Beatrice Elizabeth Olivant (1925 – 2010)
Recently my mother passed after 85 years. At her memorial I delivered my farewell if front of the many friends and family assembeled. While in no way political, I am going to post the eulogy that I wrote as delivered as a tribute to her. Mother, I will always miss you.
“First, let me thank you all for coming here today. Seeing all these faces together would have made my mother truly happy.
Today, we all feel a profound sense of loss over the passing of Bea Olivant, my mother. More importantly, each of us feels deep gratitude for having her in our lives for some part of her 85 years. It is amazing what has transpired during her life. George and Hazel’s oldest daughter was born 2 years before Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. Her childhood was shaped by the challenges of the Great Depression and she took great pride in having played a role in taking care of her younger brothers and sisters she loved so much. Her adolescence was forged during the Second World War where she saw so many of her friends and relatives go off to fight. I cannot count how many times I heard the stories of her cousin Ernie, but how grateful I am now for having listened.
Each of us met my mother at different points in her life and as such knew different elements of her journey. As a young woman who didn’t finish high school, and never once used an ATM, she found her way to a staff job at the University of Toronto where she played a role in the programming of the first IBM Computer in Canada. When plans with a group of friends fell through, mother, then young and unmarried, and her friend Marion bought at pair of airline tickets and flew off to San Francisco and for several weeks proceeded to explore California in the adventure of a lifetime. Now, we need to keep in mind that this was at a time when airplanes had propellers and San Francisco a reputation as one of the more colorful and trendy places of the day. Memories of these days always brought a smile to her face, as late as after dinner this Thanksgiving when she last talked of the trip. I have always wondered what amazing parts of the story she left out of the version she told her son. But this was my mother, no matter where she found herself she stepped up to the challenge and found a way to have a little fun with those around her.
There were two core values that defined my mother throughout her life, love of friends and family.
Friends were a big part of her life and she took those friendships deeply serious. She had genuine concern for the families of those she often had met not long before. She was always willing to give whatever she had to help those around her.
In recent years, the friendships she made with those at Leisure World filled her life. The stories she shared on our phone calls and visits were of people who meant a great deal to her.
This week my wife and I have found all the notes and cards people have sent to my mother over the years, literally hundreds of them. She kept them all. Your kind words meant so much to her every time they were read.
Family was everything to my mother. Her four brothers & sisters Dorothy, Ken, Jack and Irene, and their many children were so important to her. No bigger smile would come to her face than that when a new graduation picture arrived or a card was received. Her near daily conversations with my cousin Keith helped to sustain her. She lived to hear stories, share gossip and spend what often short visits she had with those she loved so much.
Twice Mother and My father Harold lost children in pregnancy, and when the third time came along, the best advice of doctors was not continue with it as the risks were too great. She rejected that advice out of hand (in what I personally think was a truly fine decision) and in the end had her one and only child. Within days she became critically ill and would spend the next several months in hospital fighting for her life. As a young child and adult in Sudbury, I was amazed that any time I ran into one of the doctors or nurses involved with those days, they ,without exception, praised her courage and said she survived for one reason, her sheer force of will.
For me, her only son, she and my father continually worked and sacrificed so that I would have the memories and experiences which would come to shape me as an adult. Summers spent at the cottage on Manitoulin Island were her gift each year. Riding a water slide, and turning very white, at Disney World. Taking care of and learning to prune the Plum Tree Grandpa had planted in our yard. Ensuring her only child had a connection to her extended family was so vital to my Mother. God, I remember so many days sitting with her on trains and busses traveling to Toronto and Gravenhurst as a young child. Somehow I doubt she enjoyed the Sesame Street Live Show (the original Bob and Susan of course) and the Helldrivers at Expedition Stadium as much as her young Son, every year, without exception. Only with age have I realized what they sacrificed.
Mother had a profound and intuitive sense for and about people as well as their situations in life. I will always remember the day when a school bully pushed too far and the resultant brawl found me in the school’s office. The principle congratulated me on doing what so many teachers wished they had, my home room teacher said there were bonus marks coming, and my father suggested work on a good right hook. Mother understood the day, but reminded me of the other individuals dysfunctional home life, the challenges he faced alone and the lack of any love or role models in his life. My father left me with a profound sense of right and wrong. My mother left me with respect and compassion for the needs and challenges of others.
There is no life that is without weakness and shortcomings, and my mother was no exception. But her intentions were always good and her heart was made of gold. No better friend could be made, no more loyal sister be had and no more caring mother lived.
As we gather here to say farewell to my mother, your sister, your friend, Beatrice Elizabeth Olivant, we know she is in the caring arms of the mother and father she loved so much and her husband with whom she shared so many years. Please, let me say one last thing to her:
Mother, I am eternally grateful for all you have done, the sacrifices you made and the love you gave. I am now, and always will be, proud to be your son.
December 2, 2010 Gravenhurst, Ontario