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Life The foothills of southern Alberta always drew Kim Clayton home

Kim Clayton: Mother. Reader. Traveller. Albertan. Born April 16, 1961, in Calgary; died June 27, 2018, in Calgary, of metastatic breast cancer; aged 57.

Kim Clayton.

The Globe and Mail

Kim Clayton was my most well-travelled friend, and the most rooted. She grew up near Airdrie, just north of Calgary on land farmed by the Clayton family since 1900. Born a decade after her three siblings, Kim was both doted on and left to her own devices. When she graduated from high school in 1979, she set out on a year-long backpacking adventure overseas – the first of many trips.

Kim returned to Alberta to study English literature and, in 1986, graduated with a law degree from the University of Saskatchewan. A few months into her articles at a respected Calgary firm, she quit to help with the harvest: a characteristic act reflecting Kim’s gumption, decisiveness and connection to home. She soon found a job in Calgary teaching articling students how to use Quicklaw, an online legal database. One of those students, Tony Muszynski, was immediately smitten with this lively, intelligent woman and her sparkling smile. Over a courtship of coffee dates and lunches, Kim discovered in this gentle Edmontonian of Polish descent a shared curiosity about the world and a commitment to family.

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Soon after they married, Kim and Tony quit their jobs to travel. A year later, expecting their first child, they settled in Calgary’s North Haven neighbourhood – a short drive to Kim’s beloved coulee on the Clayton farm and the No. 2 highway to Tony’s family in Edmonton. When their daughter, Hannah, and son, Alex, were young, Kim decided she would be more help at Tony’s small law firm as a practising lawyer. In 1996, she was called to the bar, in her own time and on her own terms.

Even during these busy years, Kim was always reading – a travel memoir or a novel that transported her to another country. In 2001, she and Tony shuttered the law firm for a year and went abroad with their children, aged 10 and 7 at the time. From their base in Poland, they explored Europe and Egypt as a family. Their bold adventure signalled the couple’s thirst for experience. It also showed Kim’s determination to lead a deliberate life according to her own principles.

In July, we celebrated Kim’s life not far from the farm where she grew up, in a community hall crowded with extended family and friends. The southern Alberta foothills had a profound hold on Kim. From this place of belonging, she navigated her life’s successes, her struggles and, later, her illness the same way she travelled: with long, sure strides, a clear, pragmatic gaze and confidence in her own resourcefulness.

The printed memorial program featured a variation of lines from a Leonard Cohen song: "Like a bird on a wire / Like a drunk in a midnight choir / I’m just trying, in my own way to be free.” Kim had spotted the verse in 1979 scrawled on the wall of a Vienna hostel washroom on her first backpacking trip. Reading the words she copied into her travel journal as a young woman, I glimpsed a bright truth about my friend and how she lived her remarkable and abbreviated life.

Shaun Hunter is Kim’s friend.

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 to tgam.ca/livesguide

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