engel would not give in. Cynthia Good, who worked with him on nine books for Penguin Canada, said, in citing him for the Canadian Jewish Book Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, he showed “dogged determination, a sense of humour, a fascination with what was happening to him and a remarkable curiosity about his medical case. … And he never stopped writing for a moment.”

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Margaret Lyons

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CBC executive who sparked a radio revolution; died Oct. 5 at 95.

It was a blessing in racist disguise. In early 1942, when the federal government expelled tens of thousands of Japanese-Canadians from the West Coast of British Columbia, 18-year-old Margaret Inouye moved from her family’s berry farm in Mission, B.C., to work as a domestic in Winnipeg. Her mother had trained her in the arts of sewing, Japanese-style cooking and flower arranging. The plan had been for Margaret to be sent to finishing school in Japan, so that she might become a traditional wife and raise a family in what was, until that point, an insular community. But as their world blew apart, Margaret glimpsed emancipation among the shards.

By the end of the 1940s, Margaret was in London, newly married to a Caucasian man and on her way to a pioneering career that shouldered aside racism, broke through a glass ceiling and helped to save public radio in Canada from what seemed at the time to be a likely death. After cutting her teeth at the British Broadcasting Corporation, Margaret and her young family returned to Canada, where she landed at the CBC and helped launch what became known as the Radio Revolution, hiring talented young guns and setting them free to create shows of extraordinary durability, including Sunday Morning and This Country in the Morning. In 2010, she was invested as a member of the Order of Canada.

“I think Margaret Lyons was arguably the most important and the most influential CBC radio executive in the past 60 years,” said Peter Herrndorf, a longtime CBC executive who served as Ms. Lyons’s boss from 1979 to 1983.

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Notable Lives Lived columns from 2019

Tatjana Daschko

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courtesy of the family

Wife. Grandmother. Holodomor survivor. Believer. Died Jan. 2 at 94.

Tatjana Pastoshchuk’s happy childhood – born the third-youngest of eight brothers and sisters – was shattered by the Soviets and then the Nazis.

First, farm collectivization led to the death of her father, forcing her to leave school after Grade 4 to help support the family. Then came the Holodomor. She never forgot how, many months into the genocidal famine, her five-year-old brother, Volodia, ground his teeth in hunger. The next morning, he was dead from starvation. She carried that dark night with her for her entire life. Her mother would die in her arms shortly before the Nazis invaded Ukraine.

In 1941, Tatjana was sent to Germany in a cattle car as an Ostarbeiter (slave labourer). In Bielefeld, on the first day of work, she met Jurij Daschko, who translated their foreman’s instructions. After the foreman left, Tatjana’s German co-worker asked through gestures, “Do you dance?” As he watched them waltz, Jurij thought, “What an extraordinary girl! Her first day and she is dancing.” Before long, Tatjana and Jurij fell in love and, in 1945, they were married in a bombed-out cathedral in Hanover.

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Norman Chin

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Father. Grandfather. Restaurant owner. Sports fan. Died Feb. 4 at 86.

Norman Chin’s life was the quintessential Canadian success story. He studied art in China, but cut short his education at 18 to move to Canada and join his father, who ran a café in Toronto. At that time, it was a difficult move because of Canada’s $500 Chinese head tax.

He continued his studies and learned English at school. He began his restaurant career by busing at his father’s diner, working his way up to become, in 1957, one of the original partners of Sai Woo restaurant in Toronto.

His six children would enjoy midnight feasts of food brought home from Sai Woo, one of the first large-scale Chinese restaurants in the city, employing 120 people. It played host to so many wedding receptions that their son Gordon says, "As a young boy I thought this was how everyone lived; having numerous grand feasts every few weeks.”

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Alexa Danyliuk

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Courtesy of the family

Daughter. Sister. Leader. Friend. Died March 9 at 30.

Alexa Danyliuk’s star burned briefly but brilliantly. Dressed for an evening out, she turned heads and made glamour look easy. Alexa had a big and complex personality – like Walt Whitman’s, large enough to contain contradiction.

Pretty, graceful, she was a sensitive dancer and musician (tsymbaly, keyboards, clarinet) who trained and performed in North America and Europe. In 2017, she danced in Romania and Ukraine, also visiting her grandfather’s home village.

She possessed an almost intuitive understanding of science and technology, and was a tough and independent woman working in the male-dominated field of electrical engineering. She led rather than followed, first in the oil industry, then with major construction projects. She could outthink, outwork and outswear any man on a rig floor, as some discovered to their chagrin. Alexa believed fervently in the ability of women to do this work and was involved in numerous volunteer programs to encourage young women to break barriers and enter applied sciences.

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Aron Koel

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Adventurer. Action hero. Father. Friend. Died March 9 at 34.

Aron Koel was a man whose character was shaped by two of his idols growing up: Arnold Schwarzenegger, action hero, and Carl Sagan, cosmologist. He was as comfortable in a push-up competition as he was pointing out all the constellations in the night sky.

Growing up in the east end of Toronto, he led his friends through the ravines, he showed them the rings of Saturn and he scaled all manner of buildings and bridges. You would rarely see him without his bike, barrelling down streets in one of his trademark wolf or eagle T-shirts with the sleeves ripped off.

Somewhat obsessive and autodidactic from an early age, he educated his friends and beloved sister, Tiiu, about the pack dynamics of wolves, the mating patterns of frogs and the awesomeness of sharks. It came as little surprise that he chose the University of British Columbia, with its oceanfront campus, to study kinesiology. At UBC, he became vice-president of the Astronomy Club. With unsupervised access to the observatory, he held stargazing parties allowing revellers to explore the cosmos using the school’s state-of-the-art telescope.

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Dora Anie

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Courtesy of the family

Matriarch. Caretaker. Believer. Warrior. Died June 11 at 69.

A teacher by trade, having studied in her native Ghana, Dora moved to Canada with her husband, Albert, in 1973, settling first in London, Ont., and later in Hamilton. She had two girls, Ann-Marie and Barb, but they were far from the only people she was a mother to. She became legal guardian of her great niece and nephew, Dora and Collins. And it wasn’t odd for her family to have strangers joining them around the dinner table. Taking care of others was, in a way, how Dora took care of herself – fulfilling a driving desire to empower people, to learn their potential and achieve it.

Over the course of her working life, Dora was a bookkeeper, owned a gas station with her husband and ran a hair salon. Her clients would follow her from location to location; such was her magnetic charm and ability to quickly form close relationships.

She also used these skills in her volunteer work, which was plentiful, including becoming a peer mentor for those who had been affected by cancer and founding Schools of Dreams, a charity to build schools in rural Ghana.

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