Last month you took an enemy of yours - also a victim of yours - to the grave. She was, and will continue to be, the face of second-hand smoke in Canada. What an extraordinary person she continues to be; a true role model for us all in terms of the choices she made to fight you while fighting lung cancer.
You see, she had nothing against you until you decided to convince the cells in her lungs to fight themselves and become a serious cancer. Then, without your blessing, she began to take your name in vain to anyone, and everyone, who would listen. She no doubt cried like I have upon hearing of others you've stolen, and her story brought both comfort and pain to anyone who shared her status as someone touched, or rather punched, by you.
She was a voice against you even when her breath wouldn't let her yell. She moved mountains and helped usher in a smoke free public Ontario and Quebec, and her whispers will no doubt be in the ears of those who legislate you around our country. You didn't want her to see how she had triumphed against you, instead you reminded her damaged body of your power as her cancer returned to ultimately claim her.
You might have taken her body from us, but her voice will live on.
I've had several search requests from people looking for the eulogy from her funeral last month. With permission, it is posted below.
Long Live Heather Crowe.
A few years ago, Heather Crowe would be the first to agree that her life was not extraordinary. She would have said that she was an ordinary woman, living in ordinary circumstances with an ordinary job and ordinary hopes for a comfortable life after retirement.
But when Heather learned that she was going to be forced into a retirement that would be neither comfortable nor long, she became a most extraordinary ordinary woman capable of doing the most extraordinary ordinary things.
In the three and a half years of her dying she was able to do something few of us are able to do in all our years of living – to make a lifetime of difference.
Heather was born the third of 7 children to a family in rural Nova Scotia. From her family, Heather learned the value of hard work, she learned courage and determination and she learned selflessness.
Like many before and after, Heather was driven ‘down the road’ to find work in Toronto and to build a more secure future.
Emotionally and spiritually, however, she never moved far from her family roots, from her connections to her brothers and sisters, nor from the native teachings of her Mi’kmaq mother.
It was the career she started in Toronto and continued in Ottawa that would eventually kill her.
For 40 years she served food, poured drinks, and wiped tables, but for 39 of those years she did so in venues where, as she put it, “the air was blue with smoke.”
Heather said that waitresses were often ‘invisible workers.’ Invisible too was the damage that was being done to the cells of her lungs by the smoke-filled air she breathed.
By the time these cells developed into tumours and became visible to CAT scans and X-rays machines, Heather’s cancer could not be reversed.
Heather said that learning that she had lung cancer was “like having a mirror shatter into a million pieces. You see the shards on the floor,” she said, “but you can't put them back together. It changes your life forever."
Most extraordinarily -- Heather decided to do more than just stare at the pieces on the floor.
She decided that she might have been an invisible worker, but she would not be an invisible victim. She set about to present her case – against extraordinary odds – to the workers compensation system.
Later, suffering from chemo-caused nausea, she made another decision. No one else, she decided, should have to endure what she was going through. She set about to present their case – against extraordinary odds – to the political system.
Heather became a woman transformed.
She stopped being a waitress, and became a woman with a mission.
She became a voice for hospitality workers, for prison guards, for casino workers, for home-care workers, for all working Canadians who were left unprotected from exposure to second hand smoke.
She became the ‘visible victim.’ Heather was unstoppable.
She pushed herself on trips across Canada to communities large and small, to meetings friendly and hostile, to politicians supportive or discouraging.
She searched out, and found, people who could help and then pushed us to be more ambitious.
She brought to her campaign a waitress’s sense of timing: she wasn’t satisfied with the idea that it could take years to bring laws into effect, and she didn’t see why we should be either.
During her 3 year campaign, Heather lived on borrowed time. She paid steep interest on that loan. In addition to the physical discomforts left by her cancer treatments, there was the stress of learning new skills, meeting new expectations.
Heather had become, in a way she never anticipated or planned, a public figure, a focus of attention.
She moved from waiting on tables to sitting at the head table. She stopped being invisible and became highly visible.
For a deeply private woman from a deeply private family, this was not an easy transition, nor always a comfortable one.
She had become well known as the waitress who was ‘dying’ from second hand smoke, yet she wasn’t dead yet.
People began to ask why. Sometimes they asked her.
There was always the dark cloud of terminal illness on the horizon. Waiting for it to darken further was very hard. In some ways, Heather was relieved when her cancer returned last September.
“There’s only so long you can cheat the devil,” she said. “And I feel I have already cheated him for the past three years. I am happy with the things I have been able to do in that time.”
In those three years she did truly extraordinary things and many of those things made her happy indeed.
She met, encouraged, cajoled, charmed and stared-down premiers and ministers. By putting a face to cancer from second hand smoke, she persuaded many of them to act on the knowledge they had.
These successes made her happy.
She touched the hearts of many, and received hundreds of letters of support and appreciation from people across Canada.
These kindnesses made her happy
She stayed in touch with Moe and “the girls” from work, and her visits with them made her very happy.
But nothing made her as happy in her mission as working with “the kids.”
Kids from Ottawa’s Expose mobilizing youth against tobacco.
Kids from Kingston rallying to support a tobacco treaty.
Kids from Commando Oxygene circulating petitions to support the new Quebec law.
Kids in countless classes watching the video about Barb Tarbox that Heather brought to share with them.
Heather insisted that she would not be in front of these kid – she would not be behind them – but she would stand beside them.
They were her future. They were her joy.
Another extraordinary thing grew out of Heather’s campaign.
A family of supporters grew around her.
Politicians, government workers, community groups, educators, student activists, journalists and her nursing and health supporters worked together as though no one had ever heard of federal-provincial tensions, or institutional rivalries or financial concerns.
Heather not only found the best in herself, she brought out the best in all of us.
And she brought us together.
Heather’s family of supporters was not the only family that grew closer during her final years.
Heather loved her daughter and granddaughter with a deep passion, even though, as mothers and grandmothers are wont to do, she sometimes expressed that love in unwelcoming worrying ways.
No granddaughter was more loved than Jodi Ann. No daughter more the focus of her mother’s life than Patricia.
Canadians responded to Heather in an extraordinary way. They realized that what had happened to her could have happened to anyone, but that not everyone would have responded as Heather did.
They were moved by Heather’s honesty, her selflessness, her determination – and her success. Heather was a true Canadian hero.
Heather met Barb Tarbox a few weeks before that other champion’s death.
“Barb Tarbox has been a fashion model with a glamorous career,” she said. “Beside her, I feel like the little red hen.
And then she added, with her typical grasp of the perfect metaphor: “I have been scratching around in the barnyard trying to find enough to eat. When it’s already too late, I discover the barnyard is a toxic waste dump.”
One day as the Little Red Hen was scratching in a field, she found a grain of toxic wheat.
"This wheat should be clean" she said. "Who will safeguard this field of wheat?"
"Not I," said the Duck.
"Not I," said the Cat.
"Not I," said the Dog.
"Then I will," said the Little Red Hen.
And she did.