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Jane McKeague: Teacher. Mother. Foster mother. Risk-taker. Born Nov. 20, 1924, in Winnipeg; died Nov. 20, 2017; in Ottawa; of stroke-related causes; aged 93

Jane Thompson grew up during the Great Depression, but it hardly touched her. This made her uncomfortable and she would spend much of her life trying to close the gap between fortunate people such as herself and those who were disadvantaged or marginalized.

She was raised in a prosperous Winnipeg home with two older sisters. After she graduated from United College (now the University of Winnipeg), she chose to become a teacher in small towns in Manitoba and British Columbia, rather than settle into a comfortable life in her hometown.

When she started at a school in Kimberly, B.C., Jane got help putting up a map in her classroom from a shy fellow teacher named Alex McKeague. He had grown up on a dustbowl farm in Alberta and, while Jane was attracted to his muscular arms, Alex was smitten by her brown eyes and radiant smile. Soon after they married in 1952, Alex decided he didn't have the gift for teaching. He wanted to study science. Jane told him to go for it, even though this meant years of raising children with strained finances. She believed people should do what they loved.

Alex eventually graduated with a PhD in soil science from Cornell University. By the time he finally had a full-time job again – at the Department of Agriculture in Ottawa – Jane and Alex were 36 with four children under the age of 9 (Paul, Elly, Martha and Shirley). A fifth child, Ruth, soon followed.

Jane loved motherhood. When her five children had grown, she took in foster children for five years. Then, she and Alex took in a woman and three children who had fled the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Later, they helped refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo to settle in Canada.

Jane was curious about every person she met and made them feel special. She could maintain her cheery nature through any calamity – as long as she could read for one or two hours each afternoon. She would often read to herself aloud – at full voice, with great expression, as if addressing a classroom.

In their 60s, Jane and Alex went to Tanzania for three years. Alex worked with young agriculturalists and Jane volunteered at a rural clinic, where mothers from miles around brought their babies for vaccinations and checkups. In their 70s, they helped hide a former Polish spy. They felt it was unjust to deport Ryszard Paszkowski, who had worked with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. When he slipped back into Canada with false papers in 1997, they hid him in their home until he was given sanctuary by their church. Mr. Paszkowski was subsequently granted permanent resident status and became a Canadian citizen.

When Alex died in 2007, Jane just kept going. At 91, she was still driving to church functions, to her bridge clubs and to her volunteer work. She also doted on 14 grandchildren and two great grandchildren, who adored her.

A series of small strokes finally slowed Jane down, but could not stop her from making a two-week trip to Italy in her last two months. She died in hospital on her 93rd birthday, surrounded by her family.

Paul McKeague is Jane's son.

Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide.

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