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Lives Lived: Marian Grace Francis Kelen, 92

Marian Grace Francis Kelen

Country doctor, mother, poet, skier. Born on Jan. 10, 1922, in Oxford, England; died on Jan. 29, 2014, in Ottawa, of natural causes, aged 92.

Marian Grace Francis Kelen, known to close friends and family as Popsie, lived a long and happy life.

She was born to William and Hilda Francis in Oxford, England, where her physician father catalogued the immense collection of historical medical books that his famous cousin, Sir William Osler, had bequeathed to McGill University.

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Popsie, an only child, spent her first years at the grand home of the Oslers and grew up immersed in the lore, teachings and spirit of Sir William. When she was 6, her family moved to Montreal and she spent her early days roller-skating around the McGill campus while her father established the school's Osler Library of the History of Medicine.

Following in her father's footsteps, Popsie studied medicine at McGill, one of the few women in her class. She also joined the McGill Outing Club where she met Andy Kelen, a medical student who would become her beloved husband of 60 years. With other McGill students, they skied with the legendary Herman "Jackrabbit" Smith-Johannsen on the cross-country trails of the Laurentian Mountains. During this time, she acquired another nickname: Tigger, as she had the bouncy energy of that Winnie-the-Pooh character.

While serving overseas in the Second World War in the Canadian Army, Andy painted his jeep with an image of Tigger to remind himself of her. As soon as he returned from the war, they married on the McGill campus and resumed their love of the outdoors. Their honeymoon adventure in the Laurentians began in a float plane with a canoe strapped to its side.

Andy and Popsie did their residency together at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital and then moved to the rural community of Ormstown, Que., where there was a group practice of physicians who offered affordable health care before the days of medicare. While Andy worked as a general practitioner and internist, Popsie stayed home to raise their five children: Michael, Sari, Steve, Susan and Wendy. The family also included a dog and two or three cats.

When her youngest child was 10, Popsie returned to work as a GP, with a specialty in women's health. Her patients loved and appreciated her not only for her medical skill, but because she sincerely cared about them and took the time needed to attend to them.

Popsie ran a fun-filled, relaxed household. When a neighbour asked for her secret to good child rearing, her reply was simple: "Give them lots of love." She thrived on the company of friends and family and loved hosting big dinner parties around the old oak table.

She was also a poet, inspired to write on special occasions such as the birth of a grandchild or the departure of a family member to Africa. Until a few weeks before her death, she was an omnivorous reader. She had an encyclopedic memory of medical knowledge, and was known for her many quotations ranging from A.A. Milne to Shakespeare.

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In 2003, after 55 years of village life, Popsie and Andy moved to Ottawa. Happy to be closer to two of their children and one of their nine grandchildren, they enjoyed a busy life that included skiing in the Gatineau Hills and swimming.

Andy passed away three years later. After coming to terms with the loss of her beloved, Popsie continued on, always cheerful. In 2007, she suffered a stroke, but persevered in her seniors' residence. She will be remembered always for her optimistic outlook and her generous spirit.

Wendy Kelen and Michael Kelen are Marian's daughter and son.

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