ISOBEL LUCY LEE (nee HORSELL)
With much sadness the family of Isobel Lee announce her passing at Health Sciences Centre on April 14, 2021 with her sons at her side. She had been a resident of Sterling House Assisted Living until shortly before her passing.
Isobel was born on December 14, 1928 in Brinkworth, England to Sarah & Percy Horsell.
When Isobel was born into a farming family in Wiltshire, England, the traditional expectation was that she would leave school early to marry or go into domestic service. Instead, with her intelligence and determination, and influenced by World War II , she had a life of accomplishment and adventure.
As Isobel neared her teen-aged years, Britain entered World War II. Her family’s farm was on the flight path of an American bomber base. Every night she would hear the bombers leaving for their targets, and every morning she would hear them sputtering back. Her experiences convinced her that after the war, the world would never be the same. She was determined not to follow the traditional path. During the war, she worked as a bicycle messenger delivering telegrams and sorting mail. Even though her father threatened to disown her, she apprenticed as an office manager. By the time she was 14, she was mature enough to complete the pay roll for a local department store where mistakes on a ledger had to be corrected by the careful scraping of a razor blade. She eventually became a legal secretary of a law firm in Wiltshire.
Isobel renewed her relationship with her childhood sweetheart, Bernard, after he was demobilized from the Royal Navy after the war. Economic conditions in Britain were dire and they made plans to emigrate to Canada. Bernard left first and Isobel followed a few months later. They married in the University of Toronto United Church chapel the day after she arrived, which was Valentine’s Day, 1953. Isobel soon secured a position as legal secretary to two young lawyers – the future novelist Richard Rhomer and Roland Michener, who later became Speaker of the House of Commons and Canada’s 20th Governor General. Roland Michener never forgot Isobel and remembered her as someone who worked very hard and once commented that he would expect that from her sons.
Bernard wanted to teach so Isobel left Bay Street to move to Bernard’s first teaching position in a one-room school on a Mohawk Community in Gibson, Ontario. Next, Bernard accepted a posting to the Norway House Indian Residential School and after 9 years was charged with closing the school. Although it was Bernard who was hired, Isobel worked without pay to support Bernard, the students and staff only taking a few days off to give birth to her last two sons.
It was a time of great change for everyone and Isobel was acknowledged in Murray Sinclair’s Truth and Reconciliation Report as someone who could calm the troubled waters. Many of students and staff during Isobel and Bernard’s tenure there went on to become authors and leaders in indigenous education, the United Church and politics, earning many of our country’s highest awards, including Elijah Harper, Rev. Stan McKay, Verna Kirkness, Colin Wasacase, Rev. Harvey Hurren, and Rev. Ken Crasweller to name a few.
After Norway House, Isobel and Bernard began the next chapter of their lives. Bernard entered into the United Church ministry with Manitoba pastoral charges in Stony Mountain and then at Little Britain. As Bernard established his new career, Isobel helped support the family by working as a stenographer at the Stonewall RCMP detachment. When Bernard became the minister at Thunder Bay’s Knox Shuniah United Church, Isobel returned to working as a legal secretary, this time for well-known criminal lawyer, Ron Lester until he was appointed a provincial judge. Bernard accepted a sabbatical in New Zealand, after which they retired to Kingston, Ontario to be closer to their grandchildren.
After Bernard’s death, Isobel moved back home to Manitoba, to the delight of her family and friends here. She quickly decided on Crescent Fort Rouge United Church as her church home and became an active member there. Ever a people person, she made many new friends at church and at 21 Roslyn Road, including Binx Remnant, a retired Clerk of the Manitoba Legislature, who was a treasured companion until his passing.
With her English accent and a highly developed sense of diplomacy, guided by her high moral standards and sense of integrity, Isobel was charming and gracious to all. She was the driving force behind Bernard and they worked together to correct the difficulties they saw in the education of Indigenous students and other matters of the human condition. From Governor General to the children of northern Manitoba indigenous trappers, Isobel made an indelible impression on everyone who knew her. Always modest, she didn’t see her accomplishments as accomplishments, but as a job to be done properly.
Church was a big part of her life in her upbringing and in her marriage to a United Church minister. She was gifted in music and was always in a church or community choir as well as the church’s organist if required. She was also a faithful member of the UCW (United Church Women) and their activities.
Of course, her most lasting impression was that as mother to her five sons and grandmother to her two grandsons. She raised her boys to be respectful, thoughtful, caring and to always support each other. She also developed a special relationship with her two grandsons both of whom have warm memories of her. To those that know her family, these were her greatest accomplishments.
Isobel was predeceased by her parents, siblings (Rose & Ted), husband Bernard and youngest son Haynes.
She is survived by her sons Jack (Deana Martz), Norman (Sheila Boardman), Eric and Kenneth. Also survived by her loving grandsons Thomas & Spencer and her English nieces Margaret, Marion, Christine and Valerie.
There will be a viewing at Gilbart Funeral Home, in Selkirk on Sunday, April 18 at 2-4 p.m.
In accordance with her wishes, cremation will follow. Service will be at a future date. Burial will be at Little Britain cemetery.
The family would like to thank the staff at Sterling House for making her final years of her life easier as well as the staff at the HSC CAU unit for making her final days more comfortable.
In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Crescent Fort Rouge United Church or Little Britain United Church.
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