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lives lived

Rachel Summers: Artist. Nurse. First Responder. Knitter. Born June 24, 1948, in Chicago; died Sept. 4, 2021, in Bridgewater, N.S., of a stroke; aged 73.

PHOTO COURTESY FAMILY

For almost 20 years, Rachel Summers lived in what once had been the lighthouse keeper’s house on Long Cove Road in Port Medway, N.S. The house is on steep and remote cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. It suits a person who is self-reliant and at peace with herself. That was Rachel.

Self-reliant, yes, but also abundantly social. Rachel had an eclectic and diverse collection of devoted friends – neighbours, fellow artists, community gardeners, art-show organizers, members of her knitting group, volunteer fire department colleagues, cat lovers and kayakers. She had a robust sense of humour, a big smile, an enchanting, full-throated laugh, a huge heart, a generous temperament and the best head of hair in Queens County. Rachel was not a “joiner” in the traditional sense. She was fiercely independent and nothing stopped her vociferous expression of strong and sometimes exasperating views. She often used fruity language.

Rachel was a woman of parts. She did many things and did them all well. She was an excellent artist, a painter with a liking for egg tempera, and a sculptor. She was a careful gardener, tending the flowers in the yard around her house and working in the community vegetable garden behind the village store. She had been an emergency-room nurse in New York at Bellevue and Lennox Hill hospitals. She was a Port Medway first responder with the volunteer fire department, always ready to help with fire and medical emergencies. She was willing to be chucked into the ocean wearing a survival suit when the department practised rescues at sea. She kayaked along the shore by herself in the morning fog. She was a dedicated swimmer. She knitted sweaters. She read books. Her lamb stew and fruit pies were excellent. She liked a martini. She drove her orange car very fast.

Rachel spent part of her childhood in Guam, a place where she was happy. She graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa with a bachelor of arts degree. Later she obtained a bachelor of science in nursing from New York University. At NYU she graduated at the top of her class and was valedictorian. She lived in New York for 35 years, and loved it for a while, but eventually didn’t like what she thought the city and its society had become. She had a particular dislike of George W. Bush. She left the clamorous life and turned her back on divisive right-wing politics that she found increasingly unpalatable. In 2004, she moved to Canada and became a Canadian citizen. She quickly developed strong and sometimes annoying opinions about Canadian affairs. She seldom backed down from these opinions, no matter how wrong-headed they seemed to be. But her friends forgave her. How could you not? There was that enchanting laugh …

It was a long and unusual road from Chicago and New York to the lighthouse keeper’s house on Long Cove Road in far-off Port Medway, N.S. Rachel made this journey with style, grace and humour. It was a joy to know her.

Philip Slayton was a friend of Rachel.

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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