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Jill Chalmers


Wife, mother, grandmother, adventurer, sailor, world traveller, mentor. Born May 20, 1934, at Sunbury-on-Thames, England. Died Jan. 7, 2012, in Toronto, of liver cancer aged 77.

Ever proud of her British heritage, Jill Blatchly immigrated to Canada with her parents and two older siblings aboard the MV Britannic after the Second World War. After a stint on a farm in Blyth, Ont., they moved to Ottawa, where in 1956, Jill married Bill Chalmers.

Jill worked for Bell before the first of her four children arrived in 1958, but really found her calling as an ESL teacher once she moved to Toronto with her husband's job in 1965. Outgoing, gregarious and full of energy, she impressed her many students at Seneca and George Brown with her gift as an effective communicator and her masterful command of the English language.

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Displaying the resilience and resolve that would always define her, Jill went back to school after her marriage dissolved and graduated as a mature student from Victoria College at the University of Toronto in 1972. She was eager to put her Montessori degree to good use, and moved to Barbados to start her own school, taking her two youngest with her. While many hurdles and much red tape challenged the venture, the year-long experience sparked her abiding love of the Caribbean.

She returned to ESL teaching in Canada, and in the mid-1980s became chairman of George Brown College's "Futures" program, the mandate of which was to provide assistance to graduates who had yet to find work their chosen field. Much later in her career, Jill commanded the respect of a new generation, when she served as assistant dean of residence at Toronto's Havergal College. It was shortly after Jill's death that the family discovered a box of cards and letters that she had received from her girls. "Chalmy," as they called her, had kept them all.

Jill's love of travel led her on many adventures. Children and friends shared her versions of Caribbean paradise in St. Barthélemy and Saba. Naples, Fla., too. A love of water led to adventures on Lake Ontario as well. Sailboats Seabird, Teazer V and Dragonfly provided years of enjoyment and even provided a roof over Jill's head at times at Toronto-area harbours.

There was seldom a time when a four-legged companion was not present. One spring, Jill brought an orphaned baby raccoon home from the college, which soon turned into a massive wild animal unsuitable for domesticity. The experience made for some good memories as well as the threat of a lawsuit from an unimpressed neighbour.

A thoughtful correspondent, Jill not only sent post cards and air letters from all corners of the world, but unexpected things, too. A package would arrive out of the blue; a note would acknowledge a job well done; an envelope would contain a treasured family photo or a newspaper clipping on gardening. That was Jill.

With her beautiful smile and ready laugh, Jill will be remembered for her lust for life, love of family, selflessness and sense of adventure. And for making a really good cup of tea.

Jeffrey Chalmers is Jill's eldest son.

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