You may have noticed that my posting has hardly been personal over the past couple of weeks. It is a week of difficult anniversaries. February 4th is the day my father and little brother perished in a fire, and last year on February 12th, my mother was taken by cancer. Here is the note we wrote for her last year, a shorter version of which was printed in local papers.
Janet Norgrove (08/05/54-02/12/16)
If life is a journey, then Janet began by walking early.
Born in El Dorado, Saskatchewan as an only child, as a toddler she lived in Edmonton and Toronto, where her father was very ill. When he had learned to walk again after his illness, his job as a mining accountant took them across the country. She lived in Ontario, on the Prairies, in Newfoundland and in the North, where she summered on Great Bear Lake, in Echo Bay.
Janet attended a dozen schools in as many years, enjoying learning even if she never found it exceptionally challenging. Her father eventually died after a long decline when Janet was fifteen. After struggling with illness and the financial challenges that accompany them, Janet and her mother (Lucille, d. 2001) moved to Wilmington, Delaware.
For a moment Janet’s feet stilled and the journeys that opened up before her were of a different sort. She spent her high school years in Delaware, exploring ideas and developing her appetite for books—she was a voracious reader until the end. The late 1960s and early 1970s were exciting intellectual times and Janet cut her political teeth on the civil rights issues of the day. It cost her a bra or two in protest, but during this time Janet set a trajectory for the life of learning and public service that would define much of her work in the 1980s.
Wilmington was also where Janet began lifelong friendships. Guy and Dorothy Palandrani were at first neighbours, but their house soon became a second home. There, growing up with their children, Janet found new strengths—strengths that set her feet to journeying after an underwhelming semester at the University of Delaware. It was in the mildly Bohemian years that followed that she met Dana Dickieson in Hamilton, Ontario. He was the love of her life, and together they moved to his family farm in New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island.
Janet and Dana were married in 1974 and she took the world by storm. Janet began to get involved in the social issues in her community in creative ways. After attending the University of Prince Edward Island as a young mother (BBA, 1984), she turned to progressive politics. Janet was truly a trailblazer, helping to introduce the New Democratic Party to Islanders by running federally in 1984 and provincially in 1986. She was the first woman to run for the PEI NDP and was instrumental in changing the way Canadians understood their relationship with politics.
With the birth of William “Riel” Norgrove Dickieson in 1987, Janet turned from public life to a renewed engagement with the Island’s private sector. There was tragedy, then, that stilled all our feet. On a cold February day in 1990, with Tina and Brenton at each side, she buried her beloved Riel and Dana.
The road goes ever on, and after supporting her children through high school, Janet loaded up her little Dodge and went west. She finally settled in Calgary, where she spent much of the next decade as CEO of the Western Stock Growers. Her home in Calgary became a second space for both Tina and Brenton, who had made southern Alberta home for a little while.
The east called again. Brenton and his family returned to Charlottetown, PEI, and Janet settled in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Soon Tina found her way there too, establishing a family of her own. Janet managed a prominent university research project, and created a community of friends and family – most important of these her two grandsons, Nicolas (age 11) and Hunter (15 months). These were strong years for our family, and once again Janet’s little apartment was a sanctuary, and included Janet’s daughter-in-law (Kerry) and son-in-law (Jerry).
For us children, and for others, Janet was the first feminist in our lives, the first teacher, a great risk-taker, a committed activist in whatever she chose to do. She was fierce in love and debate and friendship, able to carry a great weight of pain through her life and to finish that journey in a way that was a powerful testimony to everyone in her life. She faltered at times. Somehow, though, she found strength to continue on, often leading others on a path she did not know.
Cancer is its own journey, and sometimes a destination. Eventually, it was cancer that brought us all to Janet’s bedside at St. Martha’s hospital. We were celebrating, as we often did on a night when we could gather. We sprang for the $18 wine, this time, and local beer, and take-out that filled the ward with smells of garlic and curry. We tilted beer bottles and lifted wine glasses and paper cups to Janet’s life. And while we were celebrating, she tried to slip out without us noticing, journeying on to whatever comes next. It was her way, after all.
We are sad that we will not be able to journey with Janet anymore, but glad that she made the trip worth it, and was with us when she could.