Community & Current Events

Twelve women, twelve story

By: Kathryn Dorrell

Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

Twelve women, twelve story

By: Kathryn Dorrell
Esteemed Canadian playwright and director Judith Thompson is happy to take a back seat and let a dozen women from across the country, ages 45 and up, shine in a groundbreaking stage production, “Body and Soul,” that aims to change the way we think about aging, beauty and the value of women’s lives. These are so-called “ordinary” women simply because they aren’t actors or household names. They are business women, teachers, wives, caregivers, adventurers, mothers and grandmothers who responded to Dove’s nation-wide audition call. They are courageous, heart-breaking, determined, sometimes self-doubting, and lots of fun. And once you read their stories, you’ll recognize they are extraordinary in every way.

Page 1 of 14Rhonda Tepper, 49
A mother of teen girls and a teacher of deaf children, Rhonda is experiencing the world in
a whole new way – savouring the sounds of the wind and birds – thanks to a cochlear
implant that has partially restored her hearing. “I have learned to accept where I am
going in life and discovered that women have great lives once they reach this age. Experience does count! You’ve got to keep on growing and opening the way for other women."

Page 2 of 14Polly Clarke, 63
Raised in a Hindu family of 12 children in Trinidad, Polly came to Canada when she
was 30. The retired high school teacher and mother celebrates life through travel, friends, music – she loves Shakira – and computer games. “In Hindu culture, we have such a reverence for old people. I have always wanted to be one of them, to take my place. Listening to the stories of other older women, I have gained new perspectives on old experiences. I’ve learned that I haven’t explored everything in life – there are still things out there to find and that’s exciting.”

Page 3 of 14Ruth Rakoff, 45
A wife and mother to three boys, Ruth left the work world behind when she was diagnosed with breast cancer more than two years ago. She felt “betrayed by her body,” but today she is enjoying renewed health. “I try to take things as they come. Even before I had cancer, I knew what was important in life. I am actually quite a private person, but I like the idea of being part of a cultural shift – even a revolution – on attitudes toward beauty and our bodies.”

Page 4 of 14Lois Fine, 49
Mother, gay- and lesbian-rights advocate, writer and funny lady are a few of the hats
that Lois wears. She’s also the director of finance with the YWCA Toronto. “I don’t relate to the idea of ‘being a lady.’ I am a butch and that identity – and getting to know and feel good about myself – has saved my life. I have amazing friends and family. I feel very fortunate to be me.”

Page 5 of 14Ann Marie Hasley, 47
In her native Trinidad, Ann Marie was cruelly called a giraffe because of her striking height and slim physique. Today, she’s standing proud as a wife, mother and social worker for autistic children. “I was teased all the time growing up but my self-esteem was never broken. I like the fact that I am different from everyone. I am beautiful regardless of my height or skin colour. I am blessed and I am proud to be me.”

Page 6 of 14Francine Grainger, 61
An assault prevention educator who works with children, Francine likes to go to the theatre and meet new people. She regards her beloved grandchildren as the “icing on the cake” of her life. “I was born and raised with a love for life. I gave this to my children and I want to give it to others. I look at the good side of things and people so they can feel good about themselves. So many people don’t realize they are rich; they have so many gifts inside.”

Page 7 of 14Jeannine Boucher, 78
This widowed and retired special education teacher embraces her age and limitations. A natural optimist, Jeannine loves to read, write poetry and paint, and enjoys “the party” that is life. “I [focus] on the privileges of being old. The best years of my life are now. I choose the way I want to live. I am free and more curious than ever. Everything in life interests me.”

Page 8 of 14Gloria Schmed-Scott, 63
Gloria used to develop education programs for seniors, but these days the retired mother of two draws, makes jewelry and stays active with her two grandchildren, speaking at their
school during Black History Month. “I never thought I’d get here – to the senior years – but here I am. It’s really no different; in your head you are whatever age you think you are. I am rediscovering things that I enjoyed as a girl. My grandchildren call me Oma, but they see me in-line skating, skiing and dancing. They don’t see me as an old person.”

Page 9 of 14Glenda Klassen, 53
Glenda runs a home-based flower shop and works with women fleeing abuse. Proudly
“First Nations and recovering from addictions,” and a grandmother of eight, Glenda admits to struggling with the perceived loss of her looks when she hit menopause. “I felt depressed and lost for four years. Then I had an epiphany in my garden one day. I told myself, If you want to be strong for your family again, you have to pull yourself out of this. It was hard to blaze a trail through that woods, but I am confident again, and I did it on my own.

Page 10 of 14Judy Wark, 52
A writer, mother, widow – and new wife – Judy has worked and travelled all over the world. These days she is learning that life begins – again – at 50. “I am discovering who I am again. I picked up my violin on my 50th birthday for the first time since I was a child and found music again. I met my new husband, Doug, the year I turned 50 and fell in love again. I wasn’t content to watch my teens ski so I took ski lessons and crossed that fear of falling down. And it’s not over yet....”

Page 11 of 14Janice Kulyk Keefer, 55
A passionate reader and writer, Janice is also a wife, mother and professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario who says maturing has enabled her to shed the sense that she couldn’t measure up to others’ expectations. “I have a wonderful sense of breathing out. When your children are younger you have to be very disciplined and organized. Afterward the spontaneity comes back into your life. I love that. It’s important to me not to be imprisoned in a corset of habit.”

Page 12 of 14Pauline Patten, 56
A hairdresser who owns two salons, Pauline is a grandmother to 11 children and a dedicated volunteer with black youth. She grew up in Jamaica, loves to dance and bursts with enthusiasm for life. “I set a goal for myself and I never stop until I have achieved it. If things don’t work out or I am struggling, I know it was never meant to be for me. I trust my instincts.”

Page 13 of 14“I want all women who see the play to recognize the value of their own stories, and afterward, when you pass an ordinary woman on the street, see the vast richness and history that is there. Our beauty lies in surviving, triumphing, giving and forgiving.”
– Judith Thompson

Body & Soul runs from May 10 to 17 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s historic Distillery District. Call (416) 866-8666 or visit

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Community & Current Events

Twelve women, twelve story