Skip to main content

Deirdre Mary Bernadette (Bernie) Schlauch

Indomitable spirit, wife, mother, dragon boater. Born on Sept. 12, 1954, in Knockraha, Ireland. Died on Sept. 29, 2013, in Toronto, of metastatic breast cancer, aged 59.

One of the first things you noticed about Bernie were her eyes. They were a dazzling green, with lashes so long they probably deserved their own postal code. Through those eyes, she saw the world with exceptional grace and a deep spirituality.

She was number seven of 14 children born to farmers Eugene and Mary Delany. Bernie learned early that idleness got you nowhere. And tiny Knockraha was never going to quench her thirst for adventure. By age 20, she had already been to England to study hairdressing at the Vidal Sassoon school, and was now looking across the pond.

Story continues below advertisement

After hearing about a place called Newfoundland, Bernie was intrigued and visited Canada in 1974. She returned to Ireland after a few months, but in 1975 she was back in Canada, wanting to explore more.

That summer, in Toronto, she met the man who would become her husband. John Schlauch, a cute auto mechanic, got one look at those green eyes and that was it. Bernie continued to work as a hairdresser until they married in 1980, and started a family. Three children came within five years: Matthew, Krystal and Rory.

As her family grew, so did Bernie's interests. She owned a second-hand clothing store in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood. In later years, she and John divided their time between the city and a farm they bought near Flesherton, Ont. Bernie became a passionate gardener and, true to her Irish roots, there was always a 50-pound bag of potatoes in the basement. The kettle was usually on for tea. She insisted it be drunk from a light-coloured cup, so you could see how strong it was.

In 1999, at the age of 45, Bernie was diagnosed with breast cancer. She never let it define her. After a mastectomy and chemotherapy, she joined Dragons Abreast, Toronto's dragon-boat team of breast cancer survivors. Such teams race for fun and to raise awareness of the disease.

Dragon boating became Bernie's new passion. She learned to steer, coach and, with donated boats, started two teams in her beloved Grey and Bruce counties. When her cancer kept her from paddling, she took up drumming, keeping pace for the boat. Bernie was especially fearless in a 2,000-metre race, hanging over the side of the bow to help cut corners.

Bernie had a strength of spirit that cancer couldn't kill. Shortly after going back to school in 2010 to become a teaching assistant, she was rediagnosed. But a new round of treatments didn't stop her from getting her certificate. Sadly, she died before she could teach what she had practised.

One of her last wishes was to donate her body to scientific research. She believed in higher education. "I never made it to university," she said, "so this is one way for me to get there." Her corneas were donated to two people. As her husband John said, "If those transplant recipients see the world in half the light Bernie did, they will have a spectacular view."

Story continues below advertisement

Pat Brown and Mary Mather are Bernie's friends.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading…

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.