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"RIJ" 2003 Obituary


RIJN o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-10-08 published
By Kiran VAN RIJN Wednesday, October 8, 2003 - Page A26
Teacher, traveller, wife, mother. Born in Lowestoft, England, on September 19, 1912. Died on April 30, 2003, of natural causes, in Vancouver, aged 90.
In 1973, a Toronto English teacher named Mary VAN RIJN broke her pelvis. Hardly a newsworthy event: But just nine days later, according to the Hamilton Spectator, she was "badgering the Humberside Collegiate principal to allow her to resume lessons with 140 high school students in five classes. As Mrs. VAN RIJN couldn't travel the five blocks from her home, the principal allows the students to go to her. She says they come through all weather." She told the newspaper, "I happen to love teaching... I can't think what else I could have done." That newspaper clipping symbolizes my remarkable grandmother's independence, determination and resourcefulness, and her intense love of teaching.
In her childhood in England, a lone teacher saw promise in a girl who, some of her relatives predicted, would come "to no good end." When her parents emigrated to rural southwestern Ontario, her strange accent, her bright red hair, her unfamiliarity with farming culture, and her myopia were the butt of mockery. One math teacher openly declared his dislike of redheads and told her to sit at the back of the room. Yet Mary prevailed, and graduated near the top of her class at teachers' college in 1932.
In 1938, her success as a teacher in Waterford, Ontario, earned her an invitation to teach at the Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan. She eagerly accepted. Before returning to Japan for a second year, she and two Friends visited Germany. It was August, 1939. Falsely accused of being spies, they caught the last Trans-Siberian Express out of Berlin; refugees filled their train as it travelled eastward. She resumed her job in Japan, but in 1941 was advised to catch a boat for Canada.
The next year, she enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and rose to the rank of captain. In 1943, she met Arie VAN RIJN. A bodyguard for the Dutch Royal family, he was stationed in Ottawa. They married the following year and, at war's end, went to Indonesia, where Arie worked as a chief of police. They had a son in 1946, and after a three-year stay in Indonesia, they returned to Canada, where their daughter was born in 1951.
As her children grew, Mary resumed teaching. Beginning in 1957, she taught night school for new Canadians, then returned to school herself, earning a B.A. in English from the University of Toronto. From 1966 to 1978, she taught English at Toronto's Humberside Collegiate Institute; she passed on to her students her love of literature, especially Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and reluctantly retired at age 65.
Mary and Arie moved to Vancouver, where their son's family lived, and she went back to university again, completing her M.A. in English at the University of British Columbia in 1983, at the impressive age of 70.
She cherished her grandchildren, and travelled with us to Europe (when I was 8, my grandmother waited patiently as I explored the ramparts of Caernarvon Castle).
At 76, Mary and a friend travelled to China. Her timing was as lucky as it had been in Berlin: They left for Hong Kong the night of the government crackdown in Tiananmen Square.
Arie, her rock, died in 1994. At first she continued to tutor young children, but two broken hips and the gradual decline of her once sharp mind compelled her to spend her final years in the University of British Columbia hospital.
Mary always tried to foster the potential in her students, Friends and family. For us, she epitomized the poet Robert Browning's exhortation that one's reach should exceed one's grasp.
Kiran VAN RIJN is Mary's grand_son.

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