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The Heroes of 2020
The past year saw the unfortunate passing of a number of Cape Bretoners whose lives helped make the island a better place. To honour the men and women, we’ve put together remembrances of some of these people so that our readers will have a chance to reflect on their accomplishments.
The remembrances range from political figures, community activists, musicians and members of the media.
MacEachern, William (Bill)
- Born: 1931
- Died: March 1, 2020
Born in Judique South, MacEachern graduated with degrees from St. FX and Western Ontario before embarking a career in journalism.
In leaving the newspaper business, he ventured into politics where he worked for former prime ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau and deputy prime minister Allan J. MacEachen.
In 1974, he successfully ran to represent Inverness South in the Nova Scotia legislature. He was appointed minister of health and later minister of social services and the status of women. He retired from public service as a member of the Canadian Aviation Safety Board in Ottawa.
He is survived by five children.
MacDonald, Winifred Jeanette
- Born: Nov. 17, 1934
- Died: Jan. 11/20
For those who knew her, she was known as ‘Winnie’.
Her family described her as a teacher of adults with special needs, a musician, a great cook, a choir director, a lover of research and a terrible driver.
MacDonald and her husband raised 12 children during which time she managed to earn an arts degree from Cape Breton University. She was an accomplished musician in playing in her family band Scumalash that toured in several locations across the UK. Her love of music led her to director two church choirs for more than 45 years.
She is survived by nine sons and two daughters.
King, Nancy Leigh
- Port Hawkesbury
- Born: 1973
- Died Oct. 2, 2020
After graduating high school in 1991, King earned a journalism degree in 1995 before later joining the editorial department at the Cape Breton Post.
King’s career was cut short but her time in the business earned a well-deserved reputation for being objective, fair and hard-working no matter how big or small the story. She was very proud of her work whether covering a murder trial, a lack of physicians in the province or the extensive reporting she did on an abuse case in the Strait area that spanned decades and two continents.
She loved her Detroit Red Wings and had many interesting spats with her father, often razzing him about his Toronto Maple Leafs. King’s true passion was music, having travelled throughout Canada following some of her favorite bands. Her playlist included songs from REM, The Tragically Hip, Modest Mouse, The Weakerthans.
She is survived by her parents and a sister.
Johnson, Sarah (Sally)
- Howie Centre
- Born: Oct. 30, 1949
- Died: Aug. 8, 2020
Described as a relentless fighter for health programs for Indigenous peoples, Johnson worked as the director of health for the Union of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq since 1995 from which she earned a deserved reputation as a true advocate, mentor, and advisor. Her guidance and insights were indicative of her passion for highlighting the importance of health and wellness for First Nations. She was a long-time member of numerous National Assembly of First Nations committees. If it had anything to do with health, Johnson was advocating for First Nations. She also co-chaired many of those committees. provided.
Given the some times grim nature of her job, Johnson always pulled through thanks to her great sense of humour.
She is survived by four children.
- Glace Bay
- Born: Dec. 25, 1936
- Died: Dec. 2, 2020
Although she studied to be an elementary school teacher, it was music that brought Chafe acclaim.
At the age of nine, she began to play the violin and in 1964, in Pembroke, Ontario, she became the first woman to win the International Fiddling Championship.
Throughout the early 1970s, she was featured as lead fiddler on the nationally renowned CBC series “Ceilidh” and from there, her music took her across North America and the United Kingdom. Throughout her life, she has received numerous awards for her contributions to the culture and music of Cape Breton and Scotland, including two honorary doctorates from St. FX University and Cape Breton University. In 1996, she was asked by the Canadian Navy to become the sponsor of the HMCS Glace Bay and thus began another phase of her life. She christened the ship and from there maintained a close relationship with its officers and crew. To this day, she is fondly referred to as the “Mom” of the ship. In 2017, Winnie became the first woman to be awarded the Canadian Masters International Fiddling Championship Lifetime Achievement Award.
She is survived by three daughters.
White, John Bernard “Bernie”
- New Waterford
- Born: July 20, 1965
- Died: Dec. 8, 2020
White was a devoted public servant for nearly 40 years and held many executive and leadership roles throughout his career including the clerk/treasurer for his hometown of New Waterford.
After amalgamation, he became the first municipal clerk of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and retired in that position in 2013.
Even in retirement, White continued to work as a consultant as one of the only Registered Parliamentarians in the country.
He spent many years serving on multiple boards and committees, most notably, serving on the board of directors for the Institute of International Municipal Clerks. During that service, he was awarded the Quill Award which is the highest international honour bestowed on a municipal clerk.
For those in media, White was well known to return to phone calls despite knowing in advance what the issue was that needed to be addressed.
He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
LaRusic, William “Willie” Gerard
- Born: 1955
- Died July 11, 2020
Every community needs a person like Willie LaRusic.
Born in Bay St. Lawrence, LaRusic moved as a young boy with his family to Amelia Street in Sydney's north end.
For most, LaRusic was a familiar sight at Sydney’s Centre 200 where for 20 years he was a member of the on-ice staff. He became known for entertaining the crowd as he did a little dance while resetting the net.
A consummate volunteer with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, LaRusic never seemed to be one to sit still. He moved lawns, shoveled snow along with any other job offered to him by neighbours and friends. For many seniors especially, LaRusic was their ace in helping them manage jobs around the home. He DJ’d weddings and parties and was once the King of Karaoke.
He was described simply as a person who would do anything for anybody and no one worked harder to help individuals and the community keep moving forward.
He is survived by his wife.
Coward-Ince, Thelma Eunice
- Born: Feb. 4, 1934
- Died: April 17, 2020
Born in Sydney, Coward-Ince was indeed a trail blazer.
In 1954, she joined the Canadian navy and became the first Black naval reservist. She went on to become the first Black senior secretary when she became secretary to the chief of staff to the admiral in the Canadian navy.
She became known as “go-to” person who knew all the policies, and who made sure all the rules and regulations were followed.
While with the Department of National Defence, she was promoted to manager of administrative services and became the first Black manager and the only female manager in the ship repair unit Atlantic between 1979 to 1992, when there were fewer than 100 women employees out of a total complement of 2,000.
She served on multiple community boards and agencies such as the Black United Front and the NS Advisory Commission on AIDS.
She is survived by two children.
McCarthy, Brenda Lee (Gale)
- North Sydney
- Born: Mar. 26, 1960
- Died: June 1, 2020.
As a nurse, McCarthy will always be remembered for going above and beyond to ensure her patients received proper care. Throughout her diverse 40-year career, McCarthy nursed in Halifax, Florida, Germany, Annapolis Valley and Cape Breton. She was employed for the last 20 years of her career as an operating room nurse at the Northside General and Cape Breton Regional Hospitals. She also served as her local union president from 2012 to 2017.
She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2017 while certain she had beaten the odds, she was diagnosed with a recurrence in July 2019. As her family noted in her obituary, she could have given up then but decided she still had more to offer.
She put her energy into raising pancreatic cancer awareness, while fundraising for a “Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy Machine” for the Cape Breton Cancer Center. She publicly shared her treatment journey and was humbled and grateful for the enormous response she received from family, friends, and community.
She is survived by her husband and two children.
MacDougall, Sister Olga
- Born: 1937
- Died: Jan. 4, 2020
Sister Olga MacDougall, formerly Sister Margaret Hugh, age 83, was a member of the Sisters of St. Martha of Antigonish. Born in Whitney Pier, pronounced her vows in 1960 and would later earn a degree from St. F.X. before beginning a career in social work.
She served as director of Bethany Retreat Center, Antigonish, and served on the staff at Galilee Retreat Centre, Arnprior, Ontario. She pioneered the opening of Wellspring Centre at St. F.X. Within the congregation, she served two terms as General Secretary and was director of vocation education and pre-novitiate. Sister Olga’s sense of adventure took her to Australia on her year of renewal and to a hermitage experience at the Spiritual Life Center, in New Jersey, long before hermitages were a popular form of retreat. A deeply caring person, Sister Olga had a heart for those who experienced loss and used the knowledge she gained from social work.
He is survived by two sisters and one brother.
McNeil, Mary Lee
- Glace Bay
- Born: 1959
- Died: Nov. 6, 2020
McNeil was described as a one-of-kind individual who was loving, caring and very humorous with an infectious smile and laugh.
McNeil had many loves in her life including her love of family, friends, sports, the Montreal Canadians and was even selected twice as the “fan of the game” at the Bell Centre in Montreal. She always loved and truly looked forward to her many telephone conversations with Montreal Canadians legend Jean Beliveau and his wife Elise.
McNeil served two terms as councillor for District 3 in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and was widely respected for her ability to raise money.
A selfless and devoted volunteer, she was a supporter and advocate of Christmas Daddies and raised thousands of dollars over the years. She hosted hundreds of benefit dances helping needy families. McNeil also worked as a bartender at several bars and was a DJ and served as president of the Radio Club for many years.
She represented Canada in many sports such as baseball, broomball and was duly recognized and ranked fourth in Canada in the sport of darts. She was inducted into the Glace Bay Sports Hall of Fame.
She is survived by four brothers.
- Glace Bay
- Born: Aug. 28, 1953
- Died: Dec. 19, 2020
Iconic Glace Bay Little League Manager Henry Boutilier managed his hometown Colonels for more than 40 years and put the team and the town on the international baseball map.
Boutilier managed and coached the Glace Bay squad to Canadian Major Little League Championships in 1987, 1988, 1991, 1994 and 2003, advancing to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
He also won two Canadian Big League championships with the Cape Breton Dodgers in 2009 and 2010.
He was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame and the Cape Breton Sport Hall of Fame and has been called the most recognized name in Little League across Canada and the United States.
Though his passion was baseball, Boutilier was also an accomplished teacher, guidance counsellor, vice-principal and principal. He also officiated and coached minor hockey.
Boutilier is survived by his wife, two daughters and one grandson.