Posted: January 17th, 2019

Mary O’Connor-Coutts

1928 – 2019

Mary O’Connor-Coutts (née Comer) passed away peacefully at Edith Cavell Care Centre on Monday, January 14th at the age of 90 years with family at her side, after a long and difficult journey with dementia. Waiting for her in Heaven are her beautiful baby girl Maureen Elaine (“Mo-Mo”) O’Connor, and her sweet grandson Daniel O’Connor. She is survived by her husband and partner of almost 40 years, Colin Coutts, as well as children Kathleen (Terry) Stuckert, Jack (Trudy) O’Connor and Shannon (Bill) Spenceley. She also leaves behind granddaughters Jennifer O’Connor and Alexandra Cattoni, grandsons Eric Cattoni and Ted Spenceley, great-grandchildren Jordan, Mason, Caley, Jesse and Spencer, and one great-great-grandson, James. Mary was born in 1928 near Penhold, Alberta, the youngest of Harold and Olga Comer’s three children. She grew up in rural south-central Alberta, and was smart as a whip, completing grades 6 through 9 in two years. She was always at the top of her class in grades, even though she was at the bottom in terms of age and physical size. She was known as a bit of a scrapper, and didn’t take kindly to being told she couldn’t do something. She was independent, rebellious, smart and curious about the world. When she was 16, she went off to Calgary to nursing school at the Calgary General, and completed eight months of her training before she met Patrick O’Connor at a hardware store in downtown Calgary, and was swept off her feet. They married, and her career became that of wife and mother—to Kathleen, Jack, Shannon and Maureen. And she was a cool Mom. She could do back flips and cartwheels, and even walk on her hands! She was also tough and fierce, especially when it came to being a protective mother. Woe to the teacher that disciplined any of her children too aggressively (even if they deserved it!). Money was always tight; and being immensely practical and creative, she taught herself how to sew and became an amazing tailor. Neighbours used to bring sewing to her, and when they could not pay her in cash, they often gave her fabric in the forms of curtains, tablecloths or other things—which she turned into beautiful, handmade clothing for her family. Life took a sudden turn for Mary at age 36, when she lost little Mo-Mo, aged 3, to a deadly viral illness. Not long after that, she recognized that her marriage was failing. She needed a way to support herself and her remaining 3 children. She didn’t have a car or a credit card, or a bank account or any money to put in it if she did, and she had just lost her youngest child. She knew that things had to change, so she had to focus on what she had, not what she didn’t have, or had lost. What she had was eight months of nursing education that was now 20 years in her past. So, she approached the administrator of the St. Michael’s Hospital School of Nursing, an impressive woman named Sister Clarissa. Mary announced that she wanted to finish her nursing education, but she had to be finished the 3 year nursing program in one year. Something in her story struck a chord, because Sr. Clarissa decided to give her a chance. Over the next 12 months for 7 days a week, she studied, did clinical shifts, and wrote papers, exams and assignments. Somehow, she also managed to keep her home going, despite her failing marriage. She was so excited by the learning—her kids remember her reading amazing facts to them out loud: “hey guys, do you realize that we have 60,000 miles of blood vessels in our bodies? That would take you more than twice around the whole world! Isn’t that something?!” In 1968 she graduated at the top of her class, winning awards for her high marks and clinical care. Her family was very proud of her as she walked across that stage. From graduation until 1981, Mary was a Labour & Delivery room nurse at St. Michael’s Hospital in Lethbridge, and she was exceptional. She remembered every single delivery, particularly the tough ones when the physician just didn’t make it. There are many people out there happily living their lives that were gently, safely and expertly ushered into this world by Mary O’Connor, RN. In fact, she told people right up to the end of her life that she was STILL an RN—being a registered nurse wasn’t just what she did for a living—it’s who she was. So imagine her pride when her daughter Shannon, granddaughter Jennifer, and great-granddaughter Jesse all chose registered nursing careers as well! In 1978, Mary met the man who would make her happy until the day she died: Colin Coutts. He was also a health care provider, and many years younger than Mary. She tried to convince him that he should pursue someone his own age, but Colin had already fallen in love with Mary, and she with him. After ten years of being together, she finally said “yes” to a marriage proposal, and she and Colin wed on September 1, 1990. Mary and Colin loved traveling, and spent many happy times in Hawaii, and visiting family in Vancouver over the years. Colin introduced her to the game of darts and she quickly became a talented player—nicknamed “The Bailer” for often bailing their team out of trouble in dart tournaments! Colin’s career in the Canadian Military meant they moved around during their married life, and they lived happily in Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Edmonton, and finally Lethbridge, where they lived until she passed away. The edges of Mary’s memory started to unravel in 2006, and she received a diagnosis of dementia a year later. Within 2 years, Mary just couldn’t live at home anymore—despite Colin’s valiant efforts. Many reading this will understand what an agonizing decision it is to put someone you love in the care of others. The last 9 years of Mary’s life were spent in care, with 7 of those years at Edith Cavell. The staff there were wonderful to her and Mary’s family just cannot thank them enough for their loving care. Mary had good days, where a light would go on in those bright blue eyes and she would share a good laugh with family, or with her caregivers. And as those who love someone with this disease can attest, there were also some very bad days, where all that could be hoped for was for her to feel love, and a bit of peace. Thank you to all those who cared for Mom over the years. We, her family, are so grateful for her life, for the love she shared with us, and for the peace that is finally hers. A Private Service for family and close friends will follow at a later date. Flowers are gratefully declined, but should you wish to honour Mary’s memory, please consider making a donation to either the Alzheimer Society of Alberta/NWT, 308, 14925 – 111 Avenue NW, Edmonton Alberta T5M 2P6, or the Alberta Registered Nurses Educational Trust 11120 178 Street, Edmonton, AB T5S 1P2.

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