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MARY HELENE SWITZER (published on January 17, 2009)

MARY HELENE SWITZER To her doctors and care givers, Mary Helene Switzer was a miracle . But to the many people whose lives she touched she was simply the most caring individual many of them had ever met. From her July 11, 1938 birth on Hemlock St. in Sudbury, ON to her January 12, 2009 death at 22 Howard Ave. in North Bay, Mary's cheer and charm proved capable of penetrating even the gruffest of exteriors. No one understood this more than her husband Maurice, who met Mary in 1975 in Belleville when she was a widow raising two daughters. Mary proved to be a patient gardener and Maurice a late bloomer during their 33 years of marriage. She tried to teach him patience and compassion when he tried to convince her that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points of view. Mary was small in stature. She insisted that she was one-half inch over five feet tall, and always had trouble finding shoes to fit her size 5 feet. But the Creator endowed her with a striking beauty -- heads turned when she entered a room. In addition to looking for a reason to like everyone she met, one of her greatest assets was the ability to confront and overcome her fears. She progressed from being skittish of large dogs to riding an elephant at a touring circus, and hopping aboard a camel in the Judean Desert. She was nervous about new technology -- Mary never used a bank machine or operated a computer -- but she could balance any household's budget and commit her deepest feelings in handwritten letters to friends. She abhorred violence and suffering, covering her ears when newscasts reported incidents of cruelty to children or animals, but she was able to withstand all the discomforts associated with sustained anti-cancer treatment. While unwavering support for Maurice's career in the newspaper industry inevitably took Mary further from other family members, it also provided the couple with opportunities to make new friends in every part of Canada -- they kissed the cod in St. John's and snacked on sugar-coated salmon atop Vancouver's Grouse Mountain. They vowed not to leave the best until last. They sunbathed in Cancun and snorkled in Honolulu; they shopped for Murano glass in Venice and Matryoshka dolls in Yalta; they watched Sammy Davis Jr. in Las Vegas and Peter Ustinov at Stratford, met Johnny Cash backstage in Sudbury, and saw Evelyn Hart pirouette in Winnipeg. Mary bought Maurice his first set of oil paints, he took her on her first canoe ride. Mary instilled in Maurice an appreciation for his heritage by showing him how much she loved her Slovak roots. Her beloved parents Stefan Pavlik and Maria Kurej left Jakusoce -- a village of 16 households -- to make a life in Canada, and Mary made three pilgrimages back to visit her many cousins. Together with Maurice and granddaughter Bianca, she made the trip three years after doctors had predicted that her inoperable lung cancer would kill her. Bianca's mother -- Andrea (Frank) Zimperi and aunt, Lisa Doracka -- both of Timmins -- speak and understand Slovak because their mother thought that was an essential part of their upbringing. Mary refused to let go of this life until she was good and ready. In addition to members of her immediate family, her indomitable spirit will comfort nieces Georgia Volker, Valerie (children Allan and Katrina) and nephew Mark Lesnick, all of Toronto, and mother-in-law Ruby (Marsden) Hicks of Lakefield, ON. She was predeceased by her beloved sister Anne Lesnick and first husband Milan Doracka. Mary's family are inviting friends to join them in a celebration of her love-filled life at Omond United Church, 319 McKenzie Avenue, North Bay, ON, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 24, 2009. She would be pleased if anyone wants to honour her memory by making donations to charities promoting research into cures for lung cancer and lupus, or to the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary near Huntsville, Ont. Arrangements entrusted to the Martyn Funeral Home, 464 Wyld Street, North Bay, ON P1B 1Z5; 705-472-8810. Online condolences at Mary's spirit is in a better place, shining in the night sky with all the other stars.

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