A Life's Story

January 02, 2021

Those we lost in 2020

Remembering the Manitobans who left us last year

By: Kevin Rollason

<p>John Woods / The Canadian Press</p><p>Dr. Frank Plummer</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press

Dr. Frank Plummer

It was a year where we lost a scientist who helped curb HIV/AIDS in the world, a politician who steered the province’s economy, one of the best to tee off here and the first Canadian country music singer to sell a million records.

Dr. Frank Plummer was a world-acclaimed microbiologist and infectious disease expert who, while working in Nairobi, was the first to figure out that HIV could be transmitted to women, could be passed to babies through breast milk, and that male circumcision could reduce the spread of HIV.

Plummer, who was 67 when he died suddenly in February, also investigated why and how 10 per cent of the women in a group of Kenyan sex workers were naturally immune to HIV. This work became central to vaccine and drug development.

Plummer later became the scientific director general of the federal National Microbiology Laboratory here and was inducted into both the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba.

Lucille Starr was born Lucille Savoie in St. Boniface and rose to fame to become the province’s Queen of Country Music.

Starr, who died at her home in Las Vegas at 82 in September, first saw fame with her then husband, Bob Regan as the Canadian Sweethearts, with the hits Hootenanny Express and Freight Train in the early 1960s before she went into a studio and recorded The French Song in both English and French.

That song exploded in sales around the world and Starr became the first Canadian artist to sell more than a million records as well as later becoming the first Canadian woman to be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Association’s hall of fame.

Eugene Kostyra may have risen to guide the province’s fiscal books — but first he had to drop out of high school.

Kostyra, who died in May at 72, was a NDP MLA who served as finance minister in the Howard Pawley government — and whose 1988 budget resulted in the government’s fall and being defeated by Gary Filmon — before coming back to be a key bureaucrat with the Gary Doer government.

After dropping out of St. John’s High School, Kostyra was hired by Winnipeg Hydro and later became a journeyman electrician before becoming active in labour unions. He was elected in 1981 as the MLA for Seven Oaks and also served as minister of culture and recreation, industry, trade and technology, and urban affairs.

After retiring from politics, Kostyra became Manitoba regional director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and then executive assistant to the national president.

Jake MacDonald had a way with words.

<p>Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files</p><p>Author Jake MacDonald</p>

Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files

Author Jake MacDonald

MacDonald, who died in January at 70, wrote 10 books of fiction and non-fiction and hundreds of articles for publications including the New York Times and Maclean’s magazine.

He is best known for the books Houseboat Chronicles: Notes from a Life in Shield Country, which won awards including the Pearson Writers’ Trust Prize for non-fiction in 2002, now known as the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize, and Juliana and the Medicine Fish, which was later made into a movie.

MacDonald also penned his first play, The Cottage, which debuted at Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in 2019, and he was honoured with the Winnipeg Arts Council’s Making a Mark Award the same year.

Asa MacDonell broke glass ceilings.

MacDonell, who died at 102, graduated as a doctor from the University of Manitoba in 1943, and married her husband, Dr. Jack MacDonell, the same year.

<p>Submitted</p><p>Dr. Jack MacDonell and Dr. Asa MacDonell.</p>

Submitted

Dr. Jack MacDonell and Dr. Asa MacDonell.

According to her family, MacDonell might never have made it to medical school if she hadn’t been able to persuade her principal to let her take the "boys only" classes of physics and chemistry. Her chemistry teacher wasn’t convinced — he wouldn’t speak to her and started each class by asking "Is she still here?"

MacDonell worked for years as an allergy specialist before being hired as the assistant administrator at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ Deer Lodge Hospital in the early 1960s. She later applied and was hired to be the hospital’s administrator, the first woman to be in charge of a DVA hospital.

Her obituary noted that, when Queen Elizabeth later visited the hospital, they talked about their mutual roles of being the woman in charge with a husband "on staff." Her husband, by then, was a pioneer in geriatrics and she was instrumental in the creation of the hospital’s Geriatric Day Hospital.

Look around the city and you’ll see the works David Penner helped create.

Penner, who died at 61 on Jan. 7, was a leader with local architects and responsible for several buildings including the Mere Hotel on Waterfront Drive, the addition behind the former Isbister School (now the Winnipeg Adult Education Centre), the active-living addition to Kelvin High School, and the Windsor Park Library.

<p>John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>David Penner</p>

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

David Penner

Penner is also responsible for smaller creations, including redesigning the lobby at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Pavilion at Central Park, and, perhaps his tiniest, the Little Red Library on Wellington Crescent. He was also the driving force behind the creation of Storefront Manitoba and the Table for 1200.

Peggy Colonello loved golfing so much she took her golf bag onto a streetcar on her way to the Bourkevale Golf Course on Portage Avenue. (The golf course is now the site of St. James Collegiate).

Colonello, who died in April at 97, went on to play for three Manitoba Senior Provincial golf teams and many winning teams at the Elmhurst Golf and Country Club. She also served as president of the Manitoba Ladies Golf Association from 1974 to 1976, president of the Canadian Ladies Golf Association from 1982 to 1983, and she chaired national tournaments held here.

<p>Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame</p><p>Peggy Colonello</p>

Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame

Peggy Colonello

For her contributions, Colonello was inducted as a builder into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and, along with PGA golfer George Knudson, she was part of the inaugural inductees of the Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame.

Kevin Kavanagh was the president and CEO of Great-West Life Assurance, head of one of the province’s largest companies.

Kavanagh, who died in June at 87, got his commerce degree at the University of Manitoba, and was a member of the Royal Canadian Naval reserve. He was hired by Great-West Life Assurance in 1953 and by 1979 he had risen to be appointed president and CEO.

<p>KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Kevin Kavanagh</p>

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Kevin Kavanagh

He also served as chancellor of his hometown Brandon University from 1996 to 2002, and was honoured for both his professional and volunteer work by being inducted into the Order of Canada in 2002, the Order of Manitoba in 2009, and by receiving a Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Manitoba in 1990.

Sigrid Dahle was a gallery curator and artist who helped showcase other Western Canadian artists.

Dahle, who died in November at 65, helped launch Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) in 1984, where she encouraged artists and guided the artist-run organization’s approach to art. She was also the first director-curator of the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.

<p>MAWA</p><p>Sigrid Dahle (centre).</p>

MAWA

Sigrid Dahle (centre).

Dahle curated several shows at the university’s gallery, including exhibitions with the province’s women artists and with Group of Seven painter and former director of the university’s School of Art, Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald. Dahle was the university’s art collections co-ordinator, and also became a sessional instructor there.

Dahle was one of five Winnipeg curators who put together the My Winnipeg exhibition which was shown at both the La Maison Rouge in Paris and the Musée International des Arts Modestes in Sète, France. She also was the Free Press art critic from 2000 to 2002.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

A Life’s Story features in 2020

Prominent Manitobans who died during the past year

Art Bryant

Joan Rettie

Sharon Freed

Deo Poonwassie

Alexander Syzek

Don Hunter

Norman Hill

Glen Lowther

Frances Roesler

Roslyn Silver

Len Bateman

Loa Henry

Michèle Anderson

Lucy Shimoda

Ninh Tran

Walter Bryk

Robert (Alf) Silver

Harold Hughes

Danny Gabbs

Eduardo Cornejo

Gladys Poneira

Lorne Munroe

Betty deKock

Sister Rita Desrosiers

Rabbi Peretz Joseph Weizman

Victor Feldbrill

Sylvia Topper

George Aitkens

Walter Klopick

Laurane Schultz

Paul Harris

Bennett Oramasionwu

Ramcharran Rudy Persaud

Imogene Williams

Jack Delveaux

Paulina Miaw Jin Zillman

Orianna Courchene

Rockin’ Richard Sturtz

Shirlee Anne Smith

Harry Taylor

Stephanie Siddle

Nancy Drake

Sasanda Nilmalgoda

Ilene Shragge

Edna Perry

Barry McArton

Jim Neilson

Allison Stephanson

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