Skip to main content
lives lived

Lavinia Greenwood.Courtesy of family

Lavinia Mary Greenwood: Educator. Leader. Matriarch. Anchor. Born Sept. 22, 1920, in Hertford, U.K.; died Dec. 21, 2019, in Victoria, of cardio respiratory failure; aged 99.

Since her father was a headmaster, Lavinia Malim was inculcated early with the importance of education. As the youngest of a large family and a woman, however, her father said that university would not be possible. Instead, she was sent to learn how to cook and keep house.

The Second World War changed everything. Lavinia trained as an X-ray technician and lived and worked in London’s Middlesex hospital. There, she fell in love with medical student Kemble Greenwood, and they married in 1943. They had three children – the last child born in Singapore in 1949, where the family lived during Kemble’s service with the British Army. In 1954, looking for new medical practice options, Kemble and Lavinia moved to Canada, to raise their three children in Victoria.

Lavinia had remained determined to attend university. At age 43, she started a Bachelor’s in chemistry, and eventually finished a master’s in education at 59, all while raising an unexpected fourth child, Celia. (The Dean of Women came to the hospital to invigilate one of her exams, and gave her a break to feed her newborn.) Celia tagged along on many evening visits to the university, and played with the punch card machine in the computer lab while she tried to run her data analysis. There were numerous battles along the way with her Master’s thesis advisory committee. One of Lavinia’s rare compromises was to replace her chapter titles that she had based on the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (e.g., “How the camel got its hump” for distributions of exam scores).

Lavinia believed that education and ability led to responsibility to give back to the community, and spent almost 30 years helping students and the educational system. During 10 years on the Victoria School Board she infuriated many by making decisions that she felt were in the best interests of the students, even when these decisions did not align with the power dynamics on the board; these struggles were relived daily over the dinner table. There would be strongly worded comments on the stupidity of open classrooms and teaching reading by word recognition instead of phonetics. She would send her youngest to a school that started students with a fully phonetic alphabet when the local school did not.

Lavinia spent 25 years at the Open Learning Institute in British Columbia, where she taught, by correspondence, math, physics and chemistry to adult students who wanted to finish high school. She believed in strong fundamentals, even telling one student, over the telephone, to go back and learn the times tables properly or they would never be able to pass math.

When Celia was young (her siblings had long moved out), the family would sit and read companionably over afternoon tea, with frequent interjections from Lavinia as she perused texts on educational theory or practice: “Did you know…” or “Listen to this, …”. One of her often-told family stories was of her shock when a university student and potential lodger complained that her house contained too many books.

In later years, Lavinia was overjoyed to be able to help fund graduate education for some of her children and nine grandchildren. Her youngest grandchild is presently at university, and this she never forgot even as other memories began to disappear. Learning was a lifelong passion.

Celia Greenwood is Lavinia’s daughter.

To submit a Lives Lived: lives@globeandmail.com

Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide