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Thursday September 24, 2009

HELGA GISELA BUSS

Nursing sister, wife, mother, swimmer, friend. Born March 4, 1931, in Insterburg, Germany (now Russia). Died May 27 in Kingston of pancreatic cancer, aged 78.

From a privileged childhood in East Prussia, Helga Rinehardt, with her mother and six sisters, was captured by the Russians during the Second World War. They had been lying in a ditch, listening to the soldiers looking for them. For the rest of the war they were incarcerated in a Russian prison camp. When the war ended they were reunited with Helga's father.

Helga trained as a nursing sister and worked as a nanny in her early 20s. "I lived at home and we were so hungry," Helga, a deeply moral person, once said. "So I brought home one of their potatoes. It wasn't mine but I took it, and I was never sorry."

In 1955, Helga married Gunther Buss. They spent their honeymoon immigrating to Canada from Hamburg. When Elizabeth, their only child, arrived they decided to become citizens. But Gunther sent Helga back to Germany with the baby to be sure about spending the rest of her life in Canada. When she returned, Gunther had his answer. "I am a Canadian now," Helga always said. "Not German any more."

If you wanted someone who embodied the ideal of the informed citizen, hazel-eyed Helga with her blond bob and designer swim caps was that person.

Helga read the paper daily and watched City Council on television every Tuesday night with Gunther. By Wednesday morning, she was ready to discuss politics at the early swim in the community pool. With a duck-like paddle, Helga would traverse the pool's length, sharing her views on politicians and their activities. In her spare time she read at least one political biography a week, taking a world view. She attended the 7 a.m. swim daily for more than 30 years.

Although she knew and often deplored what was going on in the world, Helga led a quiet life in the community. Very rarely was she moved to action, except when the Correctional Service of Canada located a halfway house beside her local elementary school. That called for solidarity in many forms until the house was gone. Hers was the voice to which everyone listened, as she spoke after much thought.

Gunther retired early from Empire Life Insurance to spend more time with Helga. They took cruises to the Panama Canal, Alaska and Hawaii, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, and made several visits back to Germany. A New England cruise was their last trip, celebrating their 52nd anniversary. They frequently saw musicals, opera and theatre around Ontario. Helga was always conscious of the pressures on other immigrants and did some volunteer work.

Inclusive, friendly and stylish, with great legs and a quick brain, Helga was the rock that steadied so many uncertainties.

Rose DeShaw swam with

Helga Buss.

SUBMISSIONS: LIVES@GLOBEANDMAIL.COM

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