Valley Lives - Colleen Gifford

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the March 06, 2019 issue. Reprinted with permission.

'Colleen was impossible to ignore'

By Jake Munro

Colleen Gifford
Colleen smiles at a family event in 2008. Family was always dear to Colleen's heart, and she made sure her family got together for dinner for as often as was possible and for every holiday. Photo courtesy Amanda Dexter.

Born in Calgary into a family of seven, Colleen Gifford moved to the Hills in her late teens to start a family, and Calgary's loss was Wakefield's gain as the mark she left on her family and our community is as undeniable as it is good.

"Colleen was impossible to ignore; her heart was bigger than Wakefield," said Ned Ellis, her husband. "She was all over the Hills, organizing and volunteering non-stop."

Colleen's life began on Jan. 9, 1964, and ended on Feb. 14 at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal. Colleen struggled with a serious form of abdominal cancer for some time, but it was ultimately complications following her surgery to remedy the cancer that took her life.

A family woman through and through, Colleen did an incredible job of blending her and Ned's families together. Although it was a second marriage for both, Colleen and Ned spent 15 blissful years together, and would be proud to say that they have four children and six grandchildren between them.

Colleen Gifford
Colleen Gifford on Mont Blanc with her dog Archie (right) and another dog Pippi in March 2018. Colleen was known as a dog person all her life. Photo courtesy Amanda Dexter.

Colleen also forged a stellar career in the education system. She started as a part-time daycare worker at the old Wakefield Elementary in 1999, and had climbed all the way up to administrative assistant and head of the daycare, a role she held since 2006, by her last year in 2018.

One of her proudest achievements, and one mentioned by everyone in her life, was her role in growing the daycare program at the elementary school. As the administration leader of the school's daycare program, she was instrumental as the program increased from roughly 20 students to more than 130 by the time she was done.

According to the old Wakefield Elementary principal Rola Macintosh, this was due to her energy and fun, as well as the creative after-school activities she oversaw such as ski club. Colleen changed daycare from a daunting experience to something every kid wanted to attend.

"She cared deeply for the students and they respected her," said Macintosh. "They would always pop by the office and say 'Hi Colleen!' because they liked her so much."

Anyone involved in any sort of community activity would have run into the communitydriven tour de force that was Colleen Gifford. Everyone she knew described her as energetic and extremely hard-working, and she exemplified that through her work on the Wakefield Hospital Foundation board, the executive board for the Western Quebec School Board's support workers, her volunteering at the Ottawa social services home St. Mary's, and her work for the Rupert Community Centre, among others.

Aside from her laundry list of community and career involvements, Colleen somehow also found the time to stay in shape. She worked out with her personal trainer three times a week and would take her dog, Archie, out for an eight-kilometre walk once a day in Gatineau Park, waking up at four or five in the morning to do so.

Before Archie, Colleen's heart was owned by another pup, her late golden retriever Shayla. Colleen was always a dog person.

"She would do this crazy thing where she would drive around with the windows open in the middle of the winter just so the dog could stick its head out the window and enjoy the fresh air," said Ned with a chuckle.

Everyone is invited to attend Colleen's celebration of life at the Rupert Community Centre on March 9 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Donations will be accepted to support palliative care in the community.

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