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Margaret Fitzhenry.Courtesy of the family

Margaret Rose Fitzhenry: Wife. Mother. Nurse. Friend. Born June 18, 1953, in Hamilton; died April 16, 2019, in Calgary; of metastatic melanoma; aged 65.

Marg was tenacious and never gave up on her goals. The eldest of seven children, she was born in the working-class, east end of Hamilton. Life wasn’t easy and everyone in the family contributed financially. After finishing high school she completed her nursing training in 1974 and shocked her family by announcing she had saved $700 and was moving to Victoria. She was determined to pursue her dreams of a joyful and fulfilling life.

Marg found work as a Licensed Practical Nurse at the Victoria Veterans’ hospital where something near magical happened. At the intersection of two corridors, with Moon River playing on the intercom, she bumped into a friendly stranger – orderly Ken Fitzhenry – who asked her to dance in the hallway. She accepted. Their immediate connection led to marriage in 1976 and 43 joyous years together. Their son Michael was born in 1978. Both Ken and Marg shared a mutual passion for health care; he was an orthopedic technologist, and she excelled as a compassionate nurse working for 35 years in radiation therapy at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

Being frugal and highly organized since her early years – she always picked the least expensive item on the menu and scrutinized every grocery receipt – Marg knew how to find the resources to support the things that made Ken and Michael happy. Ken was passionate about cars and motorcycles and Michael wanted to learn how to play the bagpipes (they sent him to study in Scotland). Marg asked little for herself but she took pleasure in a good bargain, at volunteering for the local highland games and loved her bright tartan leggings. She also loved to call and chat, as her sister Patricia noted, “she could talk for ages.” She also often remarked on the pleasure she found sitting behind Ken on motorbike rides, enjoying the view as they toured Alberta, British Columbia and nearby American states. After Michael was born, they travelled by car, often returning East for special family occasions. Marg never forgot her roots in Ontario.

In retirement, Marg and Ken spent more time in the warmth of Hawaii and Mexico and travelled to Europe, especially enjoying Scotland where Michael had moved in 2003. Marg was proud of her son, who, while pursuing his passion to play the bagpipes, became a champion piper and met and married Alison in Paisley, Scotland, not far from where Marg’s family had originally emigrated from to Canada.

Marg was such a skilled and compassionate nurse that even in retirement she was called back to work. But no one expected the scenario that unfolded on one of these shifts in January when she became disoriented and was diagnosed with a metastasizing melanoma. She never gave way to despair, remaining positive as she underwent surgery, radiation and immunotherapy. Even as a patient, she continued to fuss over Ken, making sure he was eating well and getting his exercise. Her portrait now graces the Radiation Therapy Day Room.

In her final moments, Marg was surrounded by family, listening to a recording of Michael playing Lady MacDonald’s Lament.

At one of Marg’s memorials, a physician described her work as the essential link between doctor and patient. Her words offered solace and hope. She had a quality that is generally unteachable, yet essential to a patient’s care: warmth, interest in their well-being and a commitment to help.

During her treatment, no visitor could leave without a long hug as she repeated her mantra: “The longer the hug the more beneficial.”

Mary Valentich is Marg’s friend; Michael Fitzhenry is her son.

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