Nature 28

Catherine Keddy

1953 ~ 2022 (age 69)

Obituary

Catherine Jane Keddy (nee Pointing) 1953-2022

Cathy was a well-known local conservationist, an experienced scientist, and a loyal wife to Paul Keddy.

Cathy spent most of her childhood in a small house in Sault Ste Marie, where her father worked at a local forestry station. When her father took a job at Erindale College, she moved to Mississauga and attended Lorne Park High School. During these years she had a long walk to school, being just slightly too close to take the bus. She was a Girl Guide and earned the high honours of the Duke of Edinburgh Award in 1973. She then began studying botany at the University of Toronto. In addition to hiking, she was a gymnast.

Cathy met her future husband and life partner at a dinner held before an evening seminar on the ecology of slime moulds at the University of Toronto. A young ecology student from York University saw her from across the room, in spite of the daunting presence of her father at the main table. He was magnetized by her petite form, her long brown hair and her dark eyes. It is now legendary that among his first questions for ice-breaking was “What is your favourite plant family?” Cathy answered, “The Scrophulariaceae”, then the name for the snapdragon family. The student from York then asked her out on a date, and she agreed. The first date was held at the University of Toronto greenhouse where they shared sandwiches. She spent many happy hours with him thereafter. Her father disapproved of her choice, his dedication to science, his rusty car and his constant visits to Cathy. She persisted in spite of circumstances, and even took a legendary trip to Manitoulin Island with him while her parents were away. Her willful defiance of her parents showed a strength of character that she drew upon in many later circumstances.

Her boyfriend proposed to her in 1973 while they sat in an ugly basement apartment at a simple chrome table. He offered Cathy a proposition. He was going to start graduate school at Dalhousie University in 1974, and he invited Cathy to move to Halifax to finish her B.Sc. She accepted. Her parents were horrified.

Cathy moved to Halifax in 1974, where she earned her B. Sc. and then her M.Sc. in ecology. For the latter she studied an annual species of eelgrass that grew in Petpeswick Inlet. This gave her many hours working on tidal flats surrounded by salt marshes, assisted from time to time by her fiancée. She first lived on Morris Street in a high rise with fine views of Halifax Harbour. At this time she was supposed to be staying in student residence, where she was expected home each night. Soon, in her determined style, she told the staff that she would mostly be living on Morris Street with her fiancé. Later she moved to South Street where she could walk to campus, and married Paul Keddy in 1976. The wedding took place in Trinity Anglican Church in Mississauga, Ontario, to please her parents. Back in Halifax she continued to explore the province on foot and by canoe. She saw her first living specimen of the curly grass fern during this period. She was also a co-founder of the Halifax Field Naturalists. She also agreed to buy land in Lanark County back in Ontario – property that had a wetland and a colony of Great Blue Herons. She shared a mortgage to protect this land even before she graduated from Dalhousie University.

Cathy then gamely followed her husband to Guelph Ontario where she worked for a consulting firm, Limnoterra. She lived in a modest home by the Speed River, and planted a peach tree and a tulip tree. The Guelph area was too urbanized for her liking, and too conservative for her tastes, so she willingly moved again, this time to Ottawa, where her husband Paul had accepted a professor position. This move would allow her to regularly visit the piece of land she loved, and even build a small cabin. She continued her employment as an environmental consultant, working many long hours both self-employed and with consulting firms. Her work included a foundational study of Pitchers Thistle, an endangered species, which required time spent living near a sand beach on Lake Superior. She prepared an important management plan for Pukaskwa National Park. She continued conservation studies for many rare plants in Nova Scotia, including a foundational study on Mountain Avens, an endangered plant in Nova Scotia. She canoed down the Tusket River in Yarmouth County to document rare plants such as the Plymouth Gentian. In between, she hiked in the Appalachian Mountains and boldly defended her knapsack from a bear by hitting it between the eyes with a birch log.

If these adventures were not enough, she helped her husband renovate a large run-down house on Chapel Street in Ottawa. She helped sand floors, install cupboards, and hang wallpaper. Typical of her style, when she saw a team of workmen demolishing a house, she came home with a trunk load of wood flooring to fix a gap in the house. At this time, she also persuaded her husband to have children, and bore Martin Keddy (1984) and Ian Keddy (1988). During this period, her husband became seriously ill, and she cared for him with dedication. In spite of his long illness, in spite of having to sue an insurance company, in spite of her husband being forced out of his faculty position at the University of Ottawa, she stayed loyally at his side. During this period, she accepted the sale of her home on Chapel Street, and moved to rural Lanark County, to finally live adjacent to the fist property she had purchased so many years ago when she lived in Halifax.

During this period Cathy also had a private spiritual life in the Buddhist tradition. She did a month long silent meditation retreat called a dathun in Vermont, and another in the Rocky Mountains. She attended many training and teaching events, and rose in rank to become Resident Director of Shambhala Training in Ottawa.

In 2000 Cathy pulled up roots again to move to Louisiana, with the understanding that the new circumstances would allow her to care for her husband full time while he held an endowed professorship at Southeastern Louisiana University. She loved the local wildlife including egrets, amphiumas, box turtles, sphinx moths and magnolia trees. She made friends in the local literary community, regularly attending poetry night where stories and wine were shared freely. She learned to fire guns, including a Walther handgun. She visited cultural centres in New Orleans. She bought a large wooden frog in New Orleans as a gift for her husband, and drove it home in the passenger seat of her Prius, startling people on the interstate. She gamely assisted in buying 40 acres and supervised building a home (a “double-wide”) on elevated posts on the edge of the Manchac Swamp. Here she had many adventures, including a small alligator who took to following her along the edge of the bayou. She also rescued abandoned animals, including a pregnant dog named Magnolia and a limping grey Russian cat she named after General Lee. She survived Hurricane Katrina, which partially wrecked her home, and endured the legal maneuvering when her husband was forced out of that faculty position, again owing to his chronic illness. She was never able to forgive the faculty and administrators behind this blatant act of betrayal, and lost some of her faith in humanity at this time.

She bravely drove back to Canada, crossing the border in a Prius full of rescued cats, and moved back into her forest home in Lanark County. Here she gamely took on more contract work to cover living expenses. During this period, her output included a landmark study on the original forests of Eastern Ontario using surveyors’ notebooks archived in Toronto. She also found time to serve on the Board of Directors of three organizations sequentially: the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, Ontario Nature, and then the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust. In between these many duties, she helped her husband with several books including Wetland Ecology and Plant Ecology, both with Cambridge University Press. Neither book would have existed without her efforts. In between, she maintained her house, even repeatedly climbing onto the roof to repair shingles and flashing. Her husband disapproved of the risks, and she defied him. She split firewood, and gamely kept a wood stove going each winter. She helped add several natural areas to the MMLT portfolio, including Keddy Nature Sanctuary, Salamander Forest, Byrne Big Creek Nature Preserve, and most recently, Marble Woodlands.

In 2022 it became evident that Cathy was worn out from all her duties to the world. She refused to slow down. In July she drove her husband to Toronto for surgery, and stayed in a local hotel. In August, she continued working on a large study of endangered plants, driving to locations near Frontenac Park and Kingston. She met with potential landowners to arrange new properties for MMLT. She insisted on painting an exterior wall of her home – from a ladder. She also worked with MVCA on natural area protection within the watershed. She had surgery in September and struggled for several weeks, fretting at her confinement. Cathy passed away suddenly at her home in Lanark County on the morning of October 14. She was already cold when her husband found her. Her ashes will be returned to the Keddy Nature Sanctuary that she loved so well, a property which she helped transfer to MMLT. It adjoins Salamander Forest, another sanctuary that she co-owned and steered into protection in 2021.

Cathy was a determined and dedicated person who did not shy away from speaking her mind. She boldly ran away to Halifax to be with a man she loved. She raised two sons in a profession without maternal leave or child care. She rescued wild dogs and cats. She worked tirelessly to protect wild places and rare plants. She was a loving, dedicated, fierce and loyal wife. Cathy gave everything she had to others. The world will miss her.

 

Given her years of dedication to protecting wild places, and the new properties that she guided into protection with the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust, her husband suggests that donations in her name to MMLT would be an appropriate way to express respect.

 

 


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