A Life's Story

April 08, 2023

Smart, straightforward, steady, solution maker

Eleanor Jacqueline (Jackie) Sneesby, 79, was ‘extraordinary’ Winnipeg School Division trustee, longtime volunteer

By: Janine LeGal

Eleanor Jacqueline (Jackie) Sneesby was a force to be reckoned with.

Sneesby, who died Jan. 17, one month before her 80th birthday, lived life to the fullest and gave her all to everything she cared about — and she cared about a lot.

Family and others who knew her say the extroverted trail blazer with a heart of gold was never afraid to try new things and she built a lifetime portfolio of notable accomplishments and rewarding experiences.

Sneesby was a long-time member of the Winnipeg Winter Club. She also volunteered for decades and sat on the boards of many organizations in the city, including the Canadian Cancer Society, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Manitoba Liberal Party, and Manitoba Theatre for Young People.

While serving as a trustee in the Winnipeg School Division, her work for children with disabilities was close to her heart. She spent a lot of her time to ensuring fairness and respect for everyone.

While chairwoman of the school board, Sneesby put forth a motion to discontinue smoking on school property. Despite opposition, and the fear many had of pushing it through because of that opposition, she took it on and it was passed.

Barbara Coombs, now a retired English as a second language teacher, worked with Sneesby to secure funding for a school resource officer in 2006.

“As a parent, it was a privilege to get to know her and work with her during her time as trustee for the WSD,” Coombs says.

“Jackie was so dedicated to her work. I admired her no-nonsense approach, candour, and sense of humour. The world could use a few more powerhouses like Jackie. Smart, straightforward women are greatly needed.

“Jackie loved life, and that was evident in everything she did and said.”

Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights, knew Sneesby through many years.

“She was an extraordinary school trustee,” says Gerrard. “She was very perceptive and insightful in her work, and always put the community first.

“She was always there for the children’s best interest and was ready to listen to and work with families. It certainly showed in her years as a trustee. She will be dearly missed.”

In her work with the Canadian Cancer Society, and to increase awareness, Sneesby arranged to connect with then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. She also went out and campaigned for then-Manitoba Liberal leader Izzy Asper.

While Sneesby was involved in politics at all levels, her charitable work dedicated to advocacy and community-building was exemplary. The world-renowned human rights activist Desmond Tutu even sent Sneesby a note to acknowledge her humanitarian contributions.

In her youth, Sneesby loved figure skating, song and dance. The mahogany redhead even did some modelling for the Hudson’s Bay Co.

One of the many stories she shared through the years came while working as a receptionist for executives at Great West Life. Her handwriting was noticed by John Turner — prior to his becoming prime minister — and he asked her to write out the invitations for his wedding.

As a young girl growing up in St. James, Sneesby looked forward to meeting her grandfather for lunch at Eaton’s downtown, where he worked. He would prove to have an influence on shaping her generous spirit. When encountering individuals who were struggling, her grandfather would ask them if they were hungry, take them to the cafeteria, and in some cases even arrange to help get them a job.

“I attribute a lot of her generosity to him, her grandfather was like that,” says her husband Gerry.

“She was a very generous person. She met a lot of important high-level people in her life, but she always talked to people on the street… She doesn’t ignore them.”

Sneesby was also proud of her work in the travel industry, especially at Air Canada, where she made significant contributions, opening offices and training staff in Europe.

“We did a cruise to Alaska, to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic Sea,” Gerry says. “In the summer, we did a tour of Asia. We were living very well.”

His wife even made sure others were given opportunities to travel. he says. Through her work with the airlines, she was able to help people who wanted to experience the Walt Disney theme park go on round-trip day excursions.

Gerry recalls meeting his future wife for the first time at a birthday dinner for a friend’s girlfriend. He had been lukewarm about the idea of a blind date, but when he saw Sneesby the second time around, his opinion quickly changed.

“One day I was out at lunch time, and she was on her way to lunch with her grandfather,” Gerry says. “I see this very attractive lady. I thought: ‘You know what? I was stupid, I should have been more gracious.’ I asked her for a date.

“We were engaged for two years and married in 1963.”

The couple raised their two sons in River Heights, and Sneesby instilled the importance of volunteering early on with her children.

“Our older son, at eight or nine years old, was out collecting money for the Jerry Lewis (Muscular Dystrophy Association) Telethon because his mother thought it was a good idea,” Gerry says.

No matter how busy life became, family was always at the centre of things.

“She would take our granddaughters to ballet,” Gerry says. “She was a very big promoter of family. If you weren’t family, you became family by the way she treated you.”

Gerry holds dear those many stories and memories from more than 60 years together.

“Men were thinking she’s gonna be a pushover but she couldn’t be bulldozed,” he says. “She was always finding solutions to every problem. You could count on her. You always knew that she would be there.

“She was a very busy woman, there’s no question about that. Not too many people could keep up with her.”


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