Maureen Lee Knowles (Owen), devoted wife, proud mother and grandma, loving relative and a warm friend to so many passed away October 23, 2020, her battle with cancer coming to a peaceful conclusion with her family by her side at the Atikokan General Hospital.
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Maureen was born in Atikokan on January 17, 1956 to Peter Lee and Lou Mei Owen, and spent her formative years learning and growing as a person – an education both in school and in the real world, helping her parents and relatives run Lee’s Steak and Grill, a staple restaurant and hang out of a bustling 1960s mine town Atikokan. It was very much the story of the immigrant experience, as the Chinese risked much to escape war and start a life anew in Canada, having to sacrifice much including their heritage to get there. This stuck with Maureen her whole life as she worked hard to share her love of Chinese culture with her family and wore it proudly on her sleeve, and she was proud of her lifelong nickname of ‘Mulan’, after one of her favourite childhood stories. She was thrilled to explore Chinatown in Toronto for the first time ever the year before her diagnosis with her granddaughter, and it was an experience she shared often afterwards how they walked the streets experiencing new things while she shared stories of her own childhood and history.
She bonded with so many over a lifelong passion for food that she grew up surrounded by, and spent hours learning from her family, and passing that passion and skill down to her own family. Many of her final conversations were about food – food she was waiting to try once she got out of the hospital, and things she was looking forward to sharing with her friends and family. Her passion for it, like everything she took part in, was infectious and inspiring, and she was proud that her recipes will live on in so many cookbooks.
Throughout her life, Maureen worked a wide array of jobs in Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Atikokan, but really found her home working at the Atikokan High School for more than three decades in the resource centre, helping it transition with the times from a traditional library to something suiting our evolving technology. Maureen always spoke of how rewarding it was to make so many heartwarming connections with students, and was so proud to see how they matured and became the leaders we see today at home and abroad. It fostered her love of books and her passion for reading, and it’s no doubt she inspired many former students to carry on that same love.
Family was first and foremost for Maureen; she sacrificed so much to ensure those who meant the most for her were always put before herself. She was the type of person who would go hungry if it meant someone she cared about wouldn’t go without. There’s little doubt she fought so hard for so long because she didn’t want to let anyone down by not being there for them. It was always her hope that even through everything she suffered through, it would draw on relationships being strengthened and bonds forged that would last long after her time here.
Her three grandchildren were the absolute light of her life. Samantha, Matthew and Alexander brought her so much pride and a reciprocating love that drove her battle and gave her so many moments of pure joy as she was watched them grow into such wonderful young adults. Graduations, Christmas concerts, religious milestones, sports performances, dance recitals, family events, and so many more, she loved them and scheduled her life around making sure she could get to as many things involving her grandkids as possible. She knows how proud they will continue to make her, as she watches over them as their guardian angel.
The rest of her family was no exception, and she loved them all – related by blood or not. Conversations around the kitchen table, big family dinners, weddings and funerals, family visits, trips abroad, and in the later years virtual get-togethers were some of Maureen’s favourite things as they could catch up. She was so proud of everyone’s accomplishments, especially her nieces and nephews whom she loved like her own children, as they grew up and started their own families. She often acted as the conduit between people as they grew up and drifted apart, and often played the role of peacemaker and confidant.
She was an early adopter of social media, and used it to communicate with her friends, relatives abroad and those who meant much to her. Her warm personality shone through and she was happy to be able to share in the lives of so many people she respected and admired. She loved chatting with her friends, keeping up with goings-on, sharing her favourite family pictures and playing games, especially as the pandemic took hold and her ability to get out diminished; the encouraging messages of love and hope brought her great comfort in her final days. She had a small circle of friends she cared for with an unlimited love and respect, and felt so incredibly lucky to be able to experience deep friendships with such good people.
Fuck cancer. It’s so cruel. It’s hard enough to have a disease, a non-discriminate one that seems to choose its victims at random. But along the way it tries to rob its victims of their dignity, their decency and their humanity, leaving them a shell of their former selves. Maureen would have none of that. She fought hard, she gave it hell and she made an aggressive, terminal cancer work so hard to get the upper hand. She never complained about her situation or the unfairness of it, despite the constant travel and the effects treatments took on her both physically and mentally. The support of her family, especially her husband and emotional rock Larry in managing her battle gave her extra strength and pushed her to overcome the odds multiple times. She left nothing on the table, and is leaving this world with her head held high, in good spirits and with a sense of calm and peace, accepting of her fate and ready to move onto the next phase of existence, free of pain.
Maureen is predeceased by her parents Peter Lee and Lou Mei Owen, and her parents-in-law Grant and Betty-Lou Knowles. She is survived by her loving husband of 43 years Lawrence, her two sons Gordon and Peter Thomas who she was incredibly proud of, and her three beacons of light, her grandchildren Samantha, Matthew and Alexander, and their mother Arlene. She is further survived by her sisters Ellen (Colin) Mark, Fay (Katz Olson) Traynor, brother Kenneth Owen, and cousin Kam (Candice) Lee, her in-laws Janet Knowles, Robert (Irene) Knowles and many nieces, nephews and their children.
Maureen has requested in honour of her memory to make donations of your choice to the Atikokan General Hospital and the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Cancer Care Centre, and to support those organizations moving forward for their important work in helping those who need it during their greatest time of need. Maureen spoke so highly of the care she received, and often commented on how the compassion and bedside manner shown helped comfort an otherwise difficult, isolating situation. More so, one of the last things Maureen asked for was for people to be kind, to love each other, to work together for the greater good and to treat others with dignity and respect, to cherish and not demean, to give the hope and power we all deserve to each other as human beings.
Per her request, Maureen wishes to hold a private family service, when the environment is right and safe for such an event to happen.