That, perhaps, might be the core of Linda Irwin’s quiet, complex, unconditional energy.
Most of Barrie didn’t know Linda Irwin. Just before her final vows as a nun, she chose the family route to living her goodness, Linda married, had children whom she absolutely loved, had neighbours, friends, and colleagues. She divorced. She had a significant person in her life. She helped launch her children into adulthood. She loved. She laughed. She lived. She met challenges. She passed away.
It’s what happened in between that gives meaning to the word “life.”
Tiny… under 5 feet at full height… Linda had a presence that infected and affected others. She took her energy into the field of literacy. She taught at Barrie Learning Centre for the past five years of her working career. Prior to that she taught through the Catholic School Board in its adult division. She ran group seminars to help people find enough courage to enter the work stream. She was tireless in her ability to inspire adult students to reach as high as possible.
Linda Irwin gave the road back to them.
Rob Porter says it eloquently…
The father of three, Rob entered the Barrie Learning Centre as a grown man with a grade 4 reading ability and a grade 3 spelling skill. And then he met Linda. Within a year, Rob’s literacy skills blossomed. He went to grade 9 in ability, then to grade 12. Then Linda asked him to help tutor math for her in her own class.
“I helped other students. Because of Linda,” says Rob.
School was never easy for Rob. Once he was diagnosed with dyslexia, his trouble with letters and numbers started to make sense. He didn’t see or process like everyone else. He sure couldn’t read for pleasure; he could not even read to survive. Writing a cheque, operating a bank machine, filling out a job application were impossible tasks. Rob worked as a general labourer, job after job, until his wife went back to school. He decided rather than stay at home he’d go back to school too. He’d get some help in reading and spelling. Instead, Rob got his life.
Rob has a job now and uses his ability to read to do deliveries. He reads books to his kids. He reads the newspapers. He goes to the library.
“I have a set of twins who are 7. For them to come home and I’m able to help them with their homework; well, it’s just a whole new world!”
Linda’s influence on Rob mirrors her influence on everyone else. She took her unconditional care for people into the Salvation Army, to Christmas Cheer, to adult students who’d lost hope along with self esteem.
Colleague Teresa Slade thinks out loud about this tiny woman with the big spirit. “As soon as you were in her presence, you felt her goodness. Every student I ever taught who’d had Linda centred their conversations around what she had taught them. She had an incredible ability to go with the flow, to make light of things she had no control over and contribute to the things she could.”
Linda contracted a neurological disorder last year, a non-contagious virus that attacked a portion of her brain. It’s a rapidly progressive disorder that destroys the brain… it’s sentence is speedy.
Linda suspected something was wrong last October. She went for tests by December. She was unable to work after Christmas. She died on February 6. She was 50. As her physical self deteriorated, she gently closed the door on the people she cared for so much at work. Her neurological disorder was not to be their final memory. She saved her time and her energy for Leslie and Eric, her children. But her other ‘family’ those whose futures were changed because of Linda’s care, this family took time to grieve and to celebrate.
They talk of Linda buying food when they had none, diapers when the next cheque was a week away… gifts that were given without fanfare or condition. She just cared.
And so these students who arrived barely literate, took time to fill a book at the Adult Learning Centre, a book that stands as a legacy to a woman who believed people could learn to read, to write, to use math in their daily lives. She believed people could graduate from high school with these skills.
“You gave me hope and strength and made me feel that I was valuable.” Janice
“This past summer was full of happiness for me and it was because of you.” Shannon
“I came back to school at 58 to finish credits for a diploma. You made learning absolutely wonderful. In June I will graduate.” Linda A.
“You were the one to make me see that I can do it. You were like a mother to me. You will always be in my heart.” Robert
“Many people teach and that¹s their job. For Linda it was her calling.” Chantelle
“Thank you, Linda, for making me believe in myself.” Angie
Some people go through life in the headlines, making news with policy, changing lives with decisions and votes. But this one tiny bundle of energy took the ‘trenches’ route; she touched, and cared, and cried, and believed. She sought solutions. She denied problems. One person at a time.