The world has lost a bright light. Elizabeth (Libby) Anne Pavey (nee Harris) passed away at Stirling Heights Long Term Care Home, in Cambridge, Ontario, early in the morning, April 25, from Alzheimer’s disease at the young age of 73, with family by her side.
Libby's life was full of joy, adventure, curiosity and compassionate support for others. Born in Toronto to Robert Harris and Margaret (Mansell) Harris soon after they had both returned from Europe serving Canada in WWII, Libby was one of the first baby boomers.
She and her younger sister, Kathy, had endless mischievous adventures growing up in Lindsay, Barrie and Windsor. As kids, they would visit their grandmother in Mitchell during the summers. Being a wonderful grandmother, she had very few rules and didn’t hesitate to spoil them, allowing her grandchildren free rein during these visits. They ran wild in their pajamas all day and made trips to Stratford to take in Shakespearean drama when it was still under a tent. Libby’s love of antics and theater was instilled from a young age.
Libby finished high school in Windsor. She often fondly reminisced about the times she crossed the river with her dad to go to jazz clubs, the Fisher Theater and attend baseball games at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
Libby completed her undergraduate degree in Languages at the University of Western Ontario. There she met a lifelong group of friends, known, to this day, as the Big Chill Group, with whom she would travel the world, gather around dining tables and ski the hills as their families grew.
Her summer adventures in university were the source of some of the best stories, from her days as an elevator operator at St. Andrew's-by-the-Sea, to a chambermaid at Jasper Park Lodge. To supplement her income in Jasper she moonlit as a go go dancer, much to her parents' dismay! By her final year of university her interest in community oriented projects was developing. She joined CUSO as a development worker in Mexico for the summer, helping with the logistics of getting a bridge built across a river and setting up an immunization clinic, a far cry from being a go go dancer in Jasper.
After graduating from Western, Libby headed to teacher's college at the University of Toronto in the autumn of 1968, living in a house on Bedford Road with four other girls. Their first house party that fall brought Don into Libby's life. By December they were engaged and in August of 1969 married.
Libby began her career in education at Palmerston Elementary in Little Italy. Meagan was born in 1971 and Erin came along in 1975. Looking for a quieter pace of life, Libby and Don moved to Cambridge in 1976, where Libby quickly immersed herself in volunteer work at the YWCA, teaching English to new immigrants.
Keen to get back to the classroom, Libby joined the Waterloo Region District School Board in 1977 and began her specialization, teaching English as an Additional Language. There she formed strong bonds with the ELL team who also became her close friends at work and through retirement. She moved from elementary into secondary education and worked at Kitchener Collegiate Institute and then Galt Collegiate Institute, where she threw her passions into supporting her "new Canadian" students, coaching cross country running and serving on the steering committee for the 150th anniversary of the school. Her helping nature led her to become a guidance counselor where she set up the Careers Center and made sure that her students felt valued and were supported to reach their goals.
A life-long learner, Libby retired from teaching and went back to university in 2001, completing her Masters of Social Work at Wilfred Laurier. She excelled in both theory and practice, but was the first to credit her husband Don’s typing skills and her cousin Mary’s understanding of statistics, in her success. Her younger classmates were always impressed with her thoughtfulness and organization, and her profs impressed so much that they asked her to stay on and pursue a Ph.D. Instead, she returned to the thing she loved most, helping kids and families in need, by working as a social worker with the WRDSB. After her second retirement in 2006, she continued to give to the community through her volunteer work with Argus House, an emergency housing organization for young people, and the Cambridge Library Book Outreach program. In 2010 she was recognized with the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for voluntary, community and humanitarian service.
A believer in healthy living, which included her one beer a day, Libby was a lifelong runner with her running buddies, a regular user and supporter of the YMCA, a member of the "hiking herd", skier, cyclist and gardener. Libby loved to orchestrate the "forced family marches" no matter what the weather, and she is credited for passing on the habits of an active life and love of nature to her family -- great gifts. And in keeping with her love of learning, she thrived through her involvement in the book club, the Third Age Learning series and always had the most questions for any tour guide when she and Don would travel.
Libby was a serious fan of theater and live music. She and Don had a full calendar of arts events, especially after they both retired. Our family fondly remembers her participating in the sing-along-Messiah at Whistler one Christmas, and refusing to leave the stage when the solo performances began. And travel -- Libby could have been a travel consultant with all of the experiences and adventures she had in her life. Some of our best family memories are from trips we took with Libby leading the charge -- evening church concerts in Europe, insane free upgrades in hotels, obscure museums and ’off the beaten path‘ hikes to name a few. Paddle boating in the canals of Holland while eating lunches we sneakily made at our hotel breakfast buffet and stashed in baggies she took from our rooms while sipping Heinekens bought at the corner store was the brainchild of Libby, an experience we will never forget.
With her Big Chill group and with her sister, there were also many travel tales. Kathy and Libby hiked the Cotswolds in England one summer, and Libby took it upon herself at an evening social to share her rendition of the Queen’s Christmas address to the delight of the other hikers and the horror of the “Royals” in the group. Our “Queen Elizabeth” certainly had a twinkle in her eye.
Libby took great delight in becoming a grandmother with the arrival of Caleb in 2004, Lucas in 2007 and Rowan in 2011. In her spirit of adventure she shared many family trips with the boys, including Disney World where she enjoyed the rides more than anyone! She also spent many hours reading to them, playing games and enjoying rambunctious family dinners where she, the boys and Dante would laugh endlessly at the chaos of it all.
Libby was the light and energy in a room. She was a driving force that kept groups together and took tremendous joy in family and friends. She was engaging, happy and fun to be around. She was a person who listened to others with genuine interest and made them feel important and valued.
Libby is greatly missed by Don, her husband of 50 years; her daughters Meagan and Erin, her son-in-law, Dante Morra, her grandsons Caleb, Lucas and Rowan, her sister and brother-in-law, Kathy and Steve Bellringer, her nephew, David and niece, Katie and their families. She is missed by her cousins. On hearing the news of her passing, one of them said "It’s hard for me to think of her as gone. Libby was always just the opposite of being gone. She was always full of life. Everything she did, she did with a zest." She is also greatly missed by Don's brothers, sister and their families. All of her family and friends are so grateful for her energy and organizational prowess that have kept us so close over the years.
To honour Libby's life going forward, a fund has been established named the "Elizabeth Pavey English Language Learner Scholarship" which will be awarded annually to a graduating ELL student from Galt Collegiate Institute, going on to pursue post-secondary education. Libby was passionate about her students and so proud of what they were able to accomplish after leaving GCI. Donations to the scholarship fund can be made via the Cambridge and North Dumfries Community Foundation linked through their website at https://www.cndfoundation.org/
Libby’s family thanks friends, extended family and neighbours for their love and support over the years, as Libby was increasingly challenged by Alzheimer’s. Thank you also to the incredible people with the Alzheimer’s Society, the Minds in Motion Program, the Sunnyside Day Program, YODA, Warm Embrace Elder Care and the amazing staff of Stirling Heights Long Term Care Home. All of the people in these programs and places supported Libby to live her final years with joy, grace and dignity.
A celebration of Libby's life will be held in the future when we are all able to hug each other, laugh, cry, share stories and raise a glass to this incredible woman.