She wore glasses. She had an incredibly wrinkled face, filled with laughter and love of life. Before you saw her face, you saw her long, red fingernails. She boomed her enthusiasm and exhorted her expectations. She put her energy behind her words. She loved. She healed. She grieved. She experienced grief. And this spring when she died, Robyn Wearne left a grieving, laughing, grateful community.
Most of us, hustling through malls or down our main street, might have bypassed Robyn. In doing so, we’d miss a wacky woman, full of zest of life, with hand to man, as it were. The pitch of her personality sometimes hid the soul that reached out to others.
Robyn was relatively new to Barrie, moving here in the late 80’s from work in remote communities in Canada’s north and in Australia. She brought with her great compassion, great nursing skills which she’d plied in a medical trailer in Grise Fiord, 104 people on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island. What energy she brought with her!
Her two passions in her Barrie life were caring for the dying, and helping people learn to read and understand basic numeracy. She was in the very first training class for Hospice Simcoe, back when it was located on Owen St and making its first reaches into community work. As a Hospice volunteer, Robyn gave dying people solace, a voice, care, and human touch. Though she never had children herself, she willingly took over a home with four children, three times a week, so the Mom of the household could get to her chemotherapy appointments.
She’d do anything it took to give people the care and dignity they deserved when critical illness entered their homes.
Because she had what could be called a “big” personality, Robyn was given “big” responsibilities when it came to her work with Hospice. She accomplished what normally would require an entire team. She worked charity bingo for Hospice, throwing her enthusiasm into her chores. She anchored the Tree of Remembrance fundraiser for Hospice, raising unique amounts of money through her enthusiastic sales of doves.
While Robyn’s mom was gone, and she had no family of the flesh in Barrie, she did live with her family of the heart, Marg and Ed Bowman and their children. With her little dog, Robyn anchored the Bowmans’ Painswick neighbourhood, Robyn with her long, lean legs and her basset hound dog who had practic ally no legs at all! Quite a sight when they walked together!
Long red fingernails on hands that never stopped, a big voice that commanded energy and enthusiasm, Robyn Wearne either didn’t like you, or loved you! And if she loved you, it was forever.
It’s ironic that Robyn’s earthly life ended during service to Hospice. She had a stroke while working at bingo. Her co-workers were stunned as their energetic companion was felled. Hospice bereavement coordinator Kathi Kelly accompanied her by ambulance to the heliport at RVH where Robyn was airlifted to a Toronto hospital. “Off she went, like tinkerbell into the night…somehow I knew I wouldn’t see her again,” recalls Kathi.
The community that gathered to grieve Robyn’s passing also continues to grieve the hole that she’s left in Hospice services across this region. Friends from all parts of Robyn’s life gathered to light candles, share stories, laugh, cry. And as they did, they took comfort in this phrase from the poem read at her memorial service:
“It was always my philosophy and I’d like it for you too
That as you give unto the world, the world will give to you.”
Today, Robyn’s ashes have are reunited with her mother’s in an Australia graveyard. But her spirit is flying around the rooms at Hospice, keeping everyone in line.