Jill Lorraine Wanless

March 23, 1959 - February 03, 2021
Jill Lorraine Wanless

 

 

Jill Lorraine Wanless died in her beloved Buck Lake home, on February 3rd, surrounded by her loving family and held by her spouse and partner Heather. She was 61.

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Hold tenderly who you are, and let a deeper knowing colour the shape of your humanness*

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Jill lived a craftperson's life, motivated by mastery. She was always creating and constantly improving and approached everything and touched everyone with her quiet intelligence, dedication, authenticity, humour and her gentle, generous spirit.

Born on March 23, 1959 in Beaconsfield, Quebec, Jill spent her childhood growing up in Brockville and then Ottawa, Ontario. During these formative years, Jill began to learn how to craft her life. Indeed, Jill’s first attempt at improving her surroundings happened as a toddler. Too tiny to reach a switch on a bedside lamp, Jill decided to use her teeth as her first set of vice-grips – locking the electrical cord between her jaws – with expected results. As a teenager, Jill spent time with her dad, George in his workshop, learning how to use tools and honing what would become a lifelong habit of saving anything that could be repurposed. Her belief in “craft” was such that the words: “It might come in handy,” or “We should save it,” or, “There’s another piece to this, somewhere,” linger in Jill’s workshop, today.

It is not surprising, then, that Jill went on to study Mechanical Engineering at Carleton University, where she forged fast friendships with kindred spirits – including, most significantly, Fiona – who became a lifelong friend. Upon graduation,  Jill began working at Textron in Gananoque. However, she felt she needed more improvement and went on to complete her MBA at Queen’s University – graduating in 1991. With her MBA in hand, Jill began working with CP Rail in project management, first in Toronto and then in Vancouver. After a few years, missing home, Jill decided to return to Ontario and began working with the TTC as a business analyst.

The mid to late 90s was a period of both introspection and exploration for Jill. Always curious, always purposefully seeking meaning, Jill took several leaves from the TTC; first travelling to the Esalan Institute in Big Sur, California to work and study, joining a self-awareness organization in Toronto and later embarking on a “world tour” with Fiona and Ed – that included Egypt, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. As the clock ticked over marking the start of a new millennium, Jill could be found climbing the Milford Track in New Zealand.

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I have heard it all my life, a voice calling a name I recognized as my own.*

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Jill and Heather found each other in early spring, 2003. At first, it seemed like pure physics: The Law of Opposites Attracting: Heather- more gregarious, demonstrative and driven, with noisy energy, while Jill - more shy, introspective and patient, with quiet energy. But they soon discovered they held deeply shared values, humour and a common vision for the next phase of their lives: to live in a home on a lake with a dog – near their families and friends in Eastern Ontario…and to have fun doing it.

Jill and Heather moved to a “fixer-upper” on Buck Lake, north of Kingston, in Spring, 2004, becoming true partners in love, in friendship…in everything they did. On moving to Kingston - Jill sought employment at Empire Life, where she went on to enjoy a successful 16 year career as a valued project manager. At Empire, Jill was respected for her leadership, knowledge and expertise in bringing people together to deliver results.

Jill’s second major life project was “the business”. With the move, Heather was at odds with what she should “do.” Jill, remembering the joy a small coffee roasting business brought to a friend in Toronto, suggested that they try that: and Bueno Bean Coffee Roastery was born. Both went to Florida to learn the craft of coffee roasting from a Master Roaster and both worked the business – selling their coffee in the Kingston farmer’s market and local stores.

The business expanded when they introduced sustainable cold tea beverages: Rural Roots Beverage Company was started, with the help of a dear friend Sue – who came in as a business partner. It was certainly an adventure and another opportunity for craft – creating recipes, renovating facilities, designing labels…selling. Despite their best efforts and product placement with the Ontario Food Coop, Whole Foods and specialty stores in Kingston and Toronto, the Great Recession of 2007/8 brought demand for premium products to a halt. The partners wound up the business and Jill helped Heather obtain “gainful” employment at Empire Life. Jill then turned her attention to the “house”

Nothing gave Jill more pleasure than her home on Buck Lake – renovating the house or quietly sitting with her dogs Jasper (predeceased) and then Harper – watching the wildlife – and the calm of the lake. Her fierce love for the life she was building and her tremendous skill as a craftsperson enabled her to transform that house into a home. Given that Heather did not know how to hold a hammer – by design or default - Jill would kindly say that she was the builder and Heather was the designer: That may be true – but the deeper truth was that Jill was the architect in both their lives. They married in a simple ceremony surrounded by family and close friends in August, 2018.

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It comes as the sun slides down the sky and all is quiet,

The songbirds holding their breath for a moment

As if by common agreement,

The night peepers not yet singing.

And for a moment lying here in the fading light

On a sun-warmed bed of pine needles

Even the sound of my own heartbeat

-a thrumming deep inside –

Is gone.*

 

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Jill was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon cancer in January, 2016. Despite the dire prognosis, Jill rose above it, as she always did. She fought through multiple rounds of treatment, returning to work in between, enjoying a full life that included vacations south, her marriage to Heather and doing what she enjoyed doing most—renovating the house. She refused to be defined by this disease and stood up to it – to the very end.

Jill chose to die at home and in the last week, the living room was transformed into a hospital suite at Casa Buck Lake. The first few nights with Heather were spent talking about their feelings:  “Darn this or that” (Brussels sprouts, creamed corn, hypocrites, politicians and cancer) – not in any particular order, and “Love this or that” (Tools, Harper – the dog, hummingbirds, elephants, friends, colleagues, family and Heather); again, not in any particular order.

Then the hardest pain came – physical and existential - and Jill decided that death on her terms meant she would not lay down. With her legs dangling over the edge of the bed – she sat upright – not only to better see the lake but also to say no to cancer and death. With one foot supported by a small step stool and her back supported with a wall of pillows she sat for three days – refusing to lay down. It was only on the last night before her death – when Jill’s arms began to shake with the sheer effort of staying upright -that Heather and her daughter Liz were able to gently convince Jill to “Please lay down.” She did – but stayed her course until the next day so she could hear her family’s voices.  Jill passed away peacefully ½ hour after her 98 year old mother held her hand and told her how much she was loved and Jill squeezed her Mom’s hand as she said good-bye.

Jill will be profoundly missed by her beloved Heather; parents Bernice and George (predeceased); step-daughter Liz; siblings Greg (Kathryn), Karen Kerr (Doug – predeceased), Barry (Lynn), “brother-in-law” Neill Priestley; nephews and niece Jeremy, Marcus MacKay and Jordan (predeceased) Wanless and Kelly, Peter (Susan), Donna and Rick (Lisa) Kerr; parents-in-law Alice and Conn Newman. Her memory will also always be celebrated and cherished by close friends and colleagues.

Heartfelt thanks to the KGH medical team – who helped care for Jill over the past 5 years: KGH: Dr. James Biagi and Lou, Dr. Sunil Patel and Dr. Conrad Falkson; Sunnybrook: Dr Paul Karanicolas and Dr Sten Myrehaug; Our family physician: Dr. Karen Whalen-Browne as well as the team that supported Jill’s last days in our home: Margaret O’Neill (HPCNP), Chelsea McGeachie (RPN), Amber Becker (PSW) and a myriad of caring people and organizations.

A Celebration of Life will be held at a future date when Covid allows. Rather than send flowers, please consider a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society or the Humane Society

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*Excerpts from books by Oriah Mountain Dreamer – given to Heather by Jill, on their first date.

Arrangements entrusted to CATARAQUI CEMETERY AND FUNERAL SERVICES.

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