Wife, mother, grandmother, author, joker, twigger. Born Jan. 4, 1935, in London. Died Dec. 15, 2010, in Vancouver of cancer, aged 75.
On a visit to the family cottage on Gambier Island, B.C., Sheila Rolfe once inadvertently killed a mouse while opening the front door, resulting in three tiny orphans. Sheila abandoned the coolers and suitcases, setting to work on a makeshift nursery - a plastic container with moss, food and water. When it came time to pack up the boat and head home to Vancouver, Sheila fashioned a burrow in the woodpile for her foster mice. Ironically, these mice would likely grow up to be the very creatures she worked to keep out of the cottage.
Sheila's parents, Kathleen and Wyndham Madden, brought her from England to Canada when she was 3. A brother, John, was born a year later and they enjoyed a happy childhood in Vancouver. When Sheila was 12, her parents enrolled her at Queen Margaret's boarding school in Duncan, B.C., where she felt homesick. She ran away one afternoon, but the headmistress intercepted her at the bus stop. After being treated to tea and cookies in her office, Sheila learned to love the school, making lifelong friends.
Sheila attended the University of British Columbia, majoring in English and Spanish while enjoying the musical theatre club. In her first audition for the chorus, she was told by the director: "You don't have a great voice, but you seem reliable, so you're in." Characteristically, she was more amused than offended. It was here she met Havelock Rolfe, and they married in 1956.
Two children followed - Basil and Valerie. Sheila allowed a drum kit in Basil's bedroom, and an unending parade of stray animals in the house. Particularly fond of cats, she often fed those roaming the streets of the Caribbean towns she and Havelock visited. Later, they enjoyed time with their four grandchildren - Jesse, Elliot, Charlotte and Max - and five granddogs.
A proponent of good manners and grammar, Sheila regularly wrote to companies and publications to point out infractions. Her keen eye for editing made her an excellent writer, and she penned hundreds of humorous pieces for radio and print, as well as two children's books.
Sheila told jokes of all stripes, often surprising the unsuspecting with racy selections. A month shy of her death, her teenage grandsons fired jokes her way. She roared at all of them and said, "I hate to leave this fun family."
While she travelled a lot, Sheila's favourite destination for 50 years was the cottage on Gambier Island, where she and Havelock slept on the porch in all weather. A lover of songbirds and flowers, when she wasn't out "twigging" on the beach (gathering twigs for starting fires), she would check the progress of "the boys" (the flowerpots on the porch) and her daffodils. It is in this place, with views of the North Shore Mountains and Bowen Island, where Sheila's family will scatter her ashes in the spring, and remember her always.
By Valerie Rolfe, Sheila's daughter.