The hero, unsung

My friend Diana Stevan recently wrote of the loss of her cousin in “A Generous Life”
In my comment I used the word “unsung” and for the first time it struck me what a poignant a word it is. When song is such a powerful and moving means of communication, to have one’s accomplishments in life remain unsung is tragic. We have all been touched by people in our lives whose generousity, service, compassion and quiet heroism never make the evening news or headlines in the paper. They do this because of who they are, not for recognition, but they should and must be recognized, for in them rests the glory of humankind, the last great hope of this earth.

Unlike Diana, whose praises I sing, I have not used my blog site since I set it up. Yes I have been very busy and not taken the time to master WordPress, but the main reason is that I could not come up with topics worthy of sharing. “A Generous Life” reminded my that I have someone whose life story should be available to remind us of the great spirits who walk among us.

My Aunt Lottie was such a one. And how fortuitous that my first effort at writing in decades should centre on an award created in her name called “The Lottie Armstrong Unsung Hero Community Service Award.” It was conceived by alumni of the Churchill High School Bulldogs football team to recognize members of the community whose contributions benefitted our neighborhood as a whole, not just the athletic program. They were inspired to do this out of their love and respect for Lottie, and their desire to commemorate her life.

Rather than write the story that moved these young people to wish to honour her, I’m going to cheat a little and insert the text of the speech I gave in October 2004 to introduce the award at the Bulldogs’ annual banquet:

“I am proud to be here this evening to introduce the Lottie Armstrong Unsung Hero Community Service Award, named after my aunt. She was an avid supporter of the Bulldogs and Riverview. I graduated the year before the first team was fielded, but our family was involved in the fundraising that bought the first uniforms. I was in the stands when the team won its first game, by virtue of a fake pass that led to a drop kick, of all things, for the winning field goal. Lottie’s nephew Scott Faris, my brother, played in the late 60’s. I remember when he was about 7 or 8 years old, trying to teach him to catch a football. It wasn’t working because he kept closing his eyes and turning his head. I finally hit upon the idea of throwing AT his head. This very quickly cured him of that habit. Ten years later, I was thrilled to see him make three amazing grabs in one game, including a flat-out diving catch for a touchdown. He also won the award that year for Most Improved Player, but when he accepted it, he never thanked me for throwing at his head.

Representing Lottie’s family here tonight are her sister Dorothy, who continues her support of the Bulldogs, nephews Scott and I, great-nephews Curran and Evan, and great-niece Brenna. It is my privilege, on their behalf, to tell you a little about Lottie.

On July 13, 1914, bagpipes were played up and down Hethrington Avenue as the first daughter after eight boys was born to William and Carlotta Armstrong in the house, built by her father, where Lottie would live her entire life. She outlived her nine brothers, leaving her beloved sister Dorothy to remember them all.

Her father died in the 1918 flu epidemic. She left school early to help support the family and went to work at Eaton’s, eventually rising to become a Signature in the ladies’ Suits & Coats. She did buying, marketing and forecasting, became involved in designing clothing, and took courses in Economics and Merchandising.

Lottie took a leave of absence from Eaton’s during World War II to work at McDonald Aircraft, repairing damaged airplanes. She wanted to honour her brothers: Bill who served in the First World War, and Sandy (Ross) who, along with her brother-in-law Archie, my dad, made the ultimate sacrifice.

She was instrumental in setting up a branch of the Airmen’s Club in Riverview Church, organizing dances, and arranging billeting in homes to help young airmen trainees who came to Winnipeg from all parts of the Commonwealth.

Lottie left Eaton’s to become the first female insurance agent in Manitoba, then joined Ash Temple Limited Dental Supplies, where she earned honours as Western Canadian Employee of the year. She received the President’s Award for Distinguished Service in 1986, previously given only to former Presidents. The following year she received another award for twenty years of Faithful and Dedicated Service. She traveled to head office and to several branches to implement the procedures she had developed. She officially retired at age 65 but worked well in her 70’s, too valuable to let get away.

She never lost her love of learning. At 90 she could still recite poetry that she had memorized in school. She learned furniture making and upholstery, which led to, among other things, the comfortable lounge in her favourite spot, the sunroom.

Lottie became a competent carpenter, building the unique carport behind the house, and the rec room that became the “hangout” for my and Scott’s friends as they grew up. Many of you here tonight have fond memories of that basement room.

She was active in community affairs, meeting with many notables of the day and was often encouraged to go into law or politics.

“Kids” was a watchword for Lottie. She had none of her own, but helping children was her passion. She volunteered at Shriners’ Hospital, singing and telling stories. She even accompanied one particular little girl who had become attached to her back to her home in Vancouver.

She sang in the choir at Riverview Church, was Superintendent of the Junior High C’s, and decorated the choir loft for Christmas Pageants.

She constructed and wired the Christmas window decoration at home that to this day draws people to stop and admire and even knock on the door. In the summer, her garden also brought many visitors to take in the carefully planned beauty.

Lottie led an imaginative campaign to save the fire hall at Osborne and Arnold, and always took an interest in local affairs

She helped out many people and charities, mostly anonymously. To this day, there are family members, friends and neighbours who do not know it was her hand that reached out when the need arose. She never sought recognition. To quote Dr. Harry Medovy of Children’s Hospital: “Volunteers are unpaid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

She loved to cook and bake, and her trays were eagerly awaited by friends and family.

In the early years of the Children’s Hospital Book Market, Lottie organized the moving of books, drafting into service nephews Brian, Scott, me, and Scott’s friends from the Churchill Bulldogs, most of whom showed up on Lottie’s 90th birthday to pay their respects. She was a member and Treasurer of the Annie A. Bond Guild at Children’s Hospital, and was Teddy Box Chairman until her failing health and declining vision forced her to pass on the torch.

Last year, on her 90th birthday, as many of her “kids” as could attend played a final game of Tin-Can baseball. Although virtually blind, she struck out Scott, then amazed everyone by hitting the ball three times in a row!

This was followed by a party at which family, friends and neighbours of all ages whose lives she touched came to tell her how much she was loved and respected: A few short weeks later, we all gathered again at her passing to celebrate her remarkable life. It was a truly joyous occasion, remembering someone who had accomplished everything she wanted to do in life, and was happily ready to go to her rest.

In closing, I would like to read you the inscription on the plaque, which attempts to encapsulate in a few words, the person that was Lottie.

Lottie Armstrong (1914-2004) was an avid supporter of Bulldog Football.
She was born, and lived her entire meaningful life, in the house her father built on Hethrington Avenue.
She attended both Riverview and Lord Roberts Schools, and sang in the choir at Riverview Church.
Lottie opened her home and heart to the Riverview community,
going above and beyond for family and friends. “Service above self.”
She created a neighborhood athletic club in the 1940’s, and volunteered at Shriners’ and Childrens’ Hospitals, always for the “Kids” – her watchword.
She is fondly remembered by all the “kids” whose lives were enriched by her touch.
This trophy is dedicated in loving memory of a great lady.”

You might be interested to know that Lottie’s sister, my mother, was the first recipient of this award. Although they were a team in the giving of their lives in service to others, it was Mom who was the public face, winning all the community service awards, while Lottie contentedly contributed in the background. But that’s a subject for a different story.

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Hello Everyone!
I’m brand new to WordPress and blogging.
Please bear with me while I figure out what I’m doing…

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