Colette Guibert, also known as Madame by her many students, passed away peacefully at home at 96 years of age with her daughter at her side. She was fond of saying that aging was like a shipwreck and she didn’t enjoy any of it. My mother had insisted that there should be no obituary but she would say: “as usual, you’ll do what you want anyway” and so I do.
Madame was born in 1923 in France in a small and lovely Provencal town called Salon-de-Provence. She was the daughter of Marcel and Maria Garcin and the sister of Marcelle and René who pre-deceased her. She lost her beloved mother at an early age and my grandmother always stayed in her thoughts and heart. My grandfather was a shepherd and my mother never forgot her roots and believed in frugality and simplicity. She considered it one of her greatest failings that she had never been able to instill those values in her daughter - particularly the frugal part. Having said that, I never doubted for a second the love and pride she had for me.
My mother met my Parisian father, Jean Guibert, when he was doing his military service in the south of France after the war. They married in 1947 and Mom settled in Paris which was to remain her forever city and where I was born. Post-war, my parents faced many challenges which, in 1953, led to a divorce when my father departed for Canada. They were reunited and remarried in 1960. Although the adjustment was difficult, mom grew to love the spirit of her adopted country and the many opportunities it offered. In particular, she would never forget the warm greeting she received from her community of neighbours on Creery Avenue which remained her home for 60 years. And it is in West Vancouver that she found her true vocation: teaching.
My mother worked as a teacher’s aide at Sentinel, Hollyburn and Pauline Johnson schools and from there she became a private tutor to hundreds of students. Mom loved everything about teaching, imparting knowledge, meeting new students from many parts of the world and instilling a sense of discipline and rigorousness in the learning of the language. She was an old-fashioned teacher who did not mince words when students did not live up to her expectations. In 2011, the French government awarded my mother the prestigious Palmes Académiques for her contribution to French education and she was very proud of this recognition.
Mom believed strongly in contributing to her community and hit the pavement regularly for the many charities that she volunteered for such as the Kidney Foundation, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Diabetes Association. But perhaps mom’s favourite volunteering activity was working at the yearly Harmony Arts Festival in West Vancouver where she participated well into her eighties. She was, as they said back in the day, a people person. She enjoyed the company of her many friends and former students and loved hearing about their lives and achievements. She had a prodigious memory and always remembered birthdays and significant milestones. She was always there to listen and offer advice which may have been at times a bit too direct but was nevertheless appreciated. She had an egalitarian spirit and was funny, sarcastic and straightforward.
My mother had a long, interesting and fulfilling life. I will miss her deeply as will her many friends and family in Canada and in France with whom she built long lasting and meaningful relationships. She was loved, respected and cared for until the very end. I would like to acknowledge the support of the staff of Royalty Home Care Services and of the nurses of Vancouver Coastal Health. If you wish to honour Mom’s memory, please donate to the charity of your choice. Although I was also instructed not to do this, a gathering of friends will be organized at some later date.