Kay Frances Hanson: Groundbreaker. Mother. Midwife. Grandma. Born July 22, 1952, in Calgary; died Jan. 5, 2022, in Peterborough, Ont., of cancer; aged 69.
I first met Kay on a sunlit summer evening in the Yukon in 1972. She had just hitchhiked solo from Calgary. I had travelled with my motorcycle from Ontario. Kay was energetic, self-assured and beautiful, and she seemed to see something in me. We found work where we could and travelled the gravel roads of Yukon. At the end of that first summer, we decided to stay. Whitehorse was full of others just like us.
Completing our university education was a priority for both of us. We decided to take turns, with one going to school and the other working to pay for it. Kay went first, and she returned to Calgary in 1973 to complete the final year of her BA at the University of Calgary.
Kay was the second of six siblings, four girls and two boys. Their mother, Bertha, raised them alone after their father was killed in a plane crash. Kay and her siblings were close, and while they were perhaps a little prone to endless debate within the family, they were fiercely protective of one other. I felt both warned and welcomed after listening to a chorus of “Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister” when I met the family for the first time.
We married in Whitehorse in December, 1974. When we left the festivities, we found the cab of our pickup had been completely jammed full of spruce bows. The honeymoon was a weekend in Atlin, B.C., over icy roads, with rocks piled in the back of the pickup for traction.
When I graduated from Dalhousie University in 1980, we moved back to Calgary. Our daughters, Madeleine and Anna, were born there. Kay took to parenthood enthusiastically and was soon making most of the girls’ clothes, including winter coats, pants, bathing suits and sweaters.
In the early 1980s, Kay had a better job than I did, so she worked while I looked after Maddy. Her job ended just as Anna came along in 1982, so we switched roles again. With limited prospects in Alberta, we moved back to Ontario, where I had been hired to build a house in Prince Edward County. We struggled for the next few years while getting established, but eventually made our home in Peterborough and grew into the community.
The girls were soon in school and Kay wanted a new focus. She followed her mother into nursing. She graduated at the top of her class and ever the trailblazer enrolled in the first-ever Midwifery Program at Ryerson University (now called Toronto Metropolitan University). Midwifery suited Kay perfectly and she loved her work. Unfortunately, after a decade of successful practice, her career was cut short by a back injury. After surgery and a lengthy recovery, she started helping me manage my busy architecture practice.
Kay loved being a grandmother to Mae, Maxine and Kendon. They read and made crafts together, and Kay did her best to be an engaged and supportive grandma even when the pandemic kept the families apart.
In 2008, she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. Never one to back down from a fight, Kay entered treatment and we tried to be hopeful. By September of 2009, after surgery and months of difficult chemotherapy, she was cancer-free.
Kay had lingering symptoms of chronic pain but when her younger sister Paula was diagnosed with cancer, she went to Alberta to be by her side. After Paula’s death in 2018, Kay’s outlook on life was never again as positive. In December, 2021, after a 12-year respite, cancer returned and she spent her last month at home overlooking the Otonabee River.
Kay was funny, sarcastic, fiercely independent and wickedly smart. She was a talented gardener, a voracious reader, a committed knitter and a fabulous doll maker. She baked elaborate cookies every Christmas and while she was an avid menu planner, she hardly ever cooked dinner.
Ken Trevelyan (Kay’s husband).
This was originally published in the Globe and Mail on October 17, 2022
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