Author, chartered accountant, family touchstone. Born on Nov. 7, 1923, in Daysland, Alta., died on June 12, 2014, in West Vancouver, B.C., of heart failure, aged 90.
Blanche never conformed to the 1950s ideal of a stay-at-home mom. She champed at the bit to engage with the world and translated her restlessness into early success as a writer, publishing her first short story in Maclean's magazine in 1958. Despite breaks to earn an income and raise a family, her pursuit of a writing career became her passion and vocation. She went on to publish five novels, two plays and countless short stories and journal articles, still writing until weeks before her death.
Undeniably, Blanche's most treasured writing adventure was the 1991 epistolary novel A Celibate Season, which she co-wrote with her dear friend Carol Shields; the two first met at a book club in the early 1970s while they were both living in Ottawa. They also shared their lives in 30 years' worth of correspondence that tracked their deep and diverse interests in writing, culture, politics, current events and. most importantly, family.
Blanche's upbringing in Alberta spanned a duality that was reflected in her no-nonsense approach to life. To ease her own mother's struggles with a growing family, Blanche spent alternate years at the Calgary home of her grandmother and school-teacher namesake aunt. There, Blanche marvelled at the luxury of running water and flush toilets and flourished under the academic encouragement she received. The other years found her in a one-room prairie school house, where she soon outpaced her teacher. After graduating at 16, and with funding from her grandmother, Blanche set off to study science at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
In what would be the final year of the Second World War, she met and married Bruce Howard, a dashing air force pilot, and waited in Toronto while he went overseas for a year. After his return, and while he attended university, she worked as a chemist for three years, but they felt stifled in conservative post-war Toronto. They travelled west by train until the arid hills and deep lakes of B.C.'s Okanagan Valley caught their fancy. They disembarked in Penticton, and settled down to raise three children, Allison, Stephen and Leslie.
Unable to find meaningful work in the field of science, Blanche fought for, and won, a place as an articling chartered accountancy student. Biases against women in the workplace meant that most firms refused to accept them as articling students; she had to accept lower pay than men, and less prestigious jobs, despite achieving the second-highest exam marks in British Columbia.
When Bruce was elected in as Liberal MP for their South Okanagan riding in 1968, he and Blanche and their youngest daughter moved to Ottawa. Blanche enthusiastically adapted to political life, becoming the first "parliamentary wife" to address the Liberal caucus. After serving a single term as MP, Bruce accepted an appointment as a citizenship judge in Vancouver in 1973. Once again, they headed west.
Blanche's peripatetic childhood served to strengthen family bonds; despite the successes of her varied careers, her many board appointments, her volunteer work and her wide-ranging interests, nothing was more important to her than her family, including her six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and her many friends.
Allison Howard is Blanche's daughter.