The Sarnia community lost one of its pillars recently.
Betty Routliffe died on Feb. 16, more than happy to meet her creator. She would have turned 98 this month.
Many readers will be able to fill in the blanks and tell their own stories about her, but bear with me while I reminisce a bit with mine.
“Aunt Bett,” as she was known to most, taught me in Grade 4 at Blackwell Public School; now a thing of the past (pity).
She was a stern teacher, but students knew she cared for them profoundly; calling on one family when a child didn’t show up for school, taking lunch to another she knew was in trouble.
In the 1980s, I was living in Vancouver and very pregnant with number two child when I decided to place a help wanted ad in the local paper. It was pouring rain, the car broke down, and with a child in tow I had all kinds of reasons to turn around and go home.
But I persisted, and in a tiny post office at the back of a drugstore in the equally tiny village of Dundarave, I overheard a woman at the wicket say the word “Sarnia.”
When she turned around, I looked at her and said: “You taught me in Grade 4!”
She pretended to remember and we exchanged phone numbers, and after I returned home she called to say: “You’ll be needing help.”
From that day forward we became soul mates. I filled a void in her life, after transferring from her lifelong Sarnia familiarity to knowing no one in West Vancouver, and she more than filled a void in mine.
Soon, my counters were covered with cinnamon rolls and fresh baked bread and custard puddings (for nursing Moms, she said) and of course the next meal.
After each of us transferred back to Ontario, our friendship deepened. I’ve never known anyone who was so ‘other-centered.’ She was always baking cookies and delivering them to someone to cheer them up.
She created a group for widows to address their loneliness. She taught Sunday school with a passion; complete with a trusty felt board. She knew the bible inside out and prayed for anyone and everyone. She was a faith-filled soul.
When I would visit Sarnia, we always sat out on her porch. She knew how I loved to listen to the sound of the water, Lake Huron so fond from my childhood.
She always made me feel special. I got to pick out a favourite china cup before tea was served with, of course, a variety of her home baked cookies.
I will miss her calls and all of her wisdom. But I can hear her voice saying she is at peace.
Marg Baker (née Van Gaver) grew up in Sarnia and now lives in Toronto