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Ethel Harper

Apr 30th 1929 — Sep 29th 2023 (94 years)


An autumn leaf never dies!
It just changes its form,
After a bright life on a tree,
It falls to the ground,
Then, it goes back to the earth,
But it emerges again,
In a new body,
In another beautiful form,
In a fascinating colour,
To live a new life.
- Geeta Radhakrishna Menon (inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh)

After a year of thrills and (one too many) spills, Ethel passed away peacefully, bathed in the soft light of an autumn day, at University Hospital in London, Ontario. She said she couldn’t imagine not being here, but for the many, many who loved and admired her bright mind and gracious spirit, she will thrive in our hearts and memories.

Ethel will be missed by her brother Hugh John (Eileen), sister Lloy, her children, Craig (Lorrie) and Stephanie (Michael), her grandsons Neil, Joel, and Oliver, and her many nieces and nephews – all those who loved her (and perhaps feared her just a bit!) Ethel was also a surrogate mother to several who were drawn by her warmth, insight, and generosity of time.

Ethel was born in Toronto in 1929 to Ethel (née Manuel) and Hugh John Cook. She spent her early childhood in St. Catharines where she fell in love with the beauty and interest of the Niagara and Welland country and secretly claimed them as her own. A move to Montreal offered her wonderful summers at the Laurentian lakes where she went horseback riding, blueberry picking, and fishing with her father. Finally, it was to Fort William (Thunder Bay) where pine and water and rocks fed her poetic soul.

Although she dreamed of being a fashion designer, Ethel acquired a BScN from the University of Western Ontario in 1953 and then nursed and taught at McKellar General Hospital in Fort William. Nursing then took her to Alberta which brought her the wonderful gift of Frank Harper. For five years they enjoyed Berkeley, California while Frank earned his PhD in psychology and Ethel taught nursing -- making lasting friendships with faculty and students. Although they were broke, there was so much to enjoy during that rich and entertaining time.

Then to Minnesota where Ethel and Frank adopted Craig and Stephanie (her “beautiful gifts”). In 1965, the family moved to London, where Ethel immersed herself in many creative endeavors and community-focused work. In 1981 she studied to become a Personal Colour Advisor and went on to run her own successful business, ‘Colour by Design,’ for many years (“the most fun!”).

She was the founding President of the Medway Ratepayers Association and successfully led the fight against a developer who was threatening to build in the field behind her home on Bloomfield Drive. When Ethel felt strongly about something, she was a force to be reckoned with!

She was also an active volunteer at the London Inter-Community Health Centre, and a long-standing member of the Canadian Embroiderers’ Guild. She also enjoyed her time with the Poetry Group while she was a member. These worlds of culture, colours, design, and literature brought her in contact with such vibrant, interesting, and supportive women – friendships for which she was so grateful.

Ethel enjoyed traveling to Scotland to visit Frank’s family, trips to Chesapeake Bay, Cape Cod, South Africa, the Bay Area of California, and her cherished summer spot at Reflection Lake. Sewing, reading, and playing bridge were the ideal passions for a woman gifted with an eye for colour and fashion, a sharp and curious mind, and an unquenchable desire for lively conversation amongst friends.

Ethel was sad to say goodbye to the new and growing friendships she was forming at Windermere on the Mount. She had just initiated a Welcoming Committee for new residents—a perfect example of her unfading desire to connect with others and to make them feel welcome.

In her own words: “To those who have cared for me so effectively with skill and friendship, I have so much gratitude. It’s been a great trip!”

A special thank you to the hard-working and caring team on the Palliative Floor of University Hospital.

Ethel’s wish was to be cremated with no funeral service planned. A celebration of her life will be held at Windermere on the Mount in November. Details to be announced.

In her memory, buy flowers for yourselves, wear your most flattering colours, and do something kind for a neighbour.


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