Margarette Obee Benjamin: Cricketer. Square dancer. Encyclopedia. Matriarch. Born Sept. 26, 1922, in Beckenham, England; died Dec. 20, 2019, in Dartmouth, N.S., of heart failure; aged 97.
Margarette Obee grew up outside London. In school she was a decent, if lazy student, whose original poem once garnered accusations of plagiarism when her teacher didn’t believe a student could write that well.
Margarette’s world changed in 1939 when, at 16, she joined Britain’s Overseas Education Plan, and played exhibition cricket games across Canada.
Her team played in Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria. In Vancouver, Margarette produced 23 runs without getting out, but the next day the Vancouver Sun featured her on the cover wildly missing the ball.
Margarette felt at home in Canada, and fell in love with the country. Her life changed on Sept. 3, 1939. Suddenly, she noticed people running up and down with newspapers shouting, “WAR!”
Her parents told her to stay in Canada; it was safer and she was sent to boarding school in Toronto. Then McGill University offered her a scholarship in the fall. She never forgot that generosity, but when the year was up, she went to work in Montreal and lived at a boarding house. There, a Nova Scotian engineer named Fred Benjamin sat at her table. “How much sugar do you take in your coffee?” he asked, tapping some in before she had a chance to answer. “I don’t take any,” she noted wryly.
Since she didn’t like the name Fred, she called him Ben. He called her Obee. They fell in love anyway.
Soon they both found work at an aircraft manufacturer in Nova Scotia inspecting war planes. Ben would join the Royal Canadian Air Force and Obee (expecting him to be posted overseas) returned to England as a plane inspector. But he was never sent overseas, so she returned to Canada in May, 1945, and they married in June.
For the next two decades, the air force took them across Eastern Canada and Europe. Their first two children were born in Quebec, the third in Nova Scotia and the fourth was born in Ottawa. The family of six then received a compassionate posting in northeastern France, to be closer to Obee’s dying mother in London.
On the base in France, Ben took Obee square dancing. She thought it was all rather foolish, but 10 minutes in, she loved the music and how easy it was to do. It became a lifelong passion that would take them across Canada in their senior years, and was how they met some of the best friends of their lives.
When Ben retired, they built a house in Dartmouth. And there was a surprise in store: Obee became pregnant with their fifth child. She had hoped to go back to work, maybe for the newspapers since she’d started writing a square dancing column in the Dartmouth Free Press.
But there was the new baby, and the couple’s grandchildren started arriving not long after, 12 in all. Obee loved her grandchildren and made each one feel like they were her favourite.
Ben died in 2007, and Obee said it felt like a “leftover life” with him gone, but she kept busy and remained in the home they’d built until her death.
Obee always possessed an incredible memory. She held the complete family tree in her head and remembered anecdotes for every person. She also had an insatiable curiosity and it drove her life’s journey.
Obee was always grateful for her good fortune. In her final letter to her family, she reminded us to carry on with our “wonderful lives, and relish the living!” Just as she had done so well, for so long.
Chris Benjamin is Obee’s grandson.
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