TORONTO, Ontario / The Globe & Mail / Facts & Arguments / August 31, 2010
Farm wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, biscuit maker, map reader, mission control for her extended family. Born April 10, 1923, in Dunrobin, Ontario. Died May 14 in Mississippi Mills, Ontario, of Alzheimer’s disease, aged 87.
That Irene Kennedy could enjoy such a full life within a two-mile radius of where she was born is testament both to the times in which she lived and to her energetic approach to life.
Growing up during the Depression on a farm in the Ottawa Valley community of Dunrobin, Irene had first-hand experience of hard work – both inside the house and out in the fields. The only child of Tommy and Ruby Dolan, she learned from an early age to be resourceful, self-reliant and prudent with scarce financial means. Years later, her granddaughter Rebecca recalled how “Grana” had instilled in her the necessity of a woman maintaining her own bank account after marriage.
In 1944, Irene married Kingsley Kennedy, a ruggedly handsome, soft-spoken farmer whose sister, Ruth, had been Irene’s best friend since childhood. By 1950, she and Kingsley were blessed with three sons – Bryan, Shane and Robin – a new house and an expanding farm operation. They had always wanted a daughter and in 1959, due to health problems in Kingsley’s brother’s family, three-month-old Barbara Jean came to live with them for a few years. The bouncing baby girl brought a welcome new dimension to their household and a steep learning curve for the boys, who suddenly needed to acquire babysitting skills.
When Irene and Kingsley’s fourth son arrived, in 1962, the family dynamic changed once more. Born with developmental disabilities, Rodger required extensive care, which Irene provided cheerfully and without once complaining.
A long-serving member of the Dunrobin Women’s Institute and the United Church, Irene was also the original “meals on wheels” lady for aging and infirm relatives and others in need of assistance. She took people shopping, to do their banking, to medical and hair appointments and myriad other tasks.
Irene knew how to have fun, too. Her happiest times were those spent in the thick of a family get-together, especially one that spanned three or four generations. No such gathering was complete without a plate of her mouthwatering tea biscuits, warm from the oven and draped in a freshly laundered cloth.
Irene’s unparalleled ability to remember names, birth dates and family connections reflected her abiding interest in other people. Robbed of this skill by Alzheimer’s in later years, she nonetheless maintained a positive outlook to the end, and would repeat to her family the words that became her credo: “You takes what you gets and be thankful.”
Shane Kennedy is Irene’s son and Nancy Kennedy Dorrance is her niece.
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