Eulogy for Neva Bezeau
(2007 12 07)
I am the eldest son of the recently deceased Neva Bezeau and am one of two of her children who will be speaking today to give some insight into her life.
Neva Claire Stansell was born in 1913 on September 18. She was born to John Lawrence Stansell and Alma Edith Clark. She grew up in the farming country of south-western Ontario south of London. Her father was a gentleman farmer and a politician and her mother was a farmer’s wife and a homemaker.
As a gentleman farmer her father was a dairy farmer specializing in the breed of cattle known as Ayrshires. Neva’s father and her two brothers operated Selwood Farms which ranked among the top Ayrshire breeders in Canada, if not in North America.
As a politician, John Stansell served two terms in the Parliament of Canada as an elected member of the House of Commons.
One of my mother’s earliest memories that she told me about was being kissed by the leader of her father’s political party, and briefly prime minister of Canada, Arthur Meighen. It turned out that in the first half of the twentieth century not everyone wanted to be kissed by Arthur Meighen. But even as a young girl my mother had a strong sense of responsibility. As she noted, being kissed by Arthur Meighen was a job and someone had to do it.
I noticed earlier this afternoon that an unusual photograph of Neva appears in the photo album that was placed in the anteroom. It was taken in 1925 on the roof of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and shows my mother as an attractive twelve-year old with two of her childhood friends. They probably had access to the roof because Neva’s father was a member of Parliament.
Neva Stansell completed high school one year early in the 1930s. She was greatly influenced by the Depression but neither she nor her family were destitute. After high school she went to normal school in London and then returned to teach near her home. Her school was a one-room public school with grades one to eight. She owned something that very few people in the Depression had, an automobile. She used it to drive the several miles to her school.
One story that she told me about her experience as a teacher in the thirties has stuck in my mind over many years. It tells us something about her and a great deal about the sense of community that existed in her area. It took place one snowy winter morning when she was driving to school. Her car was having difficulty mounting a hill and eventually slid back into the ditch. She could not get it out. She abandoned the car leaving the key in the ignition and continued on foot for the remaining mile to her school. To us this may seem strange but she knew what she was doing. When she arrived at school she found that the oldest student had assumed the role of teacher and was teaching the others. Meanwhile a passerby had spotted the car in the ditch and recognized it. He went for help which included a team of horses to pull the car out of the ditch. One of the helpers then drove the car to the school and parked it outside with the key in the ignition. My mother found her car outside the school when she emerged at noon, just as she had expected.
Neva gave up teaching when she married Louis Bezeau in 1940. They moved to Montreal and then to Summerside, Prince Edward Island. They began a family and had three boys followed by two girls. The family lived in a number of places but her children did most of their growing up when the family was in Lethbridge, Alberta.
During the 1960s Neva went back to teaching in Lethbridge and, toward the end of the decade, saw her marriage end. She taught for a number of years at Hamilton Junior High and the Lethbridge Collegiate Institute. We have received a number of testimonials from former students and others since her death. One person described her as very independent. A former student asserted that Mrs. Bezeau charted her own course and sailed it. Another said that she loved Mrs. Bezeau as a teacher but did not know how she could stand her own children.
I am oversimplifying my mother’s life. To do otherwise would keep you here all afternoon and into the evening. During her life she lived at one time or another in most Canadian provinces and in Europe. In 1975, at the age of 62, she drove to Berkeley, California, where I was living at the time. She turned her car over to me and flew to Europe where she backpacked and wandered around for about two years. She stayed in hostels and when she ran out of money she worked. She spent considerable time on the island of Jersey working in a private school. There she did a variety of jobs including chambermaid, informal counselor, and organizer of high tea.
She lived in Fredericton, New Brunswick for about 20 years and moved to Kelowna, British Columbia several years ago. In Kelowna, she lived in Fernbrae Manor, a retirement home. She remained physically independent and apparently healthy until her last day.
In the last several months of her life she read the recent autobiographies of Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien. In this place of worship, I cannot repeat her opinions of those two.
On the Sunday morning of her death her second son Arnold phoned her and they had a lengthy and normal conversation. She excused herself to go to lunch. She did not go to lunch and reported to the staff that she was not feeling well. She died within an hour.
In the latter part of her life she had serious doubts about the viability of medicare and the quality of medical care, something that she preferred to avoid. If she could speak now, she would tell us how proud she was of the fact that she had been a minimal user of medical services and that she died without imposing any burden at all on the medical care system.