Sadie Kaplan: Nurse. Homemaker. Feminist. Sage. Born Aug. 24, 1924, in Bristol, Que.; died July 21, 2020, in Montreal, of heart failure; aged 95.
When asked how she was in her later years, Sadie Kaplan jocularly responded, “Well, the eyes don’t work, the ears don’t work, the legs are a bit wobbly, but I’m still here!”
This was all she would reveal about herself. From then on the focus was on you and others who were fortunate enough to be in her orbit, young and old. Sadie was no shrinking violet and would surprise you with her strong opinions, wisdom and wit. And if you were lucky, she would then ply you with her famous homemade cheesecake.
Sadie Kronick was the middle child of three daughters and began life as a have-not, living over the general store which her father ran in rural Quebec. As a result of the Depression, the family moved to Ottawa when she was five and their meagre lifestyle was further reduced. Her parents didn’t have the skills or wherewithal to support their children financially or emotionally. Where her confidence and chutzpah came from is anybody’s guess.
Sadie propelled herself into nursing school, hoping to help overseas during the Second World War. Graduating after the war ended, she nursed in Toronto and then Montreal which became her home. This was the beginning of her new independent life as a caregiver – a vocation that came naturally to her.
In Montreal, a friend introduced Sadie to Irving Kaplan, a war hero who served in the Canadian navy and was one of the few survivors when a torpedo sunk H.M.C.S. Valleyfield off the coast of Newfoundland. There was such an instant frisson between them that after a few dates they were engaged. The love affair lasted 59 years until his death.
Sadie left nursing when their first daughter, Bonnie, was born. The couple would welcome two more girls, Joyce and Audrey.
Sadie was a voracious learner and an early feminist. While a homemaker, she went back to school at night to earn her BA from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia). When her daughters came home from school for lunch, Sadie would teach them what she was learning – from psychology to biology to Shakespeare. Her message was clear: get an education and career first, the rest would follow. Sadie and Bonnie, her eldest, celebrated their graduation from university at the same time.
In her 50s Sadie returned to nursing and joined the ground-breaking palliative-care pilot project at Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital.
Throughout her life, Sadie collected people like precious gems which she lovingly buffed until they shone. But as caring as she was, you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of her. Irving often noted that with her quick mind and fast repartee, “she could speak daggers.”
Always defying the odds, Sadie remained on an endless quest for adventure and self-improvement throughout her last decade. At 89, she spent three weeks as a civilian support volunteer at an Israeli army base. Despite failing sight and hearing and a new hip at 93, she continued baking and keeping up with her grandchildren on electronic devices. She fondly called weekly meetings at the Mackay Centre for the Sight and Hearing Impaired her “daycare” and she enjoyed making new friends there. She played bridge and Rummikub with friends at her residence using bright lights and verbal cues.
Not long before she died, Sadie had renewed her passport and worked with a fitness trainer and attended aquatics classes. Resilient to the end, she lived by the credo, “Carry on until you are carried off.”
Diane Fine is Sadie’s niece.
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