For seventeen years, she’s been a reliable part of my life. About three weeks ago, a group of us met for dinner at the Olive Garden to catch up on each other’s news. That was when Marge let us know that she was once again battling cancer.
I don’t know how many times this lovely woman has fought that dread disease. What has always amazed me was that she did it with humour, optimism and complete bravery. The rest of us might fret and worry—Marge just forged ahead with treatment and instead of us encouraging her, she encouraged all of those around her.
I met Marge in 1995 when I became a docent at the Calgary Zoo. She always had time for newbies and was more than willing to share her wisdom along with a smile and a joke. She always called the Zoo her healing place, where she came to grieve for the son that she had lost. I came to appreciate her experience, when in 1996 my parents were killed in a car accident while on vacation in B.C. Everyone in my zoo family supported me through that ordeal, but Marge was exceptional. Many days she would take my arm and say, “Let’s walk.” We would roam the zoo, talking or not talking, as the day required. Later she told me that I was a bit like the walking dead myself—and those first few years after Mom and Dad’s deaths are a blur for me, with very few memories attached. What would I have done without the zoo, my friends there and without the knowledgeable support of Marge?
That was one of the things that made our trip to Kenya in 2000 so special. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for Marge and we were able to enjoy the safari together, admiring elephants or visiting with the people whom we encountered. Marge was definitely a people-person. As much as she loved animals, especially gorillas, it was people that engaged her. She loved taking her new knowledge of Africa to school classrooms here in Canada. And who else could love doing overdue account collection for the zoo? Marge phoned people, asked them why they hadn’t paid and received some remarkable answers. Some just had never been asked, some had life troubles, and some were just seeing what they could get away with. She dealt with them as she did with all of us—with understanding, compassion and a good prod when we needed it.
I think Marge knew virtually everyone at the Zoo. Even if she didn’t know them personally, they knew her. She proudly accepted the title of Gorilla Grandma and was so pleased to be at the birth of one of the gorilla youngsters. I remember one public event where Marge was sharing her love of the troop, a young black-back male gorilla, Untundu, behind her. Untundu did what he loved best—he drop-kicked the glass separating him from his audience! The glass shattered, but didn’t fall out, a small miracle. Marge later said she knew she said something about gorillas being gentle beasts, that there was no need to be afraid and ushering people quickly outside, before giving in to complete panic! She stayed professional until she had fulfilled her duty!
I know there are those who have gone on before who have met Marge on the other side: her son Dwight, other relatives and friends were no doubt holding out helping hands as she crossed over. But I’d also like to believe that there were several dogs and Tabitha and Julia, among other gorillas also waiting in the crowd. Safe travels, Marge, until we meet again.