Theresa Helen McNeil was one of those women.
An extraordinary woman died this week, and all of Canada is poorer for it.
Theresa McNeil, the first woman in Canada to serve as High Sheriff, died Monday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 81.
Suddenly widowed in 1973, Mrs. McNeil went out to work, supporting her large family (17 children! A single mom!) while continuing to volunteer for a variety of causes and organizations, most notably Meals on Wheels. She saw no reason why earning a living would mean that she would abandon those in her hometown that she felt needed her. Four years later, she became High Sheriff of Annapolis County – the first woman in Canadian history to hold a sheriff's rank.
Her children grew up knowing the power of place and of helping others - of being one person, working for change. Her contributions to the province earned her the Order of Nova Scotia in 2005 and Confederation and Queen’s Golden Jubilee medals for volunteer service. But when asked about her achievements, she would brush praise off, saying that lots of people in small communities volunteer their time for others.
“She was a person who thought of the blessings she had, as opposed to the things she didn't have," Janice McNeil, her 13th child and youngest daughter, said today. "I was six years old at the time (of her father's death). I don't remember my mother ever being sorry for herself or saying, 'What am I going to do?"'
Four of her children grew up to be police officers - the rest are teachers, a school administrator, an executive assistant, five public servants, two small-business owners, a communications professional and one MLA, all serving their towns and cities and working to change things for the better.
Many people will remember Theresa McNeil only as the first Canadian female to serve as High Sheriff or as a role model for women facing adversity. But if you asked her, her proudest accomplishment was raising her 17 children.
"I didn’t do anything that anyone else, thousands of mothers and fathers, (doesn’t) do — get up in the morning and go and do the best you can," she said. "That’s all I did, and it worked out OK, so thank God for that."
Stephen McNeil spoke movingly of his mother, saying "My mother is the one who taught me about liberalism, about the belief in family, about the support of community and respect for all people," he said. "It is because of her that I am standing here today."
Women like Mrs. McNeil make it easy to show our children what you can do if you put your mind to it. That it will take hard work, but you can do anything. Anything.
I think it’s a great lesson to learn. Theresa would be so proud.
This is an original Canada Moms Blog post. Jessica talks about other things at daysgoby.
photo credit: Eric Wynne, Chronicle-Herald.ca