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Publication: Globe and Mail, The add link
Issue: 15 February 2008, page L8
Title: Gwendolyn Rorke (Lives Lived)
Web Link: link

Gwendolyn Rorke Mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, breast cancer survivor. Born Oct. 12, 1908, near Ameliasburg, Ont. Died Nov. 17, 2007, in Souris, PEI, of old age, aged 99.


February 15, 2008

Gwendolyn Wannamaker began her life on a small farm, the only surviving child of Zella Trumpour and Walter Wannamaker.

An intelligent and determined woman, Gwen believed in the importance of education, deportment and etiquette. She was one of few women in Canada to earn a university degree in mathematics during the 1930s.

Gwen was an enthusiastic alumna of Queen's University in Kingston. She returned many times, most recently to celebrate her reunion 70 years after graduating. True to her guidance, all of Gwen's three children and eight grandchildren completed postsecondary education. Much to her delight, some of them went to Queen's.

Gwen married Colin Rorke, a fellow Queen's alumnus and mechanical engineer, and they eventually settled in Toronto with their children. In the 1950s, the Rorkes purchased a property in the Kawarthas, northeast of Toronto, beginning the labour of love of building a cottage. Always resourceful, Gwen fashioned curtains out of old soap bags from Lever Brothers Ltd., where Colin worked.

One of Gwen's proudest accomplishments was her term as president of the Canadian Home and School Federation in the 1960s.

A true lady, Gwen was always dignified, her outfits adorned with an elegant brooch or scarf. Kind actions were always promptly acknowledged with a thank you note, and there would be no stacking of dirty plates or resting of elbows at her table. But she wasn't one to take herself too seriously.

Gwen played a significant role in her grandchildren's lives and education, providing tireless homework assistance and even tutorials in cribbage and bridge. She braved numerous recitals, performances and commencement ceremonies.

Generous in spirit, Gwen knitted hundreds of teddy bears for a local women's shelter. Well into her 80s, she maintained her sharp mind, organizing indoor lawn bowling tournaments and playing bridge twice a week. She battled breast cancer and came through it with her spirit intact. Sadly, by her mid-90s, her intellect was lost to Alzheimer's disease. She outlived two of her three children, Harvey and Beverley, and spent her last few years in her daughter Sally's care in Prince Edward Island.

Gwen always enjoyed giving guided tours of Ontario's Prince Edward County to any willing grandchild. On the drive back from one such trip, we pulled off the road to admire the sunset at the end of a day of memories, history and a lesson on our family's roots. It is this picture of Gwen, strong and proud, that I will fondly remember.

Derek Newton is Gwendolyn's grandson.