Donna Dutton (née Hagan), our beloved wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother (guy-ya), great-grandmother, big-sister, sister-in-law, aunt, cousin and friend. Born on July 18, 1934 in Virden, Manitoba; died December 23, 2016 in Nanaimo, British Columbia, aged 82.
Mice, bears, cougars, coyotes and early mornings terrified our mother. Otherwise, mom embraced almost every aspect of her life fearlessly and with aplomb.
Mom was born in Virden, Manitoba in the middle of the great prairie drought of 1934. As a result, her parents, who were farmers, soon moved north in search of greener pastures and ended up living in a granary in Swan River, much to the chagrin of her Irish grandparents. In 1935, the family returned to the Virden area where mom attended the one-room Mayville School until her family settled on a farm near Woodnorth, Manitoba in 1946.
Mom was a good student with a keen and curious mind. She skipped two grades and moved to Virden at 16 to live with her Grandma Carleton and take her Grade 12. After High School, mom moved to Winnipeg where she obtained a teaching qualification from the Provincial Normal School. At 18, mom landed a job teaching in a one-room school in Hillview, Manitoba for an annual salary of $1,700.
Over the years, mom taught all grades and all ages but she clearly preferred to teach small children. In 1964, when our family moved to Redvers, Saskatchewan and there were no teaching positions available, mom applied to the local school board to open a private kindergarten. The school board granted its permission but forbid mom from teaching the students how to read. Parents of the students of this academy of higher learning have been known to refer to their children as graduates of the University of Redvers or the U of R. Naturally, mom taught everyone to read.
At Virden Collegiate, mom met our dad, Billie Dutton. They married in Virden in 1954 and forged a formidable partnership that lasted over 62 years. Together, our parents moved across Western Canada following Dad’s work in the oil industry some 17 times and made life-long friends wherever they landed, including Virden; Redvers; Estevan, SK; Midale, SK; and Calgary, AB. In later years, mom and dad retired to Vancouver Island and became snow birds – migrating first to Hawaii and then Arizona – which allowed them to golf all year round and host family and friends looking to escape the harsh prairie winters.
Mom raised four sons (Craig, Scott, Brad and Drew) with unlimited doses of love and wisdom. She welcomed their spouses (Lynn, Debra, Sandra and Oliver) into the family with open arms and became an adoring (and adored) grandmother to her fourteen grandchildren (Craig’s children: Brandi, Abbey, Mila and William; Scott’s children: Liam, Jordan, Mackenzie and Joshua; Brad’s children: Cassie (Bonokoski), Arlann, Amy and Tanner; and Drew’s children: Elise and Zoe) and her three great grandchildren (Eva Donna Dutton Youngberg, Luke Bonokoski, and Cooper Dutton).
Mom had many talents – but we never heard her boast, except, occasionally, about her grandchildren. She was a beloved and dedicated school teacher in the 50’s and 60’s; an outstanding homemaker, cook and stay-at-home mom in the 70’s; a successful Mary Kay saleswoman in the 80’s; and an accomplished golfer in retirement. At all times and in all circumstances, mom took care to look as good as she possibly could and strove, like her mother, to be the best-dressed woman at any function.
Mom had only a few vices: she had an insatiable sweet tooth and a small weakness for slot machines; she smoked like a chimney until her boys moved away from home; and she was known to have cheated, at least once, in a game of Monopoly with her grandchildren by illegally giving away money to keep insolvent players in the game.
After mom died, we retrieved some 2000 photos from her Iphone and her Ipad. The photos are a testament both to many of the things mom loved and her limited talent as a photographer. Unsurprisingly, there are many photos and (sometimes accidental) videos of our Dad, often with mom giggling in the background like a school girl, hundreds of pictures of her friends and family, particularly her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and a surprising number of selfies intended, we assume, to record her ever-changing hair colours and styles. The random collection of pictures she snapped over the last five or six years is a pretty good barometer of how active, engaged and interested mom stayed until the end of her life. Her photos chronicle a jam-packed schedule with Mom and Dad hosting guests and celebrating birthdays, baptisms, graduations, holidays, weddings, family reunions, and anniversaries across Canada, the U.S., Asia and Europe. Most often, mom is pictured in the middle of the action giggling with abandon or hugging a dear friend or family member close to her.
Throughout her life, mom took care of a large family and cultivated deep relationships across generations. Mom’s siblings, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren could always count on her to dole out sage advice and to provide a shoulder to cry on. She took the role very seriously and did not hesitate to offer her unvarnished perspective and counsel. Mom’s death leaves our extended family bereft of a dear friend and matriarch.
Mom ended up in the hospital in Nanaimo, B.C. in early December with a serious case of shingles that subsequently caused spinal meningitis. Mom rallied for several days and was able to enjoy visits with Dad, her boys, their spouses, her sister Maureen, a few dear friends, her cousins Corb and Cindy Phillips and many of mom’s grandchildren. Despite mom’s best efforts to recover and get home again, she died peacefully, surrounded by her family, just before Christmas.
We celebrated mom’s long and happy life with a wake, in the best Irish tradition, and a funeral service conducted by her friend, Pastor Stewart Miller, in Qualicum Beach, B.C. on December 29, 2016.
In addition to our father and her descendants, mom is survived by her younger siblings in Manitoba (Maureen Hagan, Keith (Mary-Anne) Hagan, Colleen (John) Bucklaschuck and Shawn (Jocelyn) Hagan), her sister-in-law Lorraine Thompson (née Dutton), as well as many nieces, nephews and cousins. Mom was predeceased by her grandparents Ed and Jane (née Watt) Hagan and Emma Jane Jordan Carleton (née Glanville); her parents, Edward and Christena (née Jordan) Hagan; an infant brother, Jordan Bradford Hagan; her mother-in-law, Dollie Dutton (née McMillan); her sister-in-law Bernice Daniels Wright (née Dutton); her brothers-in-law, Fred Daniels, Howard Wright, John Thompson and Harvey Chalmers; and all of her many aunts and uncles (mom’s mother was the youngest of 13 children and her father had three younger siblings), including her close friend and youngest aunt, Eileen Phillips (née Hagan).
Even after mom died, we kept finding evidence of her love and thoughtfulness. In her favourite pine desk, which her maternal grandparents had somehow dragged with them from Ontario when they came West in the late 1800s, we found that mom had tucked away special documents and notes to herself memorializing important events from her entire life. Mom had saved correspondence with her grandparents and parents, love letters from our dad and cards and letters from her family and friends that had particularly touched her. On top of them all where mom knew we would find it, was a short, handwritten note from 2009 with the suggested hymns for her funeral and a comforting poem asking us not to grieve too much because she was grateful for a long and happy life and strongly believed that we would all one day be reunited.
When I am gone, release me, let me go . . .
I have so many things to see and do.
You mustn’t tie yourself to me with tears;
Be happy that we had so many years.
I gave to you my love, you can only guess
How much you gave to me in happiness.