Val Emms: no nonsense, all action!

Val Garner Emms was a no-nonsense kind of woman. She had to be, as the oldest sister of 10 Garner kids and then mother of three of her own. Of course with that kind of family dynamic, she was pretty direct and very definite. You get the picture.

People reminisced about Val, enjoying her uniqueness at the celebration that marked her passing last week from pancreatic cancer.

Aside from kitchen wizardry borne from home management for six decades, Val loved theatre. She loved attending theatre in Toronto and Stratford and she loved supporting professional, live theatre in Barrie. A stalwart supporter of the Gryphon Theatre Guild for 40 years in Barrie, Val was head usher. In that capacity she often had to handle egos and expectations of performers on stage. That included providing trays of food backstage, along with other ‘requests’ that came from the performers (towels, specific juices, timing… it was interesting).

Val was very direct when she last handled the expectations of one of Canada’s well loved solo performers (who shall go nameless) who appeared often on Gryphon’s stage. “His ego is bigger than his reputation,” she scoffed. “I’ll never, ever do anything again when he comes here. He used to be pleasant, kind, interesting. But as his fame has grown, he’s become a demanding, self centred egomaniac!”

And she never did.

I think in a nutshell, that sums up Valerie Ann Emms. No pretense. No airs. No self-imposed hierarchy about who mattered and who didn’t. Val and Stu Emms lived a simple life in a simple east end bungalow and raised great kids and she contributed widely to her community.

Her friends sat together in a row at Steckley’s on Monday, friends for more than half a century. Together they took the train to Toronto, together they worked on fundraising events, together they mourned losses and celebrated high points, together they lunched and laughed. Pat Powell, who sat with Val at her bedside at Hospice for the past few weeks, mourns the loss of a friend who is closer than a sister. Norma Stephenson, Rosemary Vasey, Josie Hunter, Ruth Williams, Daphne Watton… friends.

Val’s baby brother, Dave Garner, spoke about Litter #1 and Litter #2 and Val’s importance as head sister at the first of the line… how important she was as Mom #2 and how important she was as her mother’s best friend until she passed away at age 96. Val was 79.

Val’s relationship with her grandchildren was as strong as that to her siblings and her children. They spoke of wonderful, week-long visits where they got a chocolate bar every day, and did fun things with Grandma. Her relationship with her great-grandchldren was just beginning.

When a person’s life here is finished, summing it up is dangerous. There’s so much you can miss. But summing up attitude can be insightful… and Val had lots of attitude. On the last day of 2011, she and Stu celebrated 61 years of marriage. That took attitude. Looking at her legacy of family care, that took attitude. Looking at her strong core of friendships, that shows attitude.

Val’s no-nonsense attitude let her achieve much and not leave an item on her bucket list that wasn’t ticked off.

The family chose the poem that was read at the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002 and sent Val off with words of positive reinforcement rather than grief. After all, Val was the Garner Queen Mum. For sure. Her final bit of advice?

“Relationships shouldn’t be work!” Great truth, there.

Thanks, Val.