Audrey Agnes Collier

Audrey Agnes Collier

Mid-morning on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 Audrey Collier checked herself into Salmon Arm hospital, complaining of dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath. Shortly after midnight, in the presence of her children, she died of complications from pneumonia, aged 82. This is her story.

Audrey was born in England on November 16, 1927. She and her family emigrated to Canada on the passenger ship Laurentic in 1931, landing in Quebec City and then boarding a train to Vancouver.

During her childhood the family moved often – between British Columbia and Ontario, and throughout interior BC. Thus were born two of her passions: travel and a love of nature, especially in the Okanagan Valley and the Rockies.

At age 17 she struck out on her own, working in Vancouver as a telephone operator. In 1948 she married Don Sugden and the couple had two children: Don Jr. (1949) and Gail (1951). Audrey became an efficient homemaker and always maintained that her work was just as important as that of her husband, an engineer at General Motors.

Outside the home, she found time to become a certified swimming instructor, sit on parent-teacher committees, volunteer as a Girl Guide leader and Meals-on-Wheels driver, develop Emergency Measures expertise and teach English as a second language.

In her forties, Audrey fulfilled her dream of earning her pilot’s license, scoring a perfect mark on the written exam. During one of her first solo flights, she blacked out at the controls, reportedly saying, “Well, either I’ll wake up or I won’t.”

Audrey positively loved languages: apart from her impeccable English, she was fluent in French and Spanish, and developed a working knowledge of German, Korean and even Tgalog.

A proud Canadian and self-described “news junkie”, Audrey closely followed provincial and federal politics, and routinely became involved in community initiatives. She was a vocal defender of the rights of native Canadians, gays and lesbians, and people of colour; she was also a harsh critic of government and private sector actions that ran counter to the interests of working men and women.

Audrey was a life-long naturalist; she was especially knowledgeable about plants and birds. Over the decades, she championed many environmental causes and stepped lightly on the planet.

Insatiably curious and self-taught, Audrey’s vast, varied store of knowledge earned her the moniker “the Oracle”. She was equally comfortable discussing aboriginal treaty rights, linguistics, motor mechanics or the edible wild plants of interior BC. She designed and helped to build a solar-heated, stack-wall house. Even as her energy waned in her struggle against bronchiectasis, she requested her friend Dave (the handyman at her final home, Lakeside Manor) to deliver any defunct electronic or mechanical devices so that she could dismantle them to understand how they worked.

Like anyone else, Audrey had her share of contradictions: her thirst for knowledge was sometimes coupled with an unsettling need to “be right”; in conversations with her adult children, she laughingly referred to herself as “your tiny, perfect mother”, although one sensed that this was an integral part of her self-construct; she often gave generously of her time, energy and money to family, friends and favourite causes, yet could also be judgmental and emotionally distant.

Audrey spent her final 10 years in her beloved Okanagan, ultimately at Lakeside Manor overlooking the beautiful Salmon Arm of Shuswap Lake. Near the end, tethered to an oxygen tank and dependent on an array of medications for her every breath, she fought back with unrelenting courage and grace, continuing to maintain her relationships with tablemates and staff.

Touched by the outpouring of love and respect for Audrey from the staff and residents at Lakeside, family members decided to hold her memorial service at the Manor itself on Monday, November 1.

She is survived by her sisters Jean and Joan, brother John and sister-in-law Nadine, son Don Jr., daughter Gail and daughter-in-law Daphne, as well as numerous nieces and nephews. She was pre-deceased by her husband Don (1993) and son-in-law Rex (2010).

Goodbye, Audrey. We love you dearly. In the words of your woodsman friend Pete, “May your heart soar like a hawk”.

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