When Jean Wilson died last month, a shudder rippled through the Roman Catholic community in Barrie. People stopped–stunned–and profoundly saddened by the loss that Jean’s death brings to her many communities.
We each live several roles in our lives, that of sister or brother, parent, child, caregiver, community volunteer, our working contribution, friend.
Jean’s life included all those roles, and she lived them in four communities. She brought the same character traits to each community and at her funeral people who’d been impacted by Jean told their stories.
Jean was a teacher. When she and husband George moved to Barrie from Trinidad in 1965 they both arrived in Barrie as teachers. Jean started and completed her teaching career at St. Mary’s Elementary School. She taught until 1994, nearly 30 years, touching three generations of children in grades 5, 4, and 2. She taught with five different principals in two different buildings, the old on Codrington St and the new on Leacock Lane.
Many of Jean’s students are now parents with children of their own.
“We all had the great pleasure of having Jean in our lives. She truly was an angel in my eyes.”
“Jean was an incredible lady. I can’t tell you how sad I was when I heard her passing. She was a mentor, a teacher, a friend. She inspired, motivated and taught children well. I had an honour to work as a co-op student in her classroom. She touched so many people.
One student approached George at Jean’s funeral and shared about the trouble she had as a child, the strife in her home. “Mrs. Wilson took me in. She was more than a teacher. She was my friend.”
On and on the accolades came as the days after Jean’s sudden death rolled out towards her funeral service, which was held at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Jean’s other community.
Jean Wilson lived her religious life in full view. She was passionate, she was committed, and within herspirituality she was complete. Her greatest love as a teacher was preparing grade 2 students for their first holy communion.
And within her church parish, Jean brought much change. For 20 years she carried on a children’s liturgy. She taught children about the word of the Christian God. She taught it in their language so they could understand. At the beginning of first one, then a second mass she would remove the children as a group and with them she conducted their own meaningful service. Three weeks before her death, the church was discussing adding a third children’s liturgy to Jean’s Sunday schedule. A young priest remembers Jean’s impact on him: “I’ll never forget Jean’s affect on me as a young priest. She had such total commmitment. She inspired me to be a better priest. Her touch on my life will always be felt. I want to imitate that.”
Jean’s third community was with the elderly at Simcoe Terrace. She spent time, sharing her religious beliefs and did service work among the Catholic residents there.
Friends of St Lucia was Jean’s fourth community. Feeling concern for the poverty and lack of education for children on this Lesser Antilles island, Jean mobilized the Barrie community and several teachers took a March break and with each teacher went a hockey bag of school supplies, toy, exercise books, pencils, pens.
“We take so much for granted,” said Jean’s husband George. “It was wonderful to see the care that they took of everything there.”
The Friends of St Lucia school supplies drives have continued for 10 years. The organization has sponsored kids to go to school, bringing them to Barrie and paying their tuition, helping them finish grade 12 and go on to do post secondary training before returning to St. Lucia. Another of Jean Wilson’s legacies.
Though Jean had retired along with George, in 1994, she’d taken little time for herself. Her schedule of giving continued right until her death, which came as a surprise to both Jean and her family. She’d had a lump removed from one breast in 1996, and following radiation and chemotherapy her health returned and she continued her mission in life. In 1999 two masses appeared on her lungs and Jean felt confident that both spots were dealt with following her medical treatments. One persisted, however, and in September it caught up with her.
Within a week, Jean was gone, seven days after entering Royal Victoria Hospital.
On the day she died (September 22) she was due to help decorate for a wedding. From her hospital bed she sent her husband and daughter Teresa to help with the wedding. Precious hours without her husband and daughter because it was just minutes upon their return to hospital that Jean was gone.
Did she know she was going to die? Her husband George thinks that ultimately she did know. They had discussed the possibility of death when the second lung mass presented itself during the summer. She said she was too young to die, but that she wasn’t afraid to go.
For her husband, for their children–Gerard, Teresa, Darren and Peter John–Jean’s passing leaves an enormous hole. For her communities, Jean’s passing is a reminder of how important our time here is, how critical it is to live each day the way we want to live it.
For her communities, Jean Wilson signifies love, truly selfless love. And because she loved herself so well, Jean was able to reach out to others in a way that touched their souls. Every one who knew her is absolutely certain that she’s getting red carpet treatment at her new address!