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lives lived

Margaret McGroarty.Courtesy of family

Margaret Catherine McGroarty: Wife. Mother. Businesswoman. Positive thinker. Born Nov. 1st, 1919, in Toronto; died May 28th, 2019, in Toronto, of heart failure; aged 99.

Marg McGroarty may be one of the few people ever to move out of a senior’s residence. At 92, she left her beloved home to try out a retirement residence, but decided it was not for her: everyone was “too old.” She moved out and found a condo on the 47th floor of a Toronto high-rise, then enjoyed hurtling around the neighbourhood on her scooter. Marg never let much stand in her way and had a tremendous capacity for overcoming the barriers of life.

Growing up, she loved to play the piano, but had to stop lessons when the bailiff came and took her family’s piano away. It was a huge loss. (As an adult, she always had a piano in the house, right to her last day.)

At 29, and after having four children – Marg was diagnosed with polio. She was told by her doctors that she would likely die if she had any more. She refused to believe it, and proceeded to have seven more children with Herbert, her husband. She would suffer paralysis, and needed a full leg brace and crutches in order to walk. However, she refused to be defined by her challenges: even after being hit with a puck at a son’s hockey game and needing nose reconstructive surgery and, later, a mastectomy to halt breast cancer. Marg persevered and lived her life joyfully and fearlessly.

Marg and Herb raised their eight boys and three girls while running a successful insurance and real estate business together. With such a large family, vacations to Florida or a cottage in Algonquin Park required two cars packed to the limit. But it was worth the effort: Marg loved the outdoors and taught her children how to paddle a canoe and rigged up a makeshift sail boat that flew across the lake. She never thought of her disability as a deterrent: "I just thought the good Lord wanted to slow me down!” Marg and Herb valued each of their children equally and were unfailingly fair. She always took time to think before she answered a question, and her children sought out her advice long after they left home.

Marg’s will to overcome barriers was tested while taking a macro-economics course at the University of Toronto. She once faced a large outdoor staircase covered in ice and snow. Rather than miss the lesson, Marg crawled up the stairs. She loved to learn, and later in life took French and art classes at York University (she had a fantastic sense of colour).

She took on social causes, including organizations that help those with disabilities. She also loved adventure. Once, Marg and her daughters explored New York hopping in and out of limos, with wheelchair in tow. By the end of Day 3, they’d seen two Met operas, two Broadway shows, three art galleries, several churches, a concert and an organ recital when Marg’s enthusiastic voice rang out: “Now, if there were only a little jazz club we could visit for the rest of the evening!”

Marg refused to be defined by her age and vehemently protected that detail. She felt people would treat you differently as an older person. She transmitted an inner as well as outer beauty. Marg died with grace and dignity at home, and left a wealth of memories and life lessons.

Lydia Adams is Marg’s friend.

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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

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