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Maureen Smith: a life well lived in the service of others

In this edition of Journeys, we look at the life of nurse, community volunteer and advocate Maureen Yvonne Smith, who worked with a lifelong commitment to help those in need

Throughout her life, Maureen Yvonne Smith had a passion for people, spreading her positive energy and good deeds to all, family members say.

On Jan. 7, in her 68th year, Maureen passed away peacefully at home with her family by her side.

As a nurse, community volunteer and advocate, Maureen worked with a lifelong commitment to help those in need, supporting countless people through her education and personal experiences.

Maureen had a 45 year long career as a registered nurse working in hospital, community and industry settings, providing compassionate care to the clients she served.

“There are two types of nurses,” her husband, Peter Smith, said. “There’s the nurse who is very good clinically, and then there’s the ‘people’ nurse. And that was my wife. She especially loved looking after new moms and just anyone in need. When she worked in public health she would visit the elderly, bring them some baking and just make sure that they were okay.”

Maureen was a two-time survivor of breast cancer and the founder of the Guelph dragon boat team the BreastStrokes, where she became an advocate and personal supporter for many women who experienced breast cancer, and who continue to paddle and support each other.

Peter said his wife was able to help other women through her own experiences with cancer.

“It was a different type of cancer that got her in the end, but she was an early advocate for living your life,” Peter said.

“It’s hard to imagine, but back in the day, people just didn’t say that they had breast cancer. They were a little more reserved and didn’t make it as known. So, there was a whole revolution about the same time that Maureen got breast cancer.”

Peter says the physical part is one thing, but a big piece for the women on the dragon boat team is the emotional and mental support they receive from one another.

“For Maureen, it really was about the people, 100 per cent,” he said.

Maureen made many meaningful friendships with other team members, including a close bond with Sylvia Wilms.

"I met Maureen in 2020 through BreastStrokes. We both had breast cancer and we just formed an instant bond. We’ve been best friends ever since," Wilms said.

"Maureen was a very caring, thoughtful and kind person who would put anyone above herself. She was a huge support to all of us in multiple aspects of our lives and I’ll just miss her dearly. She will be forever missed by a lot of people. She touched a lot of lives and that is the tribute to the person she was."

An active Rotarian and seamstress, Maureen's well-known handmade bags raised over $30,000 for Food4Kids, a charity providing food packs to hundreds of food-insecure children in the Guelph area.

For over 10 years, Maureen chaired the Sunshine Committee of the Rotary Club of Guelph Trillium, leading numerous initiatives, big and small, to help support her community.

Born as Maureen Finkbeiner at Royal Victorian Hospital in Barrie, where her father Eugene managed the lab and her mother, Wenonah, worked as a nurse. she went home to the tiny farm community of Thornton, which at the time, had a population of only 150.

Maureen’s mother wanted to call her Yvonne, but after seeing John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in the Quiet Man, she decided ‘Maureen’ was an ideal name for a strong but caring woman.

According to her family, Maureen took the bus every day to Barrie Central Collegiate and played just about every sport there.

Maureen followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a nurse and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of Toronto.

She lived in a dorm with three other girls, two of whom went to high school with her future husband to be, who soon made a beeline for her and introduced himself. The couple fell madly in love and were married 10 months later.

It was after a year at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Maureen found her calling as a public health nurse where she would make daily visits to homes and a local school.

Whether it was new baby visits, struggling older folks, head lice outbreaks, even cases of tuberculous and leprosy in new arrivals from Vietnam, Peter says his wife took it all in stride.

Married for 48 years, Peter says he and his wife created homes for their family in Toronto, Mississauga, Guelph and Puslinch, as well as their cherished cottage on Shabomeka Lake.

Maureen was a devoted mother to Jacob and his wife Melanie, and to Laura and her husband Duncan. She was the proud grandmother to Ethan and Oliver.

In 1989, Peter was transferred to Guelph and Maureen embraced life in the south end.

Devoting her spare time to volunteering at her kids’ school, and at church, Maureen also joined the University Women’s Club where she made many special friendships.

Eventually, she started teaching prenatal classes and worked casually with the Guelph Community Care Access Centre.

“She taught prenatal classes for a number of years. I remember walking through Stone Road Mall with her and there would just be tons of people saying hello, introducing their babies and then again, when these babies were 20 years old,” Peter said.

“She was such an outgoing person. She just loved people and would do anything to help them.”

In the summer of 1994, Maureen discovered a tumour in her breast. She was told the outcome was 50/50, so she opted for a treatment undergoing early trials which has become standard today.

As her children moved on to high school, Maureen looked for more ways to serve her community.  

Every Thursday she made muffins for the Salvation Army outreach truck that fed street people on cold nights. When the church asked members to knit 10 comfort dolls for orphans in Africa, she turned in almost 200.

Maureen was known for her one of a kind, handmade bags, donating all proceeds to various charities including the Salvation Army and her special favourite, Food4 Kids that ensures local children get healthy food, supplementing in-school programs.

At home, her family says Maureen took great joy in walking her beloved black lab, Bella, no matter the weather, always making family, friends and visitors feel welcome with her cuisine and smile.

“Her pride was in her two children, who have done so well in life and supported her through this final challenge. They were the most important thing in her life. Having the grandchildren here for her final Christmas morning was a special blessing,” Peter said.

“Her passing was peaceful, and she joked and reassured us right to the end.”

In her celebration of life, it was Maureen’s wish that other than sending flowers, she wanted people to make donations to Food4Kids.

“Donations are about to hit $40,000. That’s pretty amazing. It just tells you how many people’s lives Maureen touched,” Peter said.

“No one will ever forget her warmth, humour, or that big, beautiful smile.”