It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Norma Elizabeth Oaker. After a long and full life, she leaves behind her husband, Earl Lamond, her children, Robi (predeceased), Shelley and her partner Dennis, Jon and his wife Cat, her granddaughter Kes, her brother Herb, her niece Nancy and her sister-in-law, Ursula, along with a list of unofficially adopted family and friends.
How does one incorporate the span of 88 years of intense living in a brief message? It can't be done.
We can list highlights like a young woman/girl who overcame debilitating spinal surgery to go to take part in competitive show jumping at the Royal Winter Fair... or going back to attain a degree from University of Toronto in her forties (while working full time and trying to manage a household full of teenagers)... Or having the courage to leave her life to take a teaching position in Cape Breton and return to Toronto with a fresh perspective and a future husband. She was a leader and innovator in the field of early childhood education (part of the original Montessori team) with a particular passion for special needs. She met the Queen. She successfully transported a 17 hands tall horse home using only her own ingenuity, an Austin Sprite, a length of rope and a child to tether him to (I still have nightmares). The list goes on. Suffice to say that a heady mix of intelligence, drive, and determination led to a long list of accomplishments.
Her softer side was, however, her more defining legacy. Norma always approached life and interaction on a deeply personal level. Her childhood was shaped by early memories of her depression-era mother trying vainly to warm milk in her hands for the children, and of a kind stranger who whisked her brother and her from a riot raging outside their home; and then worked tirelessly to reunite the children with parents who had been interred at the CNE during WWII. This imbued her with a deep-rooted sense of personal honour and compassion which guided her through the years. This, perhaps predictably, led to a house full of troubled teens (is there any other kind ?) and animals. Her response to a pesky groundhog raiding her beloved garden was to name him and grow another couple of rows of his preferred veggies. She knew the names and histories of virtually every shopkeeper and restaurant owner she regularly patronized. One small, owner operated sandwich shop had a tip jar dedicated to her. Apparently she was so offended at the lack, that the proprietor made one to be stored behind the counter to be pulled out when she was seen approaching (kudos for the customer service).
Norma was a size 10 personality crammed into a size 5 body! With a will of iron and a heart of gold she embraced life like it was a carnival ride. She wouldn't cut the line but she'd paid for her ticket and was sure as hell going to ride the ride... and ride it she did... for all it was worth!
All of us, whose lives she graced; from family and friends, to people she mentored or taught and for those whose lives she touched along the way, will sorely miss her but will, I trust, continue her legacy of caring and her willingness to embrace life to the fullest.