Sally’s legacy is built on life, love and grief

When I think of Sally Macklem Rodgers, I think of bright, blue, dancing eyes, a wide smile, a throaty voice, and a direct hit.

As we travel through our lives, people gift us in many ways. And Sally’s gift was outward optimism, a light heart, a considerate attitude, and a strong will, anchored firmly in right and wrong.

Two days ago, hundreds of people from Sally’s life, and the lives of her husband, Bob, her kids Lisa and Rob, her brothers and sisters, came to share their love of Sally, their connection to her. They came to say goodbye. The room at Steckley Gooderham Funeral Home was filled to overflowing. Background music, if you listened closely, was Anne Murray and Celine Dion. Pictures of smiling Sally, on her wedding day with an equally radiant groom, with her Mom and Dad in Alaska, with her own kids, with her grandchildren gave her visitors pause to remember what they cherish about this woman.

Sally died last Monday night of cancer of the liver. She was 54 years old.

And in that 54 years, Sally carried more grief than most of us ever know in a lifetime. She was a lesson in processing the bad things that happen to good people. She modelled the adage that the only control we have over the stuff that happens to us is how we handle it.

Her husband, Bob, shared that as Sally’s health deteriorated, she faced her death face-on. She discussed flowers, music, and the fact that she’d prefer to slip away, unnoticed and unfussed over. But, it was her nature to think of others and knowing that people love her and understanding that people need an opportunity to express their grief and say goodbye, she acquiesced to a ‘careful’ service, under the stewardship of Rev. Colin McDonald.

But let’s go back. Let’s go to Caledon, Ontario. Just south of Orangeville. That’s where Sally and her siblings Jon, David, Janice, Susan and Danny lived with their parents, Frank and Win Macklem. Frank spent his life in the food industry, as a butcher, then a meat specialist for Oshawa Foods. Long time friend Roy Christie had left Toronto and opened two IGA stores in Barrie. He turned one over to his son John and offered the other to his long time friend Frank Macklem back in 1976. And before they knew it, the Macklems moved to Barrie. The whole lot of them. And whether full or part time, they all worked in the Market Square IGA, the downtown IGA, the one across from City Hall.

Those of us who shopped regularly at Market Square IGA remember Sally, Bob, Frank, and Win as the full time family staff. Frank’s player piano went non stop, entertaining shoppers as they pushed their big carts and their kids pushed little carts all around the store. The Macklem’s love of antiques found its way into strong decor… this store virtually hummed with style.

It was family shopping for families at its best and at its peak, the Market Square IGA was supporting 90 staff, some full time, some part time and was open (reluctantly) seven days a week. For $1 you could have your groceries delivered, and the Macklem’s supported with generous donations, Royal Victoria Hospital, school fundraisers, hockey leagues, fundraising barbecues for various charities. They also supported locally owned media and made their advertising decisions based on that kind of loyalty.

Sally was office manager, bookkeeper, and peace keeper among a staff that was dominated often by family members. Bob and Sally’s kids were young when they made the move to Barrie… ages 4 and 5. These were the days when Cundles Rd was not paved because it was the end of town. And Sally and Bob and their kids lived on Charlbrook Av, steps from Cundles and the end of the road.

Their kind of retail service was inclusive. They knew their customers by name. There was always a balloon at the checkout for the kids and the one coin-operated pony ride at the store’s entrance was busy all day long. They carried your groceries out to your car. They cared.

In the early 80’s, Sally’s brother Danny died suddenly. In his mid-30’s, a husband and father with two youngsters, Danny was doing some car repairs in his garage, closed the door, and didn’t use the tailpipe extension. He was dead when they found him. A blow to the family. Grief.

And then grocery retail changed suddenly. It was early in the 90’s when the super grocery stores, Zehrs and Sobeys, located in Barrie’s outer reaches. At the same time, the young families that surrounded Macklem’s IGA had grown up and the family grocery bill of $100 a week, dropped to less than half. Add a whopping rent increase from the city for the store location, plus a signing bonus, and you can almost feel the agony that this family owned business experienced. Frank and Win, Bob and Sally felt real responsibility for their staff; they hung on, they tried innovation, and looking back Bob Rodgers identifies a few mistakes that they had no way of seeing at the time.

When the Macklems/Rodgers closed the store in 1993, Sally found herself unemployed, age 46, kids virtually grown, and she felt unskilled, and unable to find other work. Closing a business, experiencing that kind of loss, is a blow that is more than grief. Bob feels Sally never recovered her self confidence after the store closing.

In the mid 80’s, their 18 year old daughter Lisa was involved in a horrible car accident. With severe brain injury, and a seven-week coma at Sunnybrook Hospital, the Macklems and the Rodgers and their customers all centred their concern around Lisa. Lisa’s climb back was slow and painful and has left Lisa with some permanent issues of concentration and memory. A few years later, at the time of the closing of the store, Lisa’s baby son, Daniel, Sally and Bob’s first grandchild, was put to bed and never woke up again. A crib death. A blow. Grief.

Shortly after the store closed, eight years ago, both Frank and Win began to lose stride. They had been in their 60’s when they bought Market Square IGA. Long work hours, long years took their toll and Sally and her siblings cared for them with love until their deaths. Grief.

For a close family, as the Macklems are, tears can be from joy, from laughter, from anger, from sadness. They’ve had lots of each. And for a person like Sally, capable and vivacious, committed and forthright, life losses become hurdles. She handled it all with grace. And with honesty. She had the capacity to say when she was hurting, to share it without “dumping” it.

Daughter Lisa went on to have two more precious grandchildren, and today Micaela is 5 and Caitlyn is 4, the same ages as Sally’s kids when they first moved to Barrie. And as Sally dealt with life’s final blow, these little girls were her smiles. They brought her cookies. They sat while she read. They drew her pictures. They smothered her with love. And Sally loved back.

In fact, Sally Rodger’s legacy to her family, to her friends, to her associates, is love. Pure and simple. And for Bob, marriage was second on the agenda. First, Sally was his friend.

Grief? Yes. Joy, too.

Thanks, Sally.