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Monday February 15, 2010

IRIS (CORBY) GORDON

Wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, scientist, teacher, conservationist, master gardener, artist. Born June 2, 1917, in Kamloops, B.C. Died June 8, 2009, in Victoria of natural causes, aged 92.

Iris Gordon was a B.C. pioneer. Known as Corby - her maiden name was Corbould - she was raised along the northern B.C. coast and loved the Pacific, the smell of salt air and the soothing humidity.

Corby lived with her mother, Edith May (Jennings) Corbould, a teacher, and her sister and brother. Her family spent time in Kamloops, Fraser Lake, Porcher Island and Prince Rupert, where they homesteaded.

Corby set her academic sights high and in 1935 won a scholarship to Victoria College in Victoria. In 1938, she went on to the University of British Columbia, where she received her master's degree in biochemistry and was at the top of her class. She received a scholarship to McGill University to continue her pursuit of academics but the war had broken out and Corby joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. With her science background, she became an officer and a plotter.

In 1943, Corby plotted a course for RCAF navigator Colin Gordon. They were married in 1944 and moved to Montreal in 1947, where Colin was head of the classics department at McGill and Corby taught sciences at Lindsay Place High School. They had four children whom Corby adored - Ann, Sue, Fraser and Rob.

Corby's commitment to conservation began with her reading of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. She incorporated an understanding of ecological systems into her teachings that continued beyond the classroom. She would marvel at nature's smallest beauties: the unique features of a rock, the power of the sun as it bleaches laundry, the struggle of small plants as they survive tough conditions.

Summers were spent at the cottage at Georgian Bay picking blueberries, swimming, sunbathing and baking bread - all were welcome in her kitchen. One summer she decided to purchase a new Boston Whaler, shocking many who thought she loved rowing.

Corby could be serious and fierce in her independence. Her quest for learning never ended as she travelled the world, immersed herself in different cultures and took courses. As she aged a common refrain was, "How can I be of help?"

She had a great sense of humour and could be deliberately funny as she tried to understand the changes affecting her. On a visit to the doctor when her leg was swollen, lines were marked to measure the swelling. Unperturbed, she asked, "Can't you afford paper to draw on?" In her later years, suffering from dementia, she commented while sitting by the fire, "I do not know where I am or why I am here, but isn't it a nice place?" Contentment found.

Jennifer MacGillivray is Corby's daughter-in-law.

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