Celebrating Nancy

Woman’s dying wish was to gather childhood friends, family to celebrate life

Nancy MacPhee nmacphee@journalpioneer.com
Published on August 7, 2014
George Dalton (left), Ruth McDonald, Judy Johnson and Susan Green hold a picture of their friend, Nancy Heath, who passed away earlier this year after a three-year battle with cancer. Her wish was to have friends and family celebrate her life with a party, which takes place on Saturday. 
Nancy MacPhee/Journal Pioneer

SUMMERSIDE — On the very street where Nancy Heath and her childhood friends once played, there’s going to be a party of a lifetime.

An almost perfect celebration. A time to laugh, to reminisce.

Against the backdrop of Nancy’s original home — a place she loved so well before she moved West — glasses will be raised and only the best of times recalled.

The day will have almost everything a heart could desire.

Everything, that is, except for the heart that longed for the momentous gathering.

Saturday, the life of the late Nancy (Carruthers) Heath will be celebrated.

“She would have loved it,” said best friend Susan Green. “That was Nancy.”

Nancy always liked a good party.

She cherished time spent with friends, chatting over a glass of wine and a good meal, all the while planning their next adventure, which were plentiful.

And being that Type A personality, an organizer and perfectionist, near the end of her well-fought battle with cancer, Nancy wanted to ensure a party — or two — would be held after her passing, a gathering where no tears would be shed, only laughs and a few tales shared among those she loved.

“As my reverie breaks I realize the doctor’s words were clear — only a short time left,” Nancy wrote just prior to her death while preparing the story of her life, “and I face the decision for my final days — to laugh or to cry.

“Laugh, of course, as though there were another choice for me.”

Saturday will be a time for laughter.

* * *

It’s Wednesday morning. The sound of birds chirping fills the air. The sun’s shining, the air, warm, and the blue skies over the old Dalton Homestead, now Lefurgey Cultural Centre — the party’s location — are dotted with fluffy, white clouds.

Three women greet one another, once strangers now friends, thanks to Nancy.

They embrace and share a laugh before being greeted by George Dalton.

He grew up there. Nancy’s home — 215 Prince St. — can be seen from its porch.

They’ve gathered to reminisce about a woman who was everyone’s friend, someone who loved life.

Her laughter, says Green, was contagious.

Ruth McDonald, Nancy’s childhood best friend, agreed.

“I was just in love with Nancy,” McDonald said, her voice choked with emotion. “I just thought there was no one in the world like her.”

The duo shared many laughs growing up, chatting about boys, dressing up for dances at the ball field, giving Nancy a Doris Day haircut or sending messages along a makeshift telephone line. Those memories McDonald holds close to her heart.

“That was her start in the telephone business,” quipped first cousin Judy Johnson, promoting laughter that filled the room.

Johnson talks about how her cousin, a city girl, would travel to her parents’ farm in Malpeque. As night fell and bedtime drew near, Nancy almost always grew homesick, prompting her father, Jack, to make the trek to take his daughter home.

But tragedy would strike the Carruthers family. Jack would die in a tragic accident. Nancy’s mother, Beth, remarried and moved the family to Calgary.

There, she graduated high school and, after lying about her age, started working for a telephone company as an operator at age 17.

Nancy’s drive ensured she quickly moved up the corporate ladder, with her greatest career accomplishment being business office manager at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, where lifelong friendships were formed.

“Everyone knew and loved Nancy,” said Green, Nancy’s closest confidant. “If you didn’t know her in the company before the Olympics, you certainly did after.”

Along the way she met her dearest friends, her ‘girlFriends’.

“She was the glue,” said Green. “It was Nancy that held us together.”

When Nancy and Green suddenly found themselves single, their friendship strengthened.

“For years I have enjoyed the warmth, caring and hours and hours of wine and laughter,” Nancy wrote prior to her passing. “How lucky I have been to have so many remarkable people I call friends.”

For a time, she lost touch with Island friends. That was until nine years ago.

After retiring from her career of 37 years, Nancy made the cross-country trek frequently, rekindling those childhood friendships where they left off.

But little did they know that, in a few short years, their time together would end.

Three years ago, a stickler for healthy living, Nancy was watching TV doctors’ shows and identified with symptoms discussed. She decided to visit her doctor.

The prognosis was cancer. It was in her bones, liver, lungs and kidneys.

And it was then that Nancy really started living.

She ticked off items on her bucket list, made frequent trips to visit her sister Margaret Joan, or MJ, in California, spending time with sister, Betty, and brother Kent and their children, and returning often to her beloved P.E.I.

“She never thought of herself dying with cancer,” said Green. “She was living with it.”

Companion, Jon Mintof, became her ‘handler’, and searched out every non-medical treatment possible to prolong and improve his beloved’s life.

“He gave her at least another year when she had a month,” said McDonald

And, of course, there were adventures with her ‘girlFriends’.

Unfortunately, cancer would take its toll, spreading to her brain, leaving the woman who was so full of life with little time left.

Nancy began getting her affairs in order, sitting down with a writer to help pen her life’s story, to be presented on Saturday.

And, as was her personality, Nancy took care of almost every detail, arranging a celebration of her life in Calgary, the only detail missing would be its date.

“She taught us all how to face death,” said McDonald.

On March 6, 2014, Nancy passed away at her Calgary home. She was 69 years young.

“Damn, I thought I had beat the ugly Cancer Monster,” she wrote in those last days.

* * *

Saturday there will be food, drink, and laughter, just as Nancy wanted.

Photos, some sepia in colour, their edges torn and worn, and others more vibrant, will be displayed. Music will ring through the air and toasts made to a life well lived.

“Laugh, laugh, laugh,” wrote Nancy.

And that’s just what her friends and family plan to do.

The celebration of Nancy (Carruthers) Heath’s life is open to family, friends and former school chums, and takes place from 2 to 4 p.m.

Nancy’s ashes, along with those of her beloved ‘children’, pooches Tye and Missy, will be spread in the places she loved on her native P.E.I.