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Monday February 18, 2013

Katherine Winnifred Turton Brearley

Teacher, mentor, artist. Born Aug. 12, 1914, in Calgary, died Oct. 4, 2012, in Richmond, B.C., from complications of congestive heart failure, aged 98.

Kaye's ever-renewing love of life had simple roots. Her mother, whose memory she cherished, instilled in her that she must do her best. What Kaye herself added was an irrepressible desire to experience life to the fullest.

The only child of Percy and Annie Brearley, Kaye lost her father when she was 10. After he died, she and her mother moved to White Rock, B.C., where her family chores included taking charge of 600 chickens.

When her mother remarried, Kaye gained in Leslie Smith a stepfather who brightened her life and supported her unconditionally.

After graduating from the University of British Columbia and teaching high school for a decade, she earned a doctorate in literature at the University of Paris in the immediate postwar years. She immersed herself in French art and culture, made lifelong friends, and even recalled seeing the young Pierre Trudeau dashing through Paris.

Kaye spent 30 eventful years at UBC as professor, mentor and administrator. An award named in her honour is given annually for outstanding service to the women's athletics program.

She attained the rank of associate professor, after having been in charge of the women's residence and serving as assistant dean of women. As the first senior faculty adviser in arts, she devoted many happy hours to meeting with students, in addition to directing a dedicated team of advisers and lecturing in the French department. Her busiest years were the happiest.

In 1980, mandatory retirement came as a great shock to her. But it also rekindled her earliest commitments as a teacher.

She eagerly accepted a position at Little Flower Academy, where she happily taught French until she was 74. She usually arrived one hour before classes began so that she could help students individually. She organized and chaperoned exchange trips to Quebec and Newfoundland.

She found mandatory retirement at 74 no easier to accept than at 65. Disappointed, but undaunted, Kaye adopted a new approach that relied much less on institutions: She gave French and Latin tutorials to elementary school students in her home for a nominal fee.

She mastered computing and edited the fifth edition of Nouvelles du Québec with Rose-Blanche McBride. She became an accomplished painter of watercolours, and proudly sold some works at venues such as Artists in Our Midst.

At the age of 91, she earned a diploma in children's literature.

In declining health, Kaye reluctantly moved into a care home when she was 95. There was a difficult period of adjustment, but she gradually made new friends and discovered new activities.

The week before she died, she was happily playing bingo with, astonishingly, three cards at the same time.

Kaye embraced all of life and did her best. She was truly her mother's daughter.

Andrea Demchuk and Sam LaSelva are Kaye's friends.

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