There were not too many parties when I was growing up. It’s just the way it was in a large family with little resources and a working mother who held down two paying jobs in addition to her main “job” as mother to a brood of eight children.
So I was flattered, humbled, shy and totally overwhelmed when a group of prominent Sudbury women threw a party to congratulate me on my new role as publisher of Northern Ontario Business, 15 years ago.
I felt an enormous amount of pride that these wonderful, talented, enthusiastic women celebrated the achievement and advancement of another woman who had worked through the ranks to get to the top. I know I thanked them all back then, but I am certain they never knew how much this gesture of genuine celebration meant to me over the years.
That was the first thought I had when I heard the news Diane Marleau had succumbed to cancer on Jan. 30. I remember her at the party that evening so many years ago, congratulating me on becoming the first woman publisher of Northern Ontario Business and one of a few women publishers in Canada.
I remember her telling me the doors were starting to open up to women, and that we had a great responsibility to do a good job and to mentor the younger women around us. Diane was genuine. She truly wanted to do her best for her community and her constituents and I’m certain there were many times when that was a herculean ambition.
It’s hard to be in politics. It’s not a job for the weak of spirit or the weak of will. You need a thick skin, an undying belief you can really make a difference, and the support of key people in your life to hold you up when you are being kicked down. Diane had that support, and whether she realized it or not, she projected similar strength to those around her with her generous encouragement and uplifting spirit.
Diane’s passing followed closely on the heels of another influential Sudburian, Rachel Proulx, who passed away Dec. 26, 2012.
Rachel had a long and painful battle with multiple sclerosis, but that didn’t stop her from continuing her life-long ambition to further the rights of women, the disabled and her beloved francophone community. She had been described as a “force of nature,” who was passionate about many causes and worked tirelessly on behalf of those who could not do it themselves.
I have fond memories of Rachel, too, and her driving force in the community. Her accomplishments with the Business and Professional Women’s Club (BPW) are legendary. Not only did she serve as the president of the BPW Greater Sudbury, Rachel was also the national president of the organization and spent 25 years among the ranks of working women, helping to create a venue and atmosphere to promote opportunities and their interests.
Diane and Rachel had qualities that remind me of another great woman who influenced those around her with her incredible work ethic, her quick humour and charm and her enthusiasm for life. My mother, Lillian, was not a known politician or a community builder. But she was a strong, ethical woman who did her best under whatever circumstances life threw at her and forged ahead with more brawn and brains than just about anyone I ever knew.
What she shouldered every day of her life would sink a ship, but to meet her you would never know of her turmoil. And like Diane and Rachel, she never really knew the positive influence she had on people or how her dogged determination to succeed, while motoring over enormous obstacles, inspired more than one generation.
I feel the need to say thank you to Diane, Rachel, and Lillian, and to all sincere, passionate and strong individuals who continue to inspire and to lead us forward.
We have much to learn from their lives and their legacies.
Patricia Mills is the publisher of Sudbury Living magazine.