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Suzanne Ethelwyn McCarthy

Linguist, poet, teacher of special needs children. Born on Dec. 14, 1955, in Toronto; died on June 12, 2015, in Toronto, of cancer, aged 59.

Suzanne grew up as the second youngest in a family of six girls and two boys. As a small child, she had extraordinary imagination. Her ability to make up vivid and elaborate stories when reading children's books to her little sister meant that Louise did not want anyone else to read to her. Before starting kindergarten, Suzanne was already an avid chess player.

She earned an honours degree in classical and modern languages at the University of Toronto, gained a teaching qualification, and later became fascinated with writing systems. Her master's degree focused on aspects of the syllabary used for the Cree language. Fluently bilingual, Suzanne ensured that her children, John and Helen, were educated in French-immersion schools and delighted in the fun they had in learning elementary Spanish, a challenge she presented to them before a family visit to Mexico.

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Suzanne moved to Vancouver with her first husband, where she was a teacher of immigrant and special needs children in the city's school system for more than 20 years. She developed many innovative programs, including designing a school website where immigrant children could write their stories in Chinese, Korean, Tamil and other mother-tongue languages alongside English. This helped them to keep a connection to their homeland while learning to express themselves in their adopted language.

Suzanne's work with children with special learning needs in Vancouver was legendary. With patience and deep educational insights, she could help a child born deaf to move from a world of silence into lively communication, or assist a child with autism in opening up to others. There were no limits in her commitment to the most vulnerable.

An absorbing personal interest was the history of Bible translation. Suzanne's knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek enabled her to develop a convincing critique of gender bias in English translations of the Bible (one example is the Hebrew word chayil being translated as "virtuous" when referring to women, "valiant" when applied to men). Her last two years were given to writing a book, which her family hopes to see published soon, that exposes the gender patterning of various translations of the English Bible.

Suzanne's courageous struggle with cancer over more than three years was inspiring to all around her. During this time her deep spirituality opened up new understandings of the Bible from a poetic, literary approach. She suggested that Psalm 84 was probably written by a woman, with its reference to mother birds creating nests in the altars of the "lovely dwelling place" of the Lord, and its mention of inner spaces such as houses, tents and courts. Her love of nature emerged in her poems, laced with evocative images of japonica, hemlock, saxifrage and salal berries.

In the spring of 2014, she was delighted to welcome Wyatt, her first grandchild. But the greatest joy of Suzanne's final years was in meeting and marrying Jay Frankel, the love of her life.

Ruth Hayhoe is Suzanne's sister.

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