Sisters Jennifer Studer (back left) and Charlotte Phillips reflect on their mother Jean Roe’s well-lived life Tuesday. Roe, who died last Tuesday (April 17), ran out of time to finish the white and yellow blanket she had been knitting for Jennifer. (Tracy Holmes photo)

South Surrey senior ‘was an example to all’

Lifetime volunteer Jean Roe died April 17

A South Surrey senior who vowed at age 19 to “spend my life helping others” is being remembered as a glowing example of how to live a good and full life.

“(She would) not waste one minute,” Charlotte Phillips said of her mother, Jean Roe.

Roe, known throughout the Semiahmoo Peninsula for her volunteerism, died April 17 at Peace Arch Hospital, four years after she was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary hypertension. She was 95.

“They thought she only had six months, and for four years, she continued on,” said Phillips.

Born in Botwood, Nfld., Roe came to B.C. with her husband James in 1957. The mother of four spent the last 25 years of her life in South Surrey, most recently at the Royale Pacifica retirement residence.

The former journalist kept scrapbooks of virtually everything she ever wrote, as well as of everything ever written about or to her, and going through the mementos in recent days has been quite the journey for Phillips and her sister Jennifer Studer.

Tuesday, the siblings came across a letter dated June 19, 1944, typed on blue paper and from ‘The Caw Caw Club of Newfoundland,’ as well as a recipe for tuna casserole that listed fresh chunks of ocean tuna and a measurement of ‘Good Luck’ as among key ingredients.

The recipe turned up not long after the sisters had been talking about how they hadn’t had the meal in about 25 years.

The pair highlighted a black-and-white photo of their mom falling off of a trailer that was hauling Moose Jaw’s 32-foot-tall “Mac the Moose” statue to its perch, and paged through letters their mother had received from “virtually every prime minister, every premier,” as well as seemingly endless citations for helping out.

“My mom was involved in just about every single society you can think of,” Phillips said.

Roe told Peace Arch News six years ago that her vow at age 19 came while she was convalescing from a broken leg, which she suffered during a New Year’s Day skiing party she’d helped organize for Canadian Forces personnel on leave.

Clearly, she was a woman of her word.

Forty years later, she was named to the Order of Canada for her volunteerism, and later received the Queen’s Silver and Diamond Jubilee medals in recognition of those continued efforts.

While living on the Peninsula, Roe gave her time to a slew of charitable organizations, from the arthritis and cancer societies, to Alexandra House and more.

She also kept busy knitting garments for children across B.C., as well as women and children throughout the developing world, through Victoria-based Canada Comforts.

Roe organized a group of women for that effort in 1999. After she moved into the Royale Pacifica in 2011, her knitting group would decorate a tree every Christmas with handmade items that were later donated to the Salvation Army.

Her knitting continued until shortly before her death, and Studer plans to finish the yellow and white blanket that her mom had started for her.

Roe raised funds for the cancer and hospice societies, and more, while at the Pacifica. In 2008 and 2009, she made headlines when the Crescent Walkers, a group she led for well over a decade, paced the equivalent of a cross-Canada trip (some 7,000 km) on trails as a way to promote the province’s Winter Olympics.

Roe’s journalistic career started with the Western Star in Cornerbrook, N.L., and extended to both the Regina Leader-Post and Moose Jaw Times-Herald in Saskatchewan, where she also served as a city councillor. A resident of Moose Jaw for 26 years with her late husband, newspaper editor James Browning Roe, she was named that city’s Citizen of the Year in 1977.

Tidbits some may not have known about Roe include that her first husband was a “dashing” B17 pilot she met the day she broke her leg, that she was a devoted fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, or that she made a recording during a recent trip to Vegas, of When You’re Smiling.

A June 1988 article in the Times-Herald aptly describes Roe as a woman of many talents, who “has left her mark on Canada from Newfoundland to British Columbia.”

Surrounded by framed certificates, photographs, thank-you letters and newspaper articles, Phillips and Studer couldn’t help but agree Tuesday.

“She was the example to all of her daughters, how to live this life,” Studer said.

Roe’s ashes are to be interred in Newfoundland. A ‘Kitchen Party’ to celebrate her life is to be held with friends and family in June.

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Jean Roe with her daughter, Charlotte, at the 2012 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal ceremony in Vancouver. (File photo)

Jean Roe in 2013, with the ‘mitten tree’ her knitting group at the Royale Pacifica in South Surrey decorated to help raise funds for Peace Arch Hospital Foundation. The mittens, toques and socks were later donated to the Salvation Army. (File photo)

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