June 7, 2011

For anyone who has been following this blog over the past couple of years, you would be aware that D’Arcy has been taking his M.Ed and for the past two-and-a-half years, was writing a Thesis under the advisement of  Dr. Ottilia Chareka.  It started back on January 13th, 2009.   The thesis was part of our family – always there.  I mentioned it here and  here and here and here and here and here and here…  You get the picture!

I didn’t get a chance to update here much this winter or spring because life was so busy with my teaching and D’Arcy trying to get everything finished up.  One post I did take the time to make though, was on February 5th, the day after D’Arcy “defeated” his Thesis!

D’Arcy walked across the stage at graduation on May 1st, and while it was a day to celebrate D’Arcy’s accomplishment, it was bittersweet because Ottilia was missing.

Ottilia had been at our house on Monday, March 14th and delivered some papers to D’Arcy.  He printed the pages of his work to be bound on Tuesday night and took them, along with our four children, to her office at the university the following morning.  She wasn’t there, and a colleague took him aside while the kids stayed with a receptionist, and she told him shocking news.  Ottilia had died in hospital through the night and her husband was in police custody, charged with her murder.

I can’t imagine how D’Arcy kept himself together to drive home safely with the kids.

Ottilia was a beautiful woman and you couldn’t help but love her.  The photo in that last post is the only one we have of D’Arcy & Ottilia together, because I figured we’d get photos at the graduation celebration.  Ottilia was the type of woman who would ask D’Arcy to pass the phone over when they were finished talking work and then she would ask me how things were going.  At his Defense, she pointed out the fact that I was in the room and thanked me for giving her so much of my husband’s time.

The following is a short documentary film by Cara Jones, a Nova Scotian filmmaker, featuring Ottilia.  It gives you a glimpse into the woman she was and why she was so highly respected:

We celebrated Ottilia at D’Arcy’s graduation, as much as we celebrated him.  His was the first Thesis she had acted as an advisor on – other projects, but not a Thesis.  She was so proud of him!  We had a basket set up for donations to a fund set up for Ottilia’s five daughters and were pleased through the generosity of our family and friends in attendance to be able to contribute $1200.  We told a few stories about her and raised our glasses in a toast to her.  There were tears shed, and our children sang the song, “Happiness Is” which had been sung at the beginning of her memorial service.  D’Arcy is making sure that Ottilia’s daughters receive their mother’s copy of his & Ottilia’s work.

This week, we received the following email which was written by Ottilia’s oldest daughter:

“Three months ago our mother, Dr. Ottilia Chareka, passed away. 

Our lives have never been quite the same. However, we are so thankful to the hundreds and thousands of people who were there for us during a great time of need. We would like to thank the many people in Canada and those around the world who rallied behind us to send our mother back home to her native country of Zimbabwe. Our mother was buried in her rural homestead on April 4th, 2011. Her body was accompanied by her eldest daughter. 

We have received hundreds of cards and letters from around the world. There are also many wonderful instances of great generosity. There was a teenage girl who heard of our situation and gave up her entire pay cheque and had her Mum send it to us (but asked that she remain anonymous). A person we had never met contributed thousands of dollars. A person came up to us and said he didn’t have a lot of money but all he had was ten dollars and he wanted to give it to us. A senior citizen who heard of our story sent us grocery gift cards. 

Our mother’s alma mater, The University of New Brunswick held a Memorial Service for mum on April 20th, 2011 and many of her former class and work mates came together to share memories of mum. We are also so very thankful to Crandall University (formerly, Atlantic Baptist University) where mum once taught, and to Acadia University. 

The people of St. Francis Xavier University have continued to be a pillar of support. We are so thankful for what this institution has done, during what has been such a trying time. 

There are many other professors from several Universities  in Canada (and abroad) who have been in touch with us. Our mother was part of large academic family and we thank you for your thoughts and prayers. 

Our letters of thanks have been so very challenging to write because there have been so many acts of kindness. It is therefore, not possible to name everyone, but we want you all to know that we are so very appreciative. Collectively, you have allowed us to feel so very cared for. 

The people of our home province of Nova Scotia, did and continue to do so many great things for us. There were many fundraisers held for mum, including one done on Mother’s Day, and we are so very thankful to the many people who have donated to the Daughters of Ottilia Chareka Memorial Fund. Words can never relay the thanks in our heart. 

In regards to our mother’s passing, all we know, is that we grew up in a loving home as the daughters of two professors. We never imagined anything of this nature to occur and no one can ever truly explain it. However, we now have a wonderful, new home and we look beyond the horizons, to the future. We look to God and have faith in Him.  We look at each other and encourage ourselves to not let this stop us from becoming great, strong women.

Thank you, 

The Daughters of Ottilia Chareka”

The eulogy given at Dr. Ottilia Chareka’s funeral by her eldest daughter can be viewed here,   and the ending can be viewed here.

There is no doubt in my mind that they will, as she wished, remain great, strong women – just like she was – and Ottilia will live on in all those of us who had the great fortune of knowing her!


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