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lives lived

Pat Stewart Connell

Pat Stewart Connell: Wife. Mother. Grandmother. Adventurer. Born April 4, 1944, in Timmins, Ont.; died Dec. 23, 2017, in Burlington, Ont.; of cancer; age 73

How do you describe Pat Stewart Connell? Impossible, we thought. There are too many Pats. There was Pat the wife, mother and grandmother, the one we heard from the most. Rightly so; her family burned in her like a pilot light, illuminating her. It was lit by Jim, her husband of 51 years, by Kerri and Jason, Grant and Steph, and the grandchildren, Sarah, James, Aidan and Kiera.

That would be enough for most people, but Pat wasn't most people. There was Pat the traveller-adventurer, the seeker of new sights, sounds and souls. Pat the poet, capturing in untrained but passionate lines how she felt, what she loved, who she loved. Pat the advocate, looking for injustice – in Brazil, for example, helping homeless kids become educated so that they could escape poverty. Or working as an occupational health nurse offering more than nursing care for her patients: counselling, advice, guidance, friendship were all readily available. Pat the comedienne, who could have given any stand-up a run for her money. Pat the hostess, never afraid to try a new recipe. Pat the decorator. Pat the nurse. Pat the joiner. And there was Pat the friend, the one we remember the most, since we count ourselves lucky to have been among them. Blessed, maybe.

We got to know Pat in the 1980s, fresh from her and Jim's sojourn in Saudi Arabia, where he was working to build a telephone company and where she was employed as a school nurse.

Pat quickly grew into our lives as a funny, outspoken, charismatic force to be reckoned with. The world became more interesting; colours seemed a little brighter; conversations became more, well, dynamic.

She was born in Timmins, Ont., moved to Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, North Carolina and Michigan, as part of her father's work; then to Saudi Arabia, Brazil and pretty much everywhere else, as the result of her husband's career and her own travel-adventurer spirit.

We got to know how she connected with life, not like some passive passenger on a train, but a true conductor-engineer. And along the way, how she befriended everyone, especially the unfriended or vulnerable. Growing up in Slocan, B.C., she made friends with children interned with their parents in a Japanese camps. And in one, final, illuminating example of her spirit, befriending a lonely, young mom worried about her child's future as they waited in the chemotherapy treatment room.

Toward the end, we got to meet Pat the teacher. She taught us how to live when the end is more, well, visible. Her lessons? Talk about it, don't keep it in. Be a beacon of courage, a full-on lover of life. Mostly, be yourself, not some pale reflection of what others want. In the end, cancer may have defeated her body but it never – never – defeated her spirit.

Heaven, if it exists, is now a bit brighter, funnier, more interesting, probably with a wine club, travel desk and more modern, tasteful decor. And if heaven doesn't exist? No problem: She'll create it, deploying all her roles and skills. She certainly made a kind of heaven here when she was with us.

Dave Davis and Maureen Davis are Pat's friends.

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