Heather Crowe, the waitress who became the tragic face of the non-smoking movement, died of lung cancer yesterday at 61. She had never smoked.
The Ottawa woman helped change attitudes toward the habit by telling her story in moving Health Canada commercials. She watched the country inch toward comprehensive smoking bans, but died only days before such legislation came into force in Ontario and Quebec.
"I think that, in a few years, the whole country will be smoke-free, and that's in large part because of Heather," said Garfield Mahood, executive director of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association.
"This particular commercial was largely effective because it had a personalized message that carried real strength. The personalized message is far more important than the scare messages or messages that lecture people."
Ms. Crowe was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer four years ago and was given 10 months to live.
She rebounded, won a groundbreaking fight for workers' compensation benefits and agreed to become a public face in the crusade against second-hand smoke.
Her condition deteriorated in recent months and she entered a palliative care facility in Ottawa.
Mr. Mahood said that he had seen Ms. Crowe in the last week and it was clear the end was near.
"We all knew she had only a couple more days," he said. "She had charisma, she had heart, she had a sense of justice that I think was larger than just her own tragic encounter with lung cancer."
Ms. Crowe also spoke at schools and community groups about the effects of tobacco use. But her speech became difficult to understand as her cancer progressed.
Jim Watson, a provincial politician from the riding of Ottawa-West-Nepean, was a frequent customer at the restaurant where Ms. Crowe worked and called her the "matriarch of the anti-smoking movement."
He related her desire to live to see the anti-smoking legislation come into effect. "It's very sad that she's not going to be here to see it," he said.
Mr. Watson called her an unlikely activist. "She fell into this anti-smoking passion because she experienced first-hand what so many people have suffered over the years."
Similarly, Mr. Mahood described her as a person who rose to the challenge when the starring role of television activist was thrust upon her.
The ads came, he said, after a "chance encounter" with a Health Canada official.
She was proud, said those who knew her, that she was able to make a difference in the lives of other Canadians.
Newfoundland, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have all banned smoking in workspaces and public places.
Ontario and Quebec will in May, and Nova Scotia will follow by the end of the year. Saskatchewan is almost smoke-free and there are partial bans in the remaining jurisdictions.