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Helen Wall: Mother. Caregiver. Naturalist. Kind soul. Born Dec. 23, 1919, in Toronto; died Oct. 14, 2018, in Toronto, of heart failure; aged 98.

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Helen Wall.The Globe and Mail

Helen was christened Nellie Diamond and, for reasons which were never clear, she became Helen upon her marriage in 1949. She would always introduce herself as “Just Me,” which perfectly reflected the fact that she was kind, selfless, honest and humble. She would rarely express a preference or criticize – she didn’t want to impose or offend. A daughter-in-law described her best when she stated that around Helen, you just felt loved.

Helen was one of four children born to an Irish Catholic father and a Scottish Protestant mother. She had a working class, Depression-era upbringing. After high school, she earned the tuition for secretary college by cleaning offices at night. In 1942, Helen, her sister and mother had saved enough money to purchase a house. She gained early experience with conflict avoidance as they had to do this without the knowledge of Helen’s father, who preferred fewer commitments and his life as a regular at the nearby tavern.

In 1943, she met Harry Wall at a dance at St. Basil’s Church. They fell in love and, in 1949, would marry in that same church. Helen left her secretarial work at the Canadian Weather Bureau and moved into their Etobicoke home to raise five children.

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Helen met Harry Wall in 1943 at a dance at St. Basil’s Church. They fell in love and would marry six years later in that same church.The Globe and Mail

As a product of that generation, the bulk of parenting responsibilities were hers. The children enjoyed the run of the house with nothing off limits, at least until their father returned from work. As a preschooler, I remember helping my mother check a lengthy bill for two weeks’ worth of groceries as she was certain that the cashier had missed charging for an item. She was correct, and the next day we went back to Loblaws to advise them of the oversight and pay for the excluded bananas. Later in life, she would do her own tax returns and banking, scrutinizing every interest calculation (both compound and simple).

Helen and Harry loved the outdoors: Trees, rocks and all things natural were a common interest. On weekends, she would pack a picnic lunch of devilled-ham sandwiches and the family would pile into the station wagon and visit every park and conservation area within two hours of their home.

Helen made education a No. 1 priority for her children and supported each of their eight university degrees, often pulling all-nighters typing their essays. No revision or major rework was too much to ask of Helen and her Smith Corona.

When her own father needed home care in his 90s, she would endure long daily bus rides across town to provide it. There was no thought of it being any other way. The last 20 years of her life provided new challenges with the loss of her husband.

Helen’s last two years were not as kind to her as the first 96, but she managed to avoid nursing homes, lengthy hospital stays and medical interventions that usually accompany those who were – as she would say – “on their way to join the underground.” Surrounded by family, she slipped away quietly in her home of more than 50 years. Her ending seemed so well deserved, almost earned, for someone as kind and selfless as “Just Me.”

Stephen Wall is Helen’s youngest son.

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