Lorraine Johns Finlay: Mom. Nurse. Nurturer. Inspiration. Born Dec. 14, 1921; in Gravenhurst, Ont.; died June 5, 2017, in Gravenhurst, of sepsis; aged 95.
Caring was the virtue that defined Lorraine Finlay's life. My mother's journey on this mission began the day she entered Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital nursing school in the early 1940s to care for returning Second World War veterans. When her signature smile and compassionate way helped her talk down and disarm a confused knife-wielding soldier, the Sisters of St. Mike's knew they had a special kind of nurse in the making. Soon, she was winning over many a battle-weary patient, including the man she would marry, himself an injured Royal Canadian Air Force pilot.
It wasn't long before Jack and Lorraine exchanged one set of Greatest Generation uniforms for another, this time as middle-class pioneers of suburbia in the 1950s. Lorraine excelled at creating elegant barbecue parties in the backyard of their Don Mills home. One of their frequent guests was the actor James Doohan, who at one such occasion began choking on an olive. Had it not been for Lorraine's intervention, the world might have been deprived of Star Trek's much beloved Scotty.
Growing up, I remember friends presenting themselves at our door with an assortment of cuts and bruises vying for my mother's "miraculous" care. No street ever had so many kids happily wearing so many bandages.
With her major duties raising a son, Richard, and daughter, Kathleen, complete, Lorraine returned to nursing at Toronto's Donwood Institute, which specialized in treating alcoholism and drug addiction. Even years after she retired, former patients sought her out to thank her for saving their lives.
Late in the 1990s, Lorraine returned to her century-old family home in Muskoka. There, she pursued two of her other great passions, gardening and protecting the environment. When the Town of Gravenhurst decided to cut down two majestic 300-year-old white pines to make way for an expanded tennis court in the nearby park, Lorraine planted herself defiantly between their two massive trunks on the morning they were slated for destruction. A squad of police officers soon towered over my tiny mother, then 80, threatening her with arrest. She told family and friends, "when they cut down those beautiful trees, it was like losing my arm." A few weeks later, a full-page story about her passion to save those trees would appear in The Globe and Mail.
The last chapter in Lorraine's journey of caring took yet another turn on the eve of her 89th birthday. After she was hospitalized for a terrible fall, a series of medical mistakes caused a cardiac arrest. Miraculously, she was revived. But her doctors wrote off any hope of meaningful recovery, insisting her demise was "imminent." Of course, Lorraine had other ideas. Back in her home, she went on to live a remarkable six more years full of music, food and family love. It brought Lorraine enormous satisfaction to know that her experience inspired the creation of an advocacy organization dedicated to fighting medical errors.
With almost poetic symmetry, Lorraine took her last breath in the same home where she drew her first more than nine decades earlier. To the end, she knew caring in all its forms was one of the highest callings. She knew it, in the words of her favourite Irish poet, "in the deep heart's core."
Kathleen Finlay is Lorraine's daughter.