A Life's Story

October 30, 2021

A calm, quiet 'pillar of strength'

Margaret Faber, 96, dedicated herself to others via occupational therapy

By: Gabrielle Piché

Margaret Faber would have been embarrassed to have a newspaper article written about her.

She spoke with a British accent due to spending her childhood years in England, and resembled Queen Elizabeth II.

Longtime occupational therapist Margaret Faber, who died on March 28 at the age of 96, will be honoured through a memorial fund for University of Manitoba occupational therapy students. (Supplied)

Longtime occupational therapist Margaret Faber, who died on March 28 at the age of 96, will be honoured through a memorial fund for University of Manitoba occupational therapy students. (Supplied)

She was quiet, but her influence on occupational therapy in Manitoba still reverberates, according to colleagues and family. Her legacy will continue through the Margaret Faber Memorial Student Award, to be gifted to aspiring occupational therapists at the University of Manitoba.

"She had a very calm and quiet way about her, but she was a pillar of strength," said Juliette Cooper, an occupational therapy professor who worked with Faber for many years.

"She was one of those people who led by example, not by rallying the troops."

Faber’s adolescence was coloured by the Second World War. She was born in Bootle, a town roughly four kilometres north of Liverpool, on May 16, 1924. Her father was a baker, and the family was quite nomadic.

When the war broke out, Faber’s clan moved to northern England. She went to school in Yorkshire and settled in London with her parents after graduating.

"She would tell us about the bombing that went on… and just staying in those air raid shelters," said nephew Michael Edwards.

Faber would tuck into a shelter at the bottom of her parents’ garden and listen to the explosions sounding overhead, he said. One bomb landed in a tree near her house and had to be detonated by a disposal squad the next day.

A stint as a scientific assistant at the National Physical Laboratory in England inspired her to become an occupational therapist.

"What Auntie Margaret really portrayed is caring for people, not a body part," said niece Jeanette Edwards.

Faber worked in hospitals, assisting war veterans with their mental health and patients in orthopaedic and neurological wards.

Later, after her parents died and her sister moved to Canada, she felt the distance from her family, Jeanette said.

Margaret Faber as a young woman. (Supplied)

Margaret Faber as a young woman. (Supplied)

In 1972, she packed her bags, dreams and British hats and moved to Winnipeg.

"When she immigrated to Canada, it was very exciting for us, because we were young kids," Michael said. "She really was very special."

At the time, there was a push in Manitoba’s occupational therapy field for professionals to have a degree. Faber only had a diploma; she went back to school in her late 40s.

"There were lots of people who said, ‘No, I’m not doing this, I’m too old, it’s too much work,’" Cooper said. "Margaret did it, and she inspired, I think, a lot of people."

And she did it without fanfare, Cooper said. She quietly enrolled and got the job done.

Faber worked at the Health Sciences Centre as the assistant director of the adult rehabilitation sector. Though she didn’t teach students, she helped orient them, and she inspired her niece to follow in her footsteps.

"She was amazing," Jeanette said. "She quietly, self-determined, lived a full life (and) always gave to others, always contributed to humanity."

Margaret Faber graduated with an occupational therapy degree from the University of Manitoba in 1976. (Supplied)

Margaret Faber graduated with an occupational therapy degree from the University of Manitoba in 1976. (Supplied)

Faber would drop everything and drive a family member across the city, even if it affected her schedule — as she did for Michael during his first summer job.

She donated generously to charity and took her religion seriously. She adopted her sister’s blind Yorkshire terrier, Benji, and shortly after, had mats and coffee mugs emblazoned with the dog’s breed.

"She just absolutely cared for him impeccably," Jeanette said.

In retirement, Faber was the archivist for the Manitoba Society of Occupational Therapists.

"(The) information is… incredibly valuable, because in order to know where you’re going, you have to look at where you were," Cooper said.

Cooper would ask Faber for advice on ethical issues.

‘You could talk it through with Margaret, and you would come out the other end with probably the right approach," she said. "She thought very carefully about what she said and what she did."

Margaret Faber (left) with her sister Kathleen Edwards on a cruise in 2009. (Supplied)

Margaret Faber (left) with her sister Kathleen Edwards on a cruise in 2009. (Supplied)

Faber was a quiet, comforting force.

"Through her living her leadership… it gave us confidence," Cooper said. "It made us know we were safe, and those of us who did go on to leadership roles… you knew there were people there in the background who had your back, and that was important."

Faber stayed single. Her nephew found her diaries from the 1940s and 50s; she’d dated a man whom she loved but never married because he wasn’t Christian.

After she died, Jeanette cleaned her suite. She found a framed love poem, turned it over to put in a box, and found a note that said "Philip," for the man Faber had dated. Jeanette took the frame apart and found a picture of Philip inside.

"It should be a romantic novel," she said. "In her quiet way, it just wasn’t meant to be."

Instead, Faber vacationed and went on regular lunch dates with family and friends. She died March 28, after what Jeanette believes were a series of mini strokes.

Her memorial fund is expected to begin sometime this school year.

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

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