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Born: Nov 09, 1931

Date of Passing: Sep 28, 2020

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For the first time in her adult life, the ferocious Barbara Alice Sarson has done something that she cannot tell anyone how to do better. On September 28, 2020, in the early hours of the morning, holding her beloved eldest daughter's hand, Barb died peacefully from pneumonia. She had spent her last years caring for her husband, then battling against, then living with Alzheimer's disease.
Barb was born in Winnipeg on November 9, 1931. Her parents, Mary Irene Bowen (McNair) and Stanley Evan Bowen, raised Barbara and her brother, Stan, in downtown Winnipeg. When she was about six, Barbara became ill, and started living her summers with her parents in a tar-paper cabin at her Aunty Lal's house on the Assiniboine River, near Sturgeon Creek, in St. James. This is the home Barbara would live in for over 50 years, with her husband Ken and their eight children.
At a large house at the first bend in the creek, Barb hung out with her beloved cousins, Bill, Rosemary, Joselyn, June and Patty Lobb. She attended Bannatyne School and St James Collegiate. A shy girl, she loved school, didn't study much, and was an A-student.
When she was 16, her brother brought a friend, Kenneth Sarson, home for dinner. From the first time they met, they knew two things: Barbara was too young, and they would marry. Barbara continued her education into the commerce department at the University of Manitoba, and in 1951 they were married. In 1952, after writing final exams while nine months pregnant, Barb and Ken welcomed their first child, Ken, into their world. Being the youngest in her extended family, Barb had never held a baby until her first child was born. A year later, Bob was born.
Moving to Brandon with her family, she worked toward completing her Bachelor of Arts degree, as no commerce department existed at the University of Brandon. She had another child, Lahl. She birthed her fourth child, Janet, after the family's return to Winnipeg. Then, she completed her degree. Inspired by her beloved cousin, Rosemary, who was blind, and had graduated from the University of Winnipeg, Barbara decided to teach in the "Special Education" system of the Winnipeg School Division. And so began her inspired and creative career as a teacher and principal.
In the spring of 1964, while working full time as a teacher, Barbara and Ken adopted her brother's four children – Barb, Gary, Irene and Patty. Overnight her family grew from six to ten. Already teaching, Barb continued going to school at night and during the summers, while working full time. Always, she was a mother who also worked outside of her home.
Throughout her career, she taught at Gordon Bell and Prince Charles, where she also became the principal for the full lifetime of the school. Her final principalship was at Fort Rouge School.
Barb didn't just teach or just administer. She believed that any student could participate in and contribute to community, could learn, with good teachers, the skills to a full and active life, regardless of their challenges. She took her students camping every year she taught at Prince Charles, baked for staff and parent meetings in all her schools. She believed that neither a school nor a community could function without the other, and did everything she knew possible to create opportunities for members of community to interact with her students. She helped rebuild communities with this philosophy. Every Friday night for 35 years, one of Barbara's ex-students called her. She was a loved principal until retirement in 1995.
Barb loved lilacs, dogs, crocheting afghans, peanut butter and brown sugar sandwiches on fresh bread, bacon, hobnob cookies, old movies especially musicals, Shirley Temple, Jimmy Stewart, Mitch Miller, and Frank Sinatra singing with the Jimmy Dorsey Band. Sitting in a principals' conference, when Barb noticed everyone was bored, she climbed up on a table and tap-danced. She read dictionaries, Harlequin Romances and anything she could find on the history of St. James. She completed a Master's Degree in Education.
She was adamant in her values of what was right and what was wrong: vote; feed whoever is in need of a meal; do your part to make the world a better place; hold your head high; never give in or up or over; keep your nose to the grindstone and put one foot in front of the other; do what is just; never do anything but your best. She attended Pride and Take Back the Night Marches, fought against anything that she felt would jeopardize her students.
Mothering was not an easy journey for Barb, but she left her children and grandchildren with beliefs that would help keep us alive and connected to the world. She taught us to value community, and to stand up with and for the "little guy". She taught us to be tough and not to whine. She left us all with a love for the written word. She overcooked her roasts, and was famous for her fruitcakes, shortbread, walnut slice, matrimonial cake, sharp tongue, intelligence and generosity. She always had something in her hands and something on her mind.
She is survived by seven of her children; their partners (Davida, Annie, and Praba); her grandchildren, Allistair, Claire, Elana, Evan, Franke, Jackie, Jenny, Katie, Ken, Leah, and Michael; her great-grandchildren; her good friends, Pauline Morris, Kay Thompson and Mary Lobb; and her beloved sister-in-law, Nora Lewinski. She is predeceased by her son, Gary; her grandson, Lloyd; and her beloved husband of 62 years, Ken.
Dozens and dozens of the Sarson Clan and associates mourn her passing, honour her with our stories of her life. She will be almost impossible to forget.
The family would like to express our thanks to her care worker and friend, Colleen Molter, and the staff at West Park Manor, particularly those who work on Unit 1 South.
As per Barbara's wishes, cremation has taken place and no formal service will be held at this time, due to COVID restrictions currently in place.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Barb's name to the Alzheimers Society of Manitoba, or Siloam Mission.

(204) 783-7211
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As published in Winnipeg Free Press on Oct 03, 2020

Condolences & Memories (12 entries)

  • I just stumbled upon Barb's obituary this morning. So very sorry to learn of her passing. We worked together very closely through the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was an amazing person. Her visionary leadership at Prince Charles School impacted legislators, policy-makers, and service providers alike with new ways to value and respect young people with disabilities. She fought tirelessly to create the opportunities her students needed to be valued and engaged members of their communities. Those of us who know the major way that she advanced the quality of life for Manitobans with disabilities, take only great pride in being able say she was a friend. (I have a document that family members might want to see.) - Posted by: Rob McInnes (Former colleague and friend) on: Jun 19, 2022

  • I am just reading of Barb’s passing this morning, from my home near Kenora. She and Ken welcomed me - and with me, my family and friends - into their home on Assiniboine Crescent for 2 years as I completed my degree in my 40’s at University of Winnipeg. They refused to accept a nickel for room and board, insisting it was their contribution to my education. My late husband and I tried to repay them with pickerel, blueberries and bread from Tall Grass Prairie Bakery. We had the best graduation party in that beautiful space, a house full of celebration, with Barb and Ken at the center, living reminders of kindness and generosity. I will always remember them with great love. - Posted by: Mary Alice Smith (Friend) on: Mar 14, 2021

  • Although your family lived down the street from us, I didn't get to know Barb until she was roommates with my mother Anne at West Park Manor. I could tell that she had really been something special in her day. She was very caring and kind towards my mother and she was always giving me advice on how to look after myself. Through her I got to reconnect with Patti and Irene and got to meet "young" Barb. I am so sorry for your loss, she sounded like a smart, social conscious woman who took on such a large family, held an amazing career and who in many ways was ahead of her time. My thoughts and sympathies are with you. - Posted by: Wendy Chapman (Friend) on: Oct 08, 2020

  • I will never forget my table manners thanks to Mrs. Sarson! Thank you for always welcoming the Watson's to your table and into your family. I am so grateful for the stories and laughs we shared, particularly at Christmas. It was always so special for me to visit the house on Assiniboine - so many treasures and rooms to discover - it was majestic, just as Mrs. Sarson was. This was a beautiful tribute of an incredible woman who lived an extraordinary life. May we all march on stronger with a little of Mrs. Sarson's tenacity! Much love to all. - Posted by: Alissa Watson (Friend) on: Oct 07, 2020

  • If you visited the Sarson's even once you right away were part of the family. When I met my late wife Gwen, she was friends and rooming with Barb Bowen. When Gwen accepted my proposal Barb said you have to come over and tell my Mom and Dad. Well by the time I got out of Barbara's kitchen it was decided we would have the wedding at their house. I don't think there was any choice, I was part of the family and that was that. Please rest now, Barry - Posted by: Barry Watson (Friend ) on: Oct 06, 2020

  • My deepest sympathy to Barb's family at this difficult time. My thoughts are with all of you in the days ahead. - Posted by: Ione McMahon (Friend) on: Oct 04, 2020

  • Mrs. Sarson was my teacher, at Gordon Bell high school. She was a wonderful teacher! I remember she took me and all my other classmates to her house and we had a little party. It was a really nice party, I think we all enjoyed ourselves I know I did. I also remember her husband Mr. Sarson he was tall and funny, he had a sense of humor. I am sorry for your Loss or Mrs. Sarson she was a great lady, and may she Rest In Peace. Helen (Musey) Yakimchuk - Posted by: Helen Yakimchuk (Former Student) on: Oct 04, 2020

  • Patty and family - It sounds like your Mom was really special in so many ways; (now I see where you get it from!). I am sure you will miss her very much and my heart goes out to you and your family at this difficult time. Thinking of you. - Posted by: JANICE FINLAY (Friend of Patty) on: Oct 03, 2020

  • Barb Sarson was a force of nature. For those of us who met her through our work with and on behalf of people with disabilities, Barb was an important teacher and role model. She lived what she preached and preached what she lived: stand up for what is right, work hard, don't whinge. These lessons will not be forgotten My deepest condolences to Barb's family and close friends. She will be missed. - Posted by: Zana Lutfiyya (Friend) on: Oct 03, 2020

  • Barb was living proof that what you see is not necessarily what you get. With her hair in a bun, serious expression and directness, we were pleased to be so wrong in early assumptions. She had a twinkle in her eye and quick wit. We had not met a kinder person and an administrator more committed to kids and their families than Barb. She found creative ways to bring parents into the school, encouraging and valuing their ideas and opinions. Often there was protocol and then Barb's way. Hers worked for her schools because it began and ended with caring for her students. Part of the principal-Barb story usually includes baking of some sort for meetings. It was not out of the range of possibility to see her join a meeting in progress wearing an apron and carrying a pan of freshly baked cookies! We got to know Ken visiting their home with school staff and parents from Fort Rouge School. What a match they were playing host each in their own way. We are saddened at her passing but enriched by knowing her. Our thoughts go out to the family in their time of grieving and know that memories will in time keep Ken and Barb in our hearts and bring a smile to our faces. - Posted by: Janet Presley and Jack King (friends and colleagues) on: Oct 03, 2020

  • It was a pleasure to work with Barb at Prince Charles School, and then as Principal at Fort Rouge School. We first met in the Professional Development Sessions run by Brian Trump, Ed Reimer, and Keith Cooper in Winnipeg School Division. I discovered her fine personal strengths as a work colleague. She was a powerful advocate for any child, and any family that need support and encouragement. We enjoyed working on the Fort Rouge School archives together too. Rest in Peace dear friend. Condolences to all your family, and your extended family too. Gerald Brown, WSD Chief Librarian 1978-1992. - Posted by: Gerald R. Brown (Chief Librarian, Winnipeg School Division) on: Oct 03, 2020

  • My sincere condolences on your loss. I pray that memories of happier times will see you through your time of grief! "God gave us memory so we might enjoy roses in winter." I worked with/for Barb at Premier Personnel for several years, and knew her to be one of the finest people I have ever known. We are all better people for having had her intersect with our lives. She will be missed but lovingly remembered by all who knew her. - Posted by: Bob Strong (Friend) on: Oct 03, 2020

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