Friends and family are mourning the sudden loss of an extraordinary community-minded volunteer this week.
After celebrating her 90th birthday last week, Maryanne West suffered a stroke on Monday and passed away quietly in the night. "She was an amazing community minded person who gave unselfishly to the entire community of the Sunshine Coast. Maryanne will be missed by anyone who ever had a connection to community and community television," said Steve Sleep, programming director at Coast Cable 11.
Sleep said he first met West, when he was in Grade 1 at Gibsons Elementary School.
"She had just helped install a rain guage on our bike shelter and was teaching a group of older kids how to read and record the rainfall," Sleep recalled. "Maryanne was the official weather record keeper for the Gibsons area for over 40 years; a task that's carried on to this day by her daughter Fran and granddaughter Sophie. A few years later, we met again in the dusty, basement of the same school for science club - an unofficial group that gathered a couple of times a week to do the things that eight-and 10-year-olds are good at; hammering, sawing, painting and nailing anything that came to mind."West's life was as rich and fulfilling as the people in this community she touched.
She delivered milk from a horse drawn cart, was a firefighter during the Second World War, was a teacher, and raised three daughters in Port Mellon with her husband Frank. "I learned a lot from Maryanne over the years. The importance of community and balance in community television were two of the most significant. She also taught me not to sweat the small stuff," added Sleep. "Maryanne was an adult student in Marta MacKown's first TV class at Elphinstone Secondary School in 1978. She was 60 then and that was the start of a long relationship with community television on the Sunshine Coast."
In 1985, when Sleep started with Coast Cable, West was already established as a volunteer producer and she continued that relationship until the day she died, producing thousands of shows for the viewers of the Coast. "Maryanne was a strong believer that we were one community from Langdale to Earl's Cove and her productions were a testament to that," he said. "No topic was too big or too small and Maryanne was a champion to any and every cause. If you ever called into a community television live show, you most certainly talked to Maryanne who almost never missed being there on the crew for our Thursday night phone in shows; shows that she produced for the community. Anyone who was a guest in the studio was treated to a Maryanne cookie. She baked them every week and never used a machine to do the mixing. If Maryanne couldn't be there, she sent the cookies along with someone else. Many of the regular guests were spoiled by her generosity and you could always see the smiles when the cookie tin appeared as the credits rolled across the screen."
West remembered a lot of birthdays over the years and always took the opportunity to bring a cake when someone on the crew was having a special day. On March 6, the Coast Cable 11 crew had the rare opportunity to surprise her with a cake of their own when they celebrated her 90th birthday live on the air after the Thursday call-in show.
"The credits rolled for Maryanne for the last time this week. She leaves behind her a history, the importance of which very few will ever begin to know. We will all miss her dearly," said Sleep.
Gibsons Mayor Barry Janyk also recalled fond memories of West in an interview Tuesday afternoon and at this week's council meeting.
"The birthday celebration we had for her was great," said Janyk who was a guest on the March 6 program. "Those live call in shows will never be the same. She was the cookie mom. We lost a real keystone of our community. She was wonderful. Maryanne was the heart and soul of our community."
West's sudden passing also saddened long-time friend Doreen Bartley."She was no-nonsense, totally down-to-earth Maryanne, whom we met in the early '60s," said Bartley. "I thought she was immortal, indestructible - and, in fact, I suspect she chose this time to end her long and useful life, dedicated to her family, the community, the country. Having cared for the wonderful, all-knowing, droll Frank for so many years and the last of their many beloved dogs, her family here for her 90th birthday, perhaps she felt it was the perfect time to go."
Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons was also a great admirer of West.
"Our community has lost the voice of a thoughtful elder," said Simons. "She enjoyed her TV show, and loved seeing young people showing an interest in making their community better. She was passionate about education, didn't suffer fools, and was a tireless advocate for peace. She was a formidable presence."
West is predeceased by her husband Frank and survived by her three daughters Anneli West, Frances Heppell and Christa Morrison and four grandchildren, Stephen, Matthew, Sam and Sophie.
A celebration of life will be held on May 3 from 2 to 4 p.m. at her home at 1369 Reed Road in Gibsons.