Florence McCauley Brinsmead


Eulogy given at Florence Brinsmead's funeral in Camrose



It is an honour to speak of my mother-in-law Florence Brinsmead. She was known to each of you in different degrees and touched your lives in a diversity of ways.

She was honest and interesting. She had an abundance of courage, insight and tolerance and was loved dearly by her family and by the wider community in which she participated so fully.

She died quietly, at 81, in Edmonton in the late evening of November 20th. Her daughter Wendy was at her side, and each of her children Rona, David and Alison had been with her steadily during her illness. She died having been in the company of her whole family, and at peace with them.

Analogies are never adequate to describe a person we love, but as life and death must always remain a matter of mystery and faith, analogies sometimes help our understanding.

On the night Mrs. Brinsmead died, somewhere in Atlantic Canada, a runner, one of many, passed on a torch to yet another runner. The flame those runners are carrying represents the Olympic spirit. One by one, they are bringing it to Calgary for the winter games. The Olympics have gone on for many generations, and the torch is the symbol of the spirit of those games.

We can compare Mrs. Brinsmead's life and influence to that Olympic spirit. While she has now left us physically, her spirit - her influence - will and must live on in each of us, like a torch passed to the next runner. Our civilization is like an eternal flame, and Florence Brinsmead represents a vital link, having passed that flame on to us for custody and enhancement. 

Mrs. Brinsmead was born in Pendleton, Ontario, in the beautiful Ottawa Valley. She was the youngest of three daughters of William George McCauley and his wife Edith Caroline Brown. She had two sisters -Violet and Rowena.

The family moved west in 1913 and settled in the new Province of Saskatchewan. The McCauley family had Irish roots and this was a source of pride to Mother. It inspired some of her travel, her interests and her temperament.

Life on the early prairies was a Spartan existence. The family lived in an area where the settlers and their communities had very few resources. Education was obviously very important in her family as Vi and Florence both became teachers. Yet Lovena, the small town on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border where Mr. McCauley had become an elevator operator, had very limited school facilities.

As a result Florence took room and board and went to school in Saskatoon. This was expensive, and her parents sacrificed almost two-thirds of the family's income to make it possible, themselves moving into the grain elevator to save expense.

This became an important factor in Mother's life; she encouraged all her children and later her grandchildren to make the very best of their talents and opportunities; she had a profound respect for the value of things and, having experienced hardship, abhorred waste. When she later got the chance to do so, she returned to university to complete her own Bachelor of Arts degree. 

This degree, granted by the University of Alberta in 1969, when Mrs. Brinsmead was in her 60's, was at least a partial tribute to the personal sacrifices her family had made for her. 

It is also an important example to us of how the spirit of those who have gone before can continue to influence us and enrich our lives; of how the human spirit gets passed on. As her parent's sacrifice influenced her, so her example should influence us, and our children, to do the best we can in life, in the way she would have wanted.

Mrs. Brinsmead worked as a teacher in a number of one room school houses in Saskatchewan and eventually she found a position back in Loverna.

It was on a tennis court in Loverna that Florence, at age 16, met Robert Gordon Brinsmead. Her early pictures confirm that she was a beautiful women then, as she continued to be even in old age. Bert, a handsome man 11 years her senior, had moved to Loverna with his parents from Ontario. He ran the jewellery store, and his brother Tom published the local newspaper.

Florence and Bert's decision to get married took courage. He was Protestant and she Catholic, and with the Klu-Klux-Klan around, feelings about mixed marriages ran high. Times were tough and Bert was worried about being able to support a family, but Florence was confident. They eloped and were married in Moose Jaw in 1929. 

For the first four years they lived in the McCauley's home in Loverna. Alison and then Rona were born there. in 1933 Bert learned of an opportunity to open a jewellery store here in Camrose. Mrs. Brinsmead stayed in Loverna while Bert set up the store -Brinsmead Jewellers -on Main Street, and then she and the girls joined him on Armistice Day, 1933.

From then on Camrose became truly her home town. In 1939 she moved into the house on 48th Street, where she continued to live until last year.

"...the invitations to the Camrose Masonic Dance on Friday last evening were widely accepted. Several little dinner parties were arranged, the groups going to the dance afterwards. Mrs. R.G. Brinsmead, Master of the Lodge and Mrs. Brinsmead, received the guests. Mrs. Brinsmead chose for the occasion a black net jacket frock, and she wore red rosebuds, encorsage."

 In 1942, Wendy, my wife, was born, as the Brinsmead started the second installment of their family, presumably waiting until Alison and Rona were grown up enough to assume cooking and baby-sitting duties. David was born two years later.

Florence and Bert Brinsmead were active in the affairs of Camrose. In addition to running the store they were active in this Church, in community groups and in the many activities of a growing family. They had a beach cottage at Pidgeon Lake where they would spend time in the summer.

All four children graduated from Camrose High School, where, once the children had grown up, Florence went to work for 7 years as teacher-librarian.

During the 50's she decided to complete her education. Struggling through trigonometry, she obtained her grade 12. Then, along with her friend Helen McCleary, she decided to get a University education.

Her husband Bert died in 1966. She remained active in the Camrose community, with the Church, and the Eastern Star, whilst still focusing attention on her children, and as they came, her grandchildren. To be nearer to them she purchased a condominium in Edmonton, but for many years kept it as a sort of resting spot, preferring to keep the Camrose house as "home". It was only last year that she decided to move into Edmonton permanently.

Those are the raw biographical facts, but what of her character.

She was an intelligent woman with an inquiring mind. She was not one to simply adopt conventional wisdom, but she was not argumentative for the sake of it either. She simply would never take the lazy way out and adopt an idea without thinking her position through first. 

She was not afraid to be different. She was a Liberal when those around her were Conservative. She was a strong Canadian nationalist; when it became popular to criticize the East for the ills of the West she spoke up for the country as a whole. She always remembered her Ottawa Valley and Irish roots, and as a result valued rather than disparaged differences in heritage or opinion. 

She maintained an active interest in current affairs right up until the end. She could always discuss the events of the day with depth and perception. Regularly she attended the summer school for seniors at the University of Alberta. Her classes, this year, were on the Bible As Literature, and Current Affairs. She took the bus to school daily, learned much, and complained only of her inability to hear the movies.

She loved to learn, not in the sense of learning bare facts, but to understand. She was an avid and literate reader. One of the ways she learned was through travel. She was not the typical Kodak tourist; her descriptions of the places she visited showed that she had taken the time to understand the customs and personalities of the people she met. 

She liked the tours run by the University, because they gave a focus to her travels. At 81 years old she was about to leave on a literary tour of England and was only prevented from doing so by her illness.

She was fascinated by history. Happily she has recorded much about her own past. For example she explored the history of each of this Church's beautiful stained glass windows and set it down for future generations to read. 

She had an unusual combination of tolerance and standards. People with standards and expectations as high as hers can be overly critical of those who do not meet those standards. Perhaps it was because she always remained a good teacher that her standards came through as support not criticism. She quietly urged those around her to do their best, and she had the gumption to speak her mind when she thought doing so would provide useful encouragement. At the same time she carefully resisted interference, respecting independence and offering only support.

She had an appearance of innocence that those who did not know her well could confuse with naiveté. What she really had was a simple straightforward honesty. She offered no pretence and anticipated none in others. 

She had a delightful sense of humour. Even in the hospital, when she was frustrated to be dependant on the equipment she called her plumbing, she found time to joke, winning the staff's admiration and affection. One day, standing up with her trident like I.V. pole in her hand, she told the nurse she felt like Father Neptune. To Florence the real joke was that the nurse thought she was talking about a Catholic priest.

She took tremendous pride in her grandchildren, first Jane and Barry, then Gavin, Bryce and Courtney, and lastly our two boys Peter and David. She watched each of them grow and took a keen interest in everything they did. It is to these young people that she has, almost visibly, tried to pass on her torch. She has had a profound impact on each of them and they must carry that influence on, putting it to use in their daily lives. Once their turn comes they must pass it on again.

Florence Brinsmead lived life fully herself, but also, when you spent time with her, you were conscious of getting something because she gave so generously of herself. She was a rewarding person to know.

She passed on her spirit to all of us, and we must now carry the torch forward in the way she would have wished, in the knowledge that we have each been enriched by the life of a magnificent lady. 

The gravestone of Florence McCauley Brinsmead (1906-1987) and Robert Gordon Brinsmead (1895-1966) in the Camrose Cemetery, Camrose, Alberta, Canada.

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