Valley Lives - Gwen Shea

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the April 22, 2015 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Wakefield loses a leader, a lady, a love

by Anastasia Philopoulos

Valley Lives
Gwen Shea on her beloved Gatineau River on Canada Day 2014. Photos courtesy Tim Appleby

It was often you'd see the Wakefield couple puttering around the river on their pontoon boat under colourful evening skies. Appleby would pick Shea up from the public dock with her bike after work, and the two would spend most of the evening enjoying the gentle sway of the river.

The couple met back in the early summer of 1988, while looking out onto the river from what was then Café des Amis (now Kaffé 1870). Each had decided to pop by for a beer in the late afternoon and wound up meeting. "That was it," Appleby recalled. "She was witty, funny, smart, dedicated, honest, pretty. Everything that I could [have] possibly dreamt of and that was all the way through our relationship."

Not only an adored wife and mother, Shea was also a wellrespected and well-loved community builder and volunteer. Whether it was scrambling to find extra refrigeration units on a particularly hot Canada Day, making ice in the middle of the night with a garden hose at the Alcove arena, or going door to door to raise funds for the Wakefield Community Centre, Shea was always lending a hand.

Valley Lives
Shea and Appleby take the stage with her famous nun character. Photos courtesy Tim Appleby

She tirelessly volunteered for Wakefield events and is credited as one of the major forces behind rejuvenating Canada Day festivities, not to mention playing an integral role in getting the Wakefield Centre up and running.

Old friend and former La Pêche councillor Louis Rompré remembers Shea as someone who loved her community and calls her dedication to the Wakefield Centre inspiring. "Working with her to get the community centre opened, Gwen went above and beyond her duties on that process," Rompré said. "She would certainly make the shortlist to have the centre named after her."

The Wakefield man fondly remembers meeting Shea at the weekly volleyball and softball games she started running in the late 1980s. "She was fun, she was soft spoken, had this lightness of being about her that just made her a joy to be around and it kind of rubbed off on everybody," Rompré said. "What's also remarkable is the love she had for Tim. It always showed through wherever they were, whatever they were doing."

Friend Natasha Sabolotny puts it this way: "You never say Tim without Gwen, and you never say Gwen without Tim."

Sabolotny met Shea through various community events around the village, but her first distinct memory of the Wakefield woman was watching in awe as Shea belted out 'Son of a Preacher Man' dressed as a pregnant nun, Sister Mary, at the first ever 'Wakefield Idle' at the Black Sheep, complete with birthing scene at the end.

Valley Lives
Shea and Appleby enjoying the sunshine in Mexico last winter. Photos courtesy Tim Appleby

Shea was one of the founding members of Theatre Wakefield and was well known for her character Crystal Wedgewood, the prim interior designer from Pearson's Plot who knew all the good fashion designers.

Over the years, Shea's nun character appeared, at times with Appleby by her side. According to Sabolotny, the nun became a rapper at her last appearance and offered commentary on local politics. "Gwen's sense of humour is very dry and contemplated," Sabolotny explained. "Last time the nun came out... the way she put it to me was, 'I want to insult everyone equally, all at the same time.'"

Sabolotny was a board member while Shea was the general manager at the Wakefield Centre, and recalls her singleminded dedication to the place. "There was a call at 4 a.m. because the fire alarm went off. I went down and it was one of the coldest days of the year... I remember getting to the centre and leaving a message for Gwen, to say that we hadn't been spending enough quality time together and that she should come down and hang out with me."

Sabolotny chuckles remembering Shea showed up at the centre with no qualms, just a smile. But that was Shea, even up to the end. Appleby recalls that Theatre Wakefield had a board meeting on Shea's last birthday, this past January. "She could hardly walk and it was minus 30 outside and she still went out and got a ride and went to the meeting. She was dedicated."

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