Obituary of Valerie Bird
Age 98, of Halifax.
The redoubtable Valerie Bird has left us early on the morning of February 2nd after almost 99 years of full throttle living on the planet. Born in Trnva, Slovakia on April 24th 1923, she was, from her earliest days, full of spark, zest, abiding curiosity and a truly astounding sense of her own personhood and independence. She fled Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia at 18, false passport and visas in tow, and made a long, challenging journey away from everything she knew to what was then Palestine. Asked about how terrifying and dangerous that journey must have been, her inevitable reply was “Oh no- I was too stupid to be scared.” After a year of kibbutz life, she joined the British Air Force, worked first as a dental assistant and then, as a meteorological assistant. It was in that capacity, that she met our dad, grandfather, and father-in-law and married him on the day the United Nations was founded. Their friendship and abiding love was legendary. After peace was declared, she sailed into another new future to England with dad and began another chapter of her amazing life. They moved in with her new parents in law and she immediately set about finding a job- she was successful as anyone who has ever met her would predict. Asked how overwhelming this huge culture shift must have been and how she coped with all this newness, she replied “Well, I turned on the BBC and I got on with it, didn’t t I? That’s what you do.”
After twelve years of life in England, wanderlust seized them both and they made plans to emigrate with their two young children, Valerie working every weekend for two years to make sure they had extra savings for the journey. On April 24th of 1958, they arrived, via the SS Empress of England, in Montreal. As you would expect, she turned on the CBC and got on with it, throwing herself into making sure her kids were enrolled and, more importantly, up to speed in school, taking French lessons at night class and being unshakeably confident that she was up for any and every challenge that came her way.
Two years later, they moved to Sydney, Nova Scotia which would be her much loved home for the next 62 years. There, she discovered the joy of volunteering - she was the first woman to lead a fund-raising campaign for the Salvation Army’s anti poverty initiatives, she worked tirelessly on literacy projects for the IODE, she was active in home and school, she joined and then chaired efforts to bring classical music concerts to Cape Breton. If there was a cause about which she was passionate, she threw her considerable energy at it. She also found time to play a mean hand of bridge and to create glorious gardens. She was a wonderful and adventurous cook who hosted all manner of happy dinner gatherings and parties.
By serendipity, she became a teacher of German and this experience, too, was one she poured heart and soul into- it’s a tribute to her that fifty years later, she enjoyed affectionate visits from former students. Moving on from that experience, she took every arts course available at CBU (and took pleasure in challenging any professors with whom she disagreed), worked hard to raise funds for Transition House, volunteered in the adult literacy program, began an adult creative writing group, and much later, at the age of 90, became centrally involved in the fight to keep the proposed Mother Canada statue off the beautiful piece land that is Green Cove. She was enormously proud when NFB made a documentary that included her acerbic thoughts on the statue. We, who loved her so very dearly, are certain that there will be wide consensus about her forthrightness and her unshakeable certainty that speaking one’s mind- her mind, anyhow- is an essential virtue.
For our mum, grandmother, mother-in-law, and great grandmother, living intensely, engaging fully in the world, speaking her mind, being absolutely independent were as vital as water. The gradual loss of all that was inordinately painful for her. Thanks to her son Rod, daughter in law, Joanne, and loyal friend Donnie Best, she was able to stay in her much-loved house until six months ago. Her unavoidable and sad move to Northwood last summer was nonetheless greeted with interest and curiosity and a determination to be in charge of whatever she was able to and change whatever she could. That was the essence of this astonishing spitfire of a human being. She got on with it and it’s hard to imagine the world without the sheer force of her personality.
Daily visits and chats over tea and a sweet treat with her daughter Glynis and frequent visits from Annie, from her granddaughter Sally and grandson Jonathan and dear friends Willie and Phil, kept life much more interesting than it otherwise might have been. We also want to remark on the extraordinarily loving generous care she was given by Josh and all the folks on 1 center Northwood who understood her so well and tended her with humour, compassion, and tenderness.
She arrived in Canada with her two children and her beloved Alan who left her 16 years ago and she leaves a much larger family- two children, Rod and Glynis, their partners, Joanne and Annie, four grandchildren and their partners- Sally and Jason, Jonathan and Lynda, Andrew and Melanie, Adam and Lindsay, three step grandchildren- Libby ( Jensen), Katie (Phil) and David and 11 great grandchildren, whose pictures adorned the wall of her room at Northwood and whose praises she sang at the drop of a hat. We are so glad her struggle is over, and we will miss the exuberant confidence she radiated more than we can say. She also leaves a much beloved little sister Anca of Kibbutz Haogen, Israel who is now the custodian of Mum/ Valerie/ Granny’s most important early stories.
We will gather to remember Mum/ Granny Valerie next summer. For folks wanting to make a donation in her name, Transition House in Sydney or any organization supporting women and children would be deeply appreciated.
‘"She's a holy terror," he says.
Listening, I feel like it is more than I could now reasonably have expected out of life, for he has spoken with such anger and such tenderness.’
From The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence