Imagine this, if you will. An old lady, aged 97, looks up at you from her keyboard and asks, mid-email, ‘where the heck IS the internet?
It’s the kind of question whose answer needs a context. “Well, Mom, the Internet is like God; it’s everywhere and nowhere!”
The answer sat well with Isabel Nash and she went on to stay in contact with her grandchildren as they travelled the world before and after university.
In fact, Isabel Nash was a champion of change, and a living, breathing example of vibrant attitude. Born in 1911, she graduated from Queen’s University around 1930, the same university that graduated her grand-daughter some 70 years later. Even going to high school was an achievement for Isabel… it took the determination of her brother, Hunter Russell, who took the reins of the family buggy and got his sister in to school. It was a long way from Midhurst to Barrie Collegiate in the 1920’s. It was a lifetime away to attend Queen’s University.
Literally hundreds of area children who are now in their 70’s and 80’s themselves are lucky that Isabel Russell decided to come back home and teach. She took up residence in the two-room school on Ferndale Rd and met the challenge of teaching tremendously disadvantaged children during the Second World War. She was proud of her commitment and effectiveness with youngsters and she believed that in order to teach well, you had to be welcome in the family home; you had to know the child spiritually and emotionally in order to reach them and bring out their best.
Born before World War One when people got around by horse drawn buggy and phones and electricity were future luxuries, Isabel Russell Nash dished out eternal wisdom, in gently opinionated form, to young and old alike… eat well, get enough sleep, do something with your life that you care about, and learn something new every day.
Summed up, it was the mantra that ruled Isabel’s own life. When she died, during her afternoon nap, in early June, it was as if she just reached up and pushed the ‘stop’ button. Even after leaving her lifelong Midhurst home three years ago at age 94 and moving to Whispering Pines Retirement Home on Letitia St., she continued to volunteer at a nearby school. As recently as February she was a guest judge for a public speaking contest and chose the speech on global warming because of its importance today as a key issue.
She recognized the environment as the world’s challenge today, and was effective at grilling political candidates who came to Whispering Pines to visit the ‘old folks.’
Isabel was the spinal column of her home community of Midhurst. Along with the Coutts, the Craigs, the Gills, the Masons, the Suttons, the Frankcoms… she was proud of her heritage and active in protecting it.
For years, Isabel was an active planter of lilacs; in fact, today in the Vespra section of Springwater Township, over 385 varieties of lilacs are blooming because of Isabel’s commitment. She was instrumental in having the lilac named as Vespra’s official flower and became known as the “Lilac Lady” across the region.
It’s odd, you know, as a person grows, they take on different sorts of importance. As a young woman determined to get an education in rural Simcoe County, Isabel would have been considered very special, a spirited young woman with a headstrong goal.
As a teacher she is revered for her empathic approach, for her determination that every child has tremendous potential and that too much emphasis is placed on I.Q. As a church member she looked at the white haired heads of congregations in pews and said it was the churches’ own fault; they needed to adapt and change and embrace the thoughts and ideas of young people who had a valuable contribution to make.
As a senior-senior she embraced the internet and email as a practical way to keep in touch with those most important to her. She was vibrant. She was interested. She was wise. And she joked to her daughter a decade ago that her memorial announcement should read: “Plant a lilac somewhere.”
Her death notice on June 5 in the Barrie Examiner reads: “As an expression of sympathy, memorial donations may be made to the charity of your choice, or ‘plant a lilac somewhere.’
Isabel would have appreciated the email condolence to the Examiner website by her friend Margaret Walt Armstrong: “I was sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. What a wonderful, full of life, generous woman she was. She was a great neighbour to have as we grew up on the Second line. I hope your memories will sustain you at this time. God bless you.”
Isabel Russell Nash would have appreciated that for a minute or two. And then she would have gotten along with her next project.
What a life! What a legacy of lilacs! Thanks, Isabel.