THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CLARA CAROLINE MURPHY
Clara was born in the town of Frank, Alberta in 1932. The times were extremely hard and the coal mining community and surrounding area had seen more than its fair share of difficulties which rocked the very foundation of the somewhat isolated communities along the Crowsnest Pass. The impact of the Frank Slide which buried the whole community of the town of Frank while it slept on April 29, 1903 along with the horrific Hillcrest Mine Disaster in 1914 were devastating. These events challenged the fortitude and resilience of the surrounding communities. Life was hard but despite that being the norm, a new town of Frank just to the west of the massive boulders was born. This was a testament to the courage and strength of the people of the Crowsnest Pass. Part of the rebirth of Frank was the welcoming of a second baby girl, Clara Caroline Carney, to her parents Violet and Harry Carney as well as her 2 year old sister Joan.
The family left the dark and dusty world of an underground mining community in the Crowsnest Pass to go farming just on the fringe where the Rocky Mountains end and the High Plains of the Alberta Prairie begin. This was truly God’s Country especially when the wind was not blowing. The family farm and its background mountain landscape was so dramatic that it was highlighted on a Canada Post postage stamp in the late 70’s!
Clara grew up on a farm near Cowley, Alberta with her parents Harry and Violet and her older sister Joan who was born in 1930. This was the time of the “Great Depression” also known as the “Dirty Thirties” so if anyone knew the value of a dollar it was Clara. As a young girl she collected and sold eggs from their farm and she learned the importance of hard work at an early age. Her motto was “work first and play later”. This carried through to her adult life and she was careful of every dollar she spent, never knowing when she might need her rainy day fund and always making sure her work and everyone else’s around her was done.
Clara was very loving and giving and when she got a job at Alberta Government Telephones (AGT) she saved enough money to fund the building of her parents’ new home. She literally was “plugged” into the community through her job as a Telephone Operator. In those days, every call had to be connected and disconnected by hand. Perhaps because of her closeness to her community or because she was thankful for what she had, she always concerned herself about the welfare of others who she perceived to be less fortunate. Her greatest sense of purpose came from helping others and throughout the years, she gathered an eclectic collection of “unique friends” along the way.
On June 23, 1955, Clara married her husband of 55 years, Leo Murphy. Leo was also from the Cowley area and was part of a large family of nine children. The Murphy family were progressive farmers and ranchers. Leo also grew up learning the value of hard work. Given that rural schools only went to Grade 8, he was sent off to Spokane to Boarding School and then attended Gonzaga University coming back to work in the oil patch as a mud engineer. It did not take long for Leo and Clara to start their family with Regena being their first born, followed by Patrick, Jerry, and, finally, Steve. The last 2 kids were Irish Twins of sorts; they were born a mere 11 months apart. In her primary role as Household CEO, Clara’s children were her pride and joy although they often tested her mettle. While raising her family with Leo in the oil patch, Clara not only had to look after the household and the cooking; she also had to be able to pack up their home on wheels and be ready to move to a new site on short notice. No doubt she was quite relieved when they left their 8X42 foot trailer (She loved her Youngstown Custom Kitchen and had the cleanest house around!) behind to get settled in Red Deer in 1964.
This allowed Clara to form even stronger friendships including a lifelong bond with the Mulder family. Dicky and Jerry were neighbors and the two families helped one another. Clara or Regena would often babysit their son John and Clara/Regena even looked after John when Dicky had Denica in the hospital. The friendship continued to grow and they even became neighbors in Sylvan Lake. Through thick and thin they were there for one another. When Dicky suffered a severe stroke in several years ago, the families remained close and Clara maintained the relationship by telephone and visiting whenever she had the opportunity.
Despite having a family who required a great deal of her attention, Clara was always willing to lend a hand whether it was a neighbor, close friend or family member or maybe even someone she did not know very well. She formed close and lasting friendships with many families and people along the way and always followed the Golden Rule. She even had to convert and become Catholic in order to marry Leo. One such unique friendship she formed was with her hairdresser Ramona from Bentley. Clara was always concerned that someone was taking advantage of her and that Ramona was loaning or giving money to others when she needed it herself. To remedy this she made arrangements to set up a charge account that Clara would keep track of and administer. When Ramona wanted to buy something such as a new washer, Clara would write a cheque for the amount she required and hold onto the rest. Clara even made the same arrangement later with her daughter, Regena, and her family.
Though Clara did not hand out smiles easily, she always treated everyone with kindness and respect. She always told her children as they were growing up (some took longer than others!) she would be there for them and it was expected for them to call if they needed a ride – even if it was the middle of the night. Clara would get dressed, assuming she had even been to bed yet, go round up her kid or kids and their friends, bring them home and feed them. Sometimes she would even feed them the meal she was planning for dinner the next day. Cabbage rolls became the favourite amongst the kids’ friends.
Perhaps looking in retrospect, Clara’s most fulfilled chapters in her life were when she was engaged in the role of caregiver. She lovingly looked after her father-in-law when he became bed ridden and never complained. She made sure he had everything he needed and scolded Steve or the other children when they, in good fun, teased Grandpa. Since Clara’s father passed away when her mother was still quite young, Clara took it upon herself to look after Violet and even pulled Regena out of school early to help with the move from the farm to Bellevue. When Violet could no longer live by herself, Clara and Leo took her into their home in Sylvan Lake. She lived in the ground floor Mother-in-Law suite and had a beautiful view of the Lake. She was frequently visited by the kids whom now were returning with their families to share in many memorable weekends at the Lake. Often there were 4 generations of family gathering at the Sylvan Lake house (affectionately dubbed “Murphy’s Bar & Grill), with always something cooking and going on at the Murphy household –especially in the summers.
Clara and sometimes just Leo took Granny Carney into town and to Red Deer so she could “go gallivanting”, do her shopping and maybe make a major purchase. Unfortunately for Clara, given Granny Carney’s indecisiveness, often the purchase had to be returned but even that was ok. Her Mom lived with the two of them until the last few years of her life when she went into the seniors Home in Sylvan Lake and. She passed away in August 2000.
One of Clara’s greatest challenges which was a testament to her courage and fortitude was her care for her husband Leo after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. At first Leo was more or less forgetful but as the disease rapidly progressed Clara met every challenge without complaint. She was simply doing “what had to be done”. It truly was a “Labour of Love”. As a family it was a huge challenge to have to say goodbye so many times as Dad’s dementia progressed. Leo’s 74 years of great health being always willing to “yoke up”, when there was real work to be done, was followed by 6 years of everyone “pitching in” while Clara quietly soldiered on caring for Leo I Sylvan Lake in the only home they had ever owned. In looking in retrospect she nearly exhausted herself to her own personal demise. Finally, in January of 2010 Clara had no choice but to put him into the Home in Red Deer and then in April of 2010 he passed away. Though his passing was a tremendous blow, Clara rallied and found new purpose by doing all she could to help her grown children. By this time she lived next door to Regena and her family and she made many meals and helped out whenever needed. Her signature Christmas Pudding and sauce, Chocolate Zucchini Cake made lovingly for Birthdays and other special occasions and her awesome Apple Butter are just a few of the many culinary dishes that have been shared throughout the years.
Clara maintained strong connections with her seven grandchildren – Kyle, Koel (deceased September 1986), Jeffrey, Braden, Stuart, Katlyn and Mitchell as well as her two great grandchildren, Mylo and Nava. She enjoyed visits from grandkids spending time over the years at Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp, hosting tea or overnight stopovers when travelling between Edmonton and Calgary for jobs and school and took advantage of opportunities to watch Lacrosse and Hockey Tournaments. She totally enjoyed having long distance or Face Time chats to Perth, Australia, Peterborough, Ontario and Boulder, Colorado.
Clara suffered another blow in January of 2016 when her son Steve passed away unexpectedly. Though in the hospital at the time with her own health challenges, she was determined to get out of the hospital and reclaim her role as the true matriarch of the Murphy family. In many ways, the last two and a half years were her most peaceful and enjoyable – she became a voracious reader. Her crisp recall of past events including shenanigans which were thought to be long forgotten and her wise insights were illustrations of her keen intellect. Although always engaged and concerned with everyone’s welfare around her, she learned to “Let it be” and that it was not necessarily her job to engineer a solution. Maybe she thought that given there were four grandchildren with that professional career designation that she could be assured the family could deal with whatever life decided to throw at us. Since recovering from her hear two months in hospital over Christmas 2015, once again Clara found renewed purpose in helping family and others around her. She continued to extend a hand of friendship to those she came to know until her passing on June 29, 2018.
We are all thankful that she was out and about, independently, grocery shopping, that she was not alone, she did not suffer, and, she had spoken to all three of us children within the last 24 hours of her life. She was high-spirited and enthusiastic about upcoming family events. Clara never became self-absorbed in her own challenges. To her that was counterproductive and essentially choked ones capacity for empathy and compassion. She was never concerned with how much she had. Instead, she was concerned about helping others and she enjoyed sharing whatever she did have. Life was about family and her primary sources of happiness were in helping her family and friends and playing an active role in their lives.
For obvious reasons she will be missed but not forgotten.
Our most sincere sympathies to the family and friends of Clara Caroline Murphy June 29th 2018.source