A Life's Story
May 20, 2023
‘A visionary’ with seven decades of volunteer service
Burst appendix that delayed overseas journey in 1939 may have saved life of Pat Guy, ‘one of those rare people who is all things to all people all the time’
By: Kevin Rollason
A burst appendix may have thrown Pat Guy a life preserver.
It was 1939, she was 18, and she was about to return to Canada after spending a year at a finishing school in Paris.
But, shortly before Guy was to board a ship bound for Canada, she began feeling excruciating pain. She cancelled her booking, went to a hospital and was diagnosed with a burst appendix. She recovered and later returned to Canada on another ship.
The ship Guy originally was booked to go on? That was the SS Athenia, which sunk after being hit by a German U-boat torpedo on Sept. 3, the day the United Kingdom declared war against Germany. There were 1,418 passengers and crew aboard; 98 passengers and 19 crew members died, 54 of them Canadian.
The Athenia was the U.K.’s first ship lost during the Second World War.
Instead of going on the Athenia, Guy went on to live a long and full life, mostly in Winnipeg, before dying on Oct. 16 at the age of 101.
“I’m glad she had the burst appendix,” said her daughter, Monica Ball, known to family and friends as Mickey.
“She would have been at the bottom of the sea… and she wouldn’t have had the life she had.”
Guy was born in Toronto on Dec. 30, 1920, to John and Helen Gibbons, and raised there with her sister and brother.
She attended Branksome Hall, an independent girls school in Toronto, for six years. Her lifetime love of volunteering was already apparent as she was worked as co-editor of the Branksome Slogan, the school’s yearbook, during her graduation year.
“It might be a good thing if we were forced to take as much interest in democracy as the youth of fascist and communist countries take in their respective governments, and were compelled to study how to improve and propagate our ideas of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of thought,” she wrote in the yearbook editorial as the winds of war were beginning to blow.
“If every boy and girl looked upon his vote as a privilege and obligation and exercised his franchise carefully and conscientiously, our next generation would, without doubt, have a stronger democratic government.”
On another page, asked about her future plans, she said, “school in Paris.”
After recovering from her appendix operation, and returning to Canada, Guy enrolled at the University of Toronto, but she didn’t finish her degree. At least not then.
Guy’s daughter said that’s because her mother, even before graduating from high school, had already met the man she would later marry-Robert DuVal “Doc” Guy.
Ball said it was her aunt — her mother’s sister — who unknowingly brought her parents together.
“(My aunt) was in a travelling actor company which came to the Dominion Theatre in Winnipeg,” she said. “My father went to law school, but worked at the theatre and met (aunt) Kay Gibbons.
“She (Kay) fell in love with his friend and my mother was her sister’s maid of honour and my father was the best man.”
Ball said her parents kept in touch, corresponding with each other while her mother was in Paris, and in her second year of university she quit school, got married, and the newlywed couple moved to her husband’s hometown of Winnipeg.
And that’s when her seven decades of volunteering here began.
Guy immediately began assisting with Second World War servicemen heading to the war.
Later, in 1948, Muriel Richardson, the fifth president of James Richardson and Sons — and the first woman to be a company CEO in Canada — asked her to join her to be a founding member in the new Women’s Committee for the Winnipeg Art Gallery she was organizing.
“She started with 10 people and my mom was one of those 10, the youngest by far,” Ball said. “It was known for decades as the Women’s Committee, and now it is the Associates of the WAG.
“When she was 12, my mother wintered in Sicily with her mother and she was exposed to a lot of art, so she always showed an interest. Mrs. Richardson saw that in her and wanted to have some range of age so there was succession. She was the last of the 10 and she was at their 70th anniversary celebration. It will be hard for someone to beat her record of 70 years of volunteering there.”
Pat Bovey, who before she was appointed Senator in 2016, worked with Guy many times as the WAG’s director from 1999 to 2004, and its director emerita starting in 2014.
“Pat was amazing – I’ve known her my whole life,” Bovey said, noting they grew up on the same street. “She was a visionary. She was knowledgeable. I just loved her energy. I learned so much from her.
“She was one of those rare people who is all things to all people all the time.”
Bovey said in her early days as a staff member, when the WAG was located kitty-corner from its current location inside what is now the Manitoba Archives building, they would have to carry works of art up and down three storeys for display.
“Pat was one of the carriers,” she said. “She was very involved with our study groups. She came up with topics for research. And she was also a very cunning fundraiser.
“She is one of those key visionary, dedicated people that set the gallery towards where it is today.”
Guy was only 65 when her husband, then a retired Manitoba Court of Appeal justice, died.
“She was always very independent,” Ball said. “She never wasted a second. She had an inquiring mind and she was always active.”
Ball said besides the art gallery, her mother also volunteered with the Victoria Order of Nurses, the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry Society and the Junior League.
And Guy did proudly finish her university degree more than three decades after beginning her studies. After the University of Winnipeg said in 1970 it would recognize several of her past University of Toronto credits, she began taking two credits a year, finally graduating with a degree in French a few years later.
Besides her daughter, Guy is survived by another daughter and three sons, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.