Above: Brian Searson shared a Bruce Cockburn song "All the Diamonds in this World" at Gene's tribute event Sept. 8th.
More than thirty people came out last Saturday, Sept. 8th to pay tribute to the life of Gene Campbell, bringer of Waldorf education to homeschoolers, and founder and developer of the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto’s Foundation Studies distance program.
First to speak was Gene’s older sister Karon, who shared a lengthy but fascinating chronology of Gene’s life, a copy of which is appended to the end of this report. Briefly, Gene grew up in a large family, led by a mother whose ideas for her children were ahead of their time, both in terms of gender equity, and in taking advantage of all possible channels of education.
Next to speak was Gene’s best friend, Ena Bruce. Ena and Gene met at the Waldorf Institute in Detroit in the early 1980s, when they were studying Waldorf Education. Ena said she regarded herself as Gene’s “Boswell”, implying that Gene was her “Samuel Johnson”. She said Gene was always very articulate and clear thinking about the human condition.
Ena said Gene’s breaking point with public education — Gene had taught in the Catholic school system for many years before going into Waldorf — had been when the administration moved computers into her kindergarten classroom and expected her to incorporate them into her teaching. Gene asked to be moved. They told her that she was hired, and her job was to obey.
One day at an open house at the Edge Hill School in Durham where they were both teaching, a visiting parent asked Gene about Waldorf for homeschoolers. Ena said we thought it couldn’t happen. But it turns out they were already doing it.
Gene saw the need and she started helping homeschoolers to understand and use Waldorf ideas and methods, though her Chiron initiative. People came from as far away as California to attend her conferences.
Before she died, Gene was about to take up another new project, addressing the challenges of psychology from a body, soul and spirit perspective. Gene’s philosophy was that if the challenge was in front of her, she was meant to do it.
Marianne Else met Gene in the mid-90s, shortly after she moved from Durham to Carrying Place, to care for her aging mother. Marianne credits Gene with helping inspire her to take up a five-year Eurythmy training at the age of 55, and to develop an new way of working with Eurythmy with adults.
Marg Beard, who has worked with Gene on Waldorf homeschooling and in the Heart program said that Gene had a wicked sense of humor and that, as a mentor, she would seldom give you answers. She always wanted to know from people, what was their passion.
Nicole Correri had met Gene at the RSCT when her daughter was in Grade 2. And now her daughter is 21. Nicole’s daughter, Thuraya, was there with her mother at the tribute event September 8th (see photo). Nicole said “I wanted to bring Waldorf to my kids. And I met this saint.”
Nicole meant Gene, and added that she knew Gene was a saint because of her trials by fire, her sufferings, and her clarity of spirit. Nicole said the best legacy was to pick up the work and live what she taught.
Above: Nicole Correri, with her now-21-year-old daughter, Thuraya, who she homeschooled in the Waldorf way.
Nicole has been organizing Bringing Waldorf Home conferences in Washington DC and having Gene as a keynote speaker at those event which she organized for six years. She said Gene has helped bring Waldorf to many Muslim families. Nicole said she is honored to have been Gene’s disciple.
RSCT pioneer, Diana Hughes said that when she first heard of “Distance Foundation Studies”, she had the same reaction as when she heard of “Waldorf homeschooling”. Diana said she had always worked on the premise that “Anthroposophy is the next person you meet”. However, Diana said, she had been grudgingly persuaded by Gene that these are things that the world needs in our time.
Warren Cohen (former RSCT co-director) said he had known Gene for five years before he realized that she was any differently abled than anyone else. Warren was the person Gene reported to, at the Rudolf Steiner Centre.
He said she was entirely self-motivated and needed practically no supervision, and that she ran the largest and most successful program in the history of the Centre. The program he was referring to, Distance Foundation Studies, now has more than 100 students, all over the world.
Brian Searson talked about his years working with Gene and Ena at the Edge Hill school. He remembers that Gene always wanted to make things better, and not get bogged down in interpersonal politics, because “we have work to do”.
Several other people spoke movingly about their experience of working with Gene or having her as their mentor. These included Grace, Shelley, Marie-France, Vivienne, Sharon and Louise. We’re not going to report on all of them here, but we are going to include the entirety of the talk by Gene’s older sister Karon below, who lives in New Brunswick. We should also note that the people whose contributions are reported on here, said much more than is included in this report. Robert McKay and James Brian officiated at the event on behalf of the RSCT. Elisabeth Chomko and Susan Richard led the singing.
Gene’s family constellation was as follows: Ken was the oldest brother, followed by Karon (oldest sister), followed by Mack (John), then Gene, then Tim and Terry.
From Gene's sister Karom Campbell-Kervin
Above: Gene's older sister, Karom, shares Gene's story (below) at the Sept. 8th Tribute event.
A TRIBUTE TO MARGARET-GENE CAMPBELL
SEPTEMBER 11, 1945 – AUGUST 4, 2018
I am honoured to have been asked to participate in this memorial to the life of my sister, Gene, and to include a few stories about her, especially those stories about her early life and the events and circumstances that shaped her life.
When talking about early influences, I would be remiss if I did not mention the influence of my parents and especially my Mother, Margaret. Gene and I both agreed that Mom was a strong example in teaching us to act with courage and guiding us to become independent thinkers. Throughout our lives, Mom’s perseverance and fortitude was evident as she faced many daunting life challenges that would have proved insurmountable for anyone less courageous.
Our first inkling of my Mother’s inner strength was when we moved from Charlottetown, PEI. Mom left her home, family, and all that was familiar to her, and with four little children in tow: Gene, one years old, Mac, two years old, myself, three years old and Ken, four years old, travelled, without any help, to the Air Force Base in Clinton, Ontario, to join my Father who had been posted there. Because none of the base housing had been built, we spent our first several months in Bayfield, at an old inn, where we children took our baths in an old tin tub outside on the lawn. We then moved into a house without indoor plumbing and had our first experience with an outhouse. When we finally accessed housing on the Air Force Base, we moved into the only accommodations available, an old converted barracks, to a second-floor walk-up apartment housing ten families.
Not long after we settled into that apartment in Clinton, my Father was stricken with cancer, considered untreatable at that time, and had to be hospitalized in London. Sometimes on a Sunday, Mom, with the four children in tow, would make that long trip to visit Dad. We children would stand outside the hospital and wave to Dad who would wave back from the window of his hospital room. Somehow, with a Doctor who was willing to try new treatments, Dad survived.
Our Dad showed tremendous inner strength as well as he faced life’s issues. His quiet determination to accept what he could not change and to find the courage to change what he could was an inspiration to all of us. His would repeat the “Serenity Prayer” and he loved the “Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi”. In fact, he challenged all of us to learn the St. Francis of Assisi prayer by heart, and rewarded us with a quarter when we succeeded.
These challenges life events took their toll on Mom’s health, and she suffered several miscarriages as we grew up. The whole family rejoiced when, in 1950, our brother, Tim, was born and five years later, our brother, Terry, was born.
Although we grew up at a time when women and girls were encouraged to be seen and not heard, in some regards, my Mother had ideas that were ahead of her time. Mom grew up in a household where it was unheard of for boys and men to participate in housework. Hers was a family of four boys and four girls. All eight of the siblings went to work quite young and each family member contributed financially to the household. However, when they arrived home after having worked all day, the girls work was not done. While the boys sat in the living room smoking and chatting, the girls prepared supper, served the boys, cleaned up and did the dishes, and then did any other chores that needed doing, such as, washing, ironing, mending clothes, washing floors, dusting, etc. The boys, meanwhile, returned to the living room for the evening or went out socializing. Mom resented that injustice and vowed not to allow that in her own family.
For example, Mom insisted that both the boys and the girls each take a turn to do dishes, and everyone had to make his or her own bed. Other chores were divided among us as we were able to handle them. Every January, when the new calendar arrived, each of us anxiously checked to see who had to do the dishes the following Christmas. The moans and groans of the one unfortunate enough to have Christmas fall on their day to do dishes could be heard throughout the house for days and weeks afterward. That kind of thinking was unheard of at the time, and the boys took a great deal of teasing from the neighbour children. Gene and I learned a valuable lesson regarding justice and women’s issues that we carried forward all our lives.
Mom wanted all her children to have every opportunity to experience and learn new things. She and my Dad, Ken, loved music, so all of us were encouraged to study music. As well as Brownies and Girl Guides, Mom also enrolled Gene and I in dance, gymnastics, sewing, and any other activity that was available. Gene was very flexible, and became an excellent gymnast. Because my Dad was in the Air Force, we had an exceptionally good education growing up, including music, art, physical education, acting, and public speaking.
Gene and I shared a room, a double bed, and occasionally, in spite of my protests, my clothes. I was a little OCD about my possessions and Gene’s attention to detail did not extend to keeping the room tidy, so we certainly had our moments. Eventually we learned to compromise. We created an imaginary line down the middle of the room, down the middle of the dresser and through the middle of the box where we kept our valuables. I made my half of the bed, kept my half of the dresser tidy, kept my half of our storage box neatly organized, and left her to her own devices.
Gene’s road to courage started very young, when she was just seven years old. In October, 1952, the family moved to the Air Force Base at Trenton, Ontario. On November 9th, Gene’s life changed beyond anything we could have imagined. Fairly near our home on the base, we could hear the sound of trains whistling by several times every day. We soon realized that the tracks were just across the field and an easy walk for us. The boys, Ken and Mac, started talking about going over to the tracks to watch the trains go by. On that fateful Sunday, they talked me into going with them, and with much cajoling, we convinced Gene to join us. After all, if all four of us were involved, we were less likely to get into trouble. The trains were shunting that afternoon. Perhaps the boys saw a worker grab the ladder on the side of a boxcar, hang on to the side for a few feet, and then jump off down the track. The boys decided to try that trick, too. I was afraid to try, but since it seemed like such fun, Gene decided to try, too. As she attempted to grab the ladder, her grip slipped and she fell. The train wheels ran over one leg severing it just below the knee. While I stayed with her, trying in vain to reconnect her leg, the boys ran screaming across the field to get my parents.
A group of airmen had been playing cards at one of the homes nearby, and one of the players noticed the boys running, screaming and yelling. He jumped into action, rushed over to Gene, and with soothing words and quick thinking, applied a tourniquet, which saved her life.
As things settled back to some semblance of order, Gene returned to school and we older children took turns pulling her back and forth in a wagon. It must have come to someone’s attention that Gene needed transportation to go to school, because soon afterward, we moved from 6 Repair Depot Station to the South Side Airbase. This station, a couple of miles away, held a small, elite housing unit for Non-Commissioned Officers. Gene was then able to take a bus to school. She was often subjected to considerable bullying from kids who taunted her about her leg, calling her “Hopalong Cassidy” and other derogatory names, until Ken and Mac intervened and threatened them menacingly if they continued.
Few people realize the difficulties encountered by children with limb amputations. Gene endured considerable suffering growing up because, periodically as she grew, she had to be hospitalized to have the bone shortened as it pushed painfully through the skin. Each operation required several weeks of additional painful healing time, during which Gene could not wear her artificial leg. In spite of the many interruptions to her schooling, she continued to be a good student.
Gene was not going to allow having an artificial limb to keep her from doing the things that the other children did. She continued to participate in gymnastics and swimming. She could often be seen slipping her artificial leg off, swimming back and forth across the pool or hoping, one-legged, onto the diving board and diving into the deep end of the pool, completely oblivious to the fact that she only had one leg and immune to the stares from other swimmers and onlookers. From time to time, Gene broke her artificial leg climbing trees or jumping, and occasionally we children could be seen chasing ball bearings as they fell out of the knee joint.
The Shriners’ organization supported Gene in acquiring an artificial leg and continued for several years to sponsor her to go to Merrywood Camp, a summer camp for children with physical disabilities. Then, one year when Gene was about thirteen, she announced that she could not attend that camp anymore because, as she said, it was for “crippled” children, and she declared that she was not “crippled”.
Gene had to have a new leg built from time to time as she grew up. Finally, in her mid-teens, she was going to get a leg with interchangeable feet so that she could, as a young woman, wear high heels. However, since her name had been submitted to the manufacturer as “Gene” which was considered a boy’s name, each leg until then had been build for a boy. It was only then, when the new leg was being built and Gene was being fitted, that they realized that they should have been making a leg for a girl all along.
My Mother was determined that her children would attend a Catholic school during the high school years. Although Mom was a strong adherent of her religion and insisted that we all practice that faith rigorously, it was quite an adjustment to be thrust, quite unprepared, into an environment taught by nuns who were intolerant of anyone who questioned authority. Gene was much more compliant than either Ken or I, and normally accepted the harsh discipline uncomplainingly. However, one rule created a crisis. Each week, a different child was required to clean the blackboards at noon and before leaving after school. When Gene’s turn came, she realized that she would miss the bus if she stayed after class. Without getting permission from the teacher, she made a deal with another student. She would clean the boards for that student during her lunch hours in exchange for the student doing Gene’s work after school. Unfortunately, the other student forgot one evening and Gene was punished by having to stay after class, forcing her to miss her bus. Neither her pleas nor explanations were acceptable, and Gene had to walk over three miles home. Of course, her artificial limb was not designed for walking long distances and, by the time she arrived home, she was in pain and her leg was badly bruised and bloodied.
We all learned a lesson in courage on that occasion, and Gene showed a remarkable maturity, when my Mother, who would never speak out against the Catholic Church or its authority, had to speak out against such an injustice. She called Mother Superior and threatened to remove all of us from Catholic schools unless the offending nun was dealt with. After some negotiation, the situation was finally resolved. The teacher apologized to my Mother and both the teacher and Gene apologized to each other. I certainly did not feel that Gene had any reason to apologize and raged against what I considered to be another injustice, but Gene was wise enough and mature enough to want to resolve the issue in a good way.
When Gene graduated from high school, she moved to Toronto and stayed with my Uncle Bill and Aunt Camille. She was able to get a job, but was not happy with the work she was doing. The prevailing attitude in those times was that a college or university education would be wasted on girls because they would soon marry and have children, and so they did not need the education, whereas, the boys had to make a living. Fortunately for Gene, our neighbour, Hub Smith, a retired airman who had served in the Air Force with my Father, told Gene that, as the child of a serviceman, she was entitled to educational grants. Since her dream was to become a teacher, she was able, with Hub’s help, to apply for these grants to go to university, and was able to make that dream a reality.
Gene spent many years teaching at Catholic schools in the Toronto area. However, a few years after Gene started teaching, she was involved in a serious car accident. Because of a combination of events including the car accident and her earlier trauma, Gene developed fibromyalgia which left her struggling with debilitating pain. Although she continued to teach for several more years, doggedly working through the pain, and although she tried many therapies, mostly unsuccessful, to ease the pain, she finally had to take a leave of absence from teaching. Unfortunately, fibromyalgia was not well recognized in the medical community as a physical disability, but rather considered a psychological issue. When Gene applied for her pension, she was denied because she was told that the pain was all in her head and fibromyalgia was not real. As Gene explained it to me, fibromyalgia was considered a women’s issue, and it was only when a doctor’s son was diagnosed with it, that the medical community began to recognized it as a chronic condition including periods of debilitating physical pain. For several years she endured the pain, the financial insecurity and the self-doubt until, finally, several years after its onset, fibromyalgia was accepted as a valid medical disability. Although she felt somewhat vindicated, her financial situation was tenuous and she was unable to hire a lawyer to fight for her cause. A friend, recognizing her dilemma, paid for her to see a lawyer. She was then able to challenge the ruling of the pension board and eventually receive her pension, a final vindication.
Gene loved teaching and watching the children grow and learn but, after working for many years in Catholic schools, she became disillusioned with the system and especially with the male-dominated hierarchy. She felt that the current educational system lacked the creativity that children needed to thrive. Another major enlightenment grew within her as she explored Gestalt Psychology and the works of Rudolf Steiner. She realized that she needed to find like-minded people. The idea of small, community-based schools offering an holistic approach to education in the Waldorf school system seemed to offer her the opportunity to teach in a stimulating environment. She found the perfect solution in the community of Durham. Whenever we talked by phone or when I visited, I could hear the excitement in her voice as she told me about the little school there and the dedicated teachers and parents at the Waldorf School.
Gene took on the role of looking after the well-being of our parents as they aged and as their health declined. When Mom and Dad moved to Durham with Gene, she ensured that they were well looked after and she kept the rest of the family informed as events unfolded. When Mom’s health became a serious issue, they made the decision to move to Belleville so they could be near the hospital. Gene moved into the family home in Carrying Place so she could be near them, and when Mom passed away at Christmas time in 1995, Dad moved in with Gene for the final year of his life.
Gene continued to explore new ideas and to challenge herself to find ever-higher life purposes. She began to travel to communities to help parents and teachers create new Waldorf schools. She developed and offered distance support programs for marriage counselling and for parents, and she developed a distance-education program to work with teachers wanting to adapt to the Waldorf Education system. As Chiron continued to grow, Gene’s programs reached far beyond Canada into other countries and cultures.
Gene named her business “Chiron”. As she related to me, the name seemed apt because Chiron, a centaur in Greek mythology, matched her vision. Chiron was noted for his youth-nurturing nature. His personal skills included: medicine, music, archery, hunting, gymnastics and the art of prophecy. Because Chiron was known for his knowledge and skill with medicine, he was credited with the discovery of botany and pharmacy, the science of herbs and medicine. Although centaurs were notorious for their wild, uncivilized behaviour, Chiron, in contrast, was intelligent, civilized and kind. I think that definition describes Gene’s work admirably.
Gene and I had many conversations throughout the years and she shared her ideas and concepts with me. Although we did not always agree and occasionally debated issues, we found many commonalities, and we always respected each other’s opinions. Interestingly, we often approached ideas with completely different perspectives, and through our discussions, realized that we were, in fact, on the same page. I gained a wonderful lesson and a great insight into her remarkable vision during one of our conversations. Gene stated that her accident at seven years old was her greatest blessing. I could not understand how she could consider such a tragedy as a blessing until she explained. She said that losing her leg as a child profoundly changed the direction of her life, and that she was very grateful for the lesson and for the learning. She said that had she not endured that accident, she would never have had the opportunity to take the life journey she was on. With that insight in mind, I too, came to understand and to find gratitude for the lessons in my life. I recognized that I too, received my greatest learning from having gone through my own difficult life experiences.
When Gene was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, she maintained her courage and positive attitude. Her sense of humour could be found even during the most challenging times in her life. She and my brother, Mac, were both experiencing serious medical problems at the same time. They would talk about death and wonder which one of them would go first. She would say, “Oh, it’s OK, you can go first”, and he would retort, “No, I don’t mind, you go first”, teasing each other back and forth, and then they would have a good laugh.
Gene realized that she did not have the strength to continue her work while she battled this life-threatening disease. She recognized that she would have to train other mentors to assist with the workload. Her vision was to leave a legacy which would live on long after her life ended. Even with this overwhelming diagnosis of level 3C breast cancer, Gene’s concern for her students and her need to create enough mentors to take over her work was paramount. She was determined to have everything in place so that her work would continue while she was unable to take an active role. Only then, would she allow herself to focus on this newest challenge. She faced this battle determined to fight with every ounce of strength she had, and early in 2018, after undergoing chemotherapy, breast amputation and radiation, she was told that she was cancer free.
All of us were overjoyed. Gene was the glue that held the family together. She kept track of the events in each of our lives, and kept all of us apprised of the others’ lives and life circumstances. We could not imagine life without Gene at the helm. Gene was determined to get back to her work and, even with limited energy, reconnected with students and with Waldorf communities. Her hair started to re-grow, and she was making plans to undergo reconstructive surgery. She maintained her positive attitude and was even able to find humour in her own difficult circumstances. She joked that her hair was growing in curly, and that the surgeon was going to use her tummy fat to recreate her new breast and that she would soon have her girlish figure back. In spite of all her struggles and life-challenging events, Gene’s ability to maintain a positive outlook and retain her sense of humour was remarkable.
Tragically, our joy was short lived. The reprieve lasted only a couple of months. Gene started to experience blinding headaches. She was diagnosed as having a blood clot in her esophagus which could not be removed. Several visits to the hospital emergency ward, did not relieve the pain. Gene was unable to sleep and could not keep food or beverages down. When I spoke to her early in July, I could hear the change in her voice. Her strength was fading and I could hardly hear her as she spoke in little more than a whisper. Alarmed, I asked her if I could help her if I came to her place for a visit. When she said, “yes”, I knew we were facing a crisis, because her independence was always extremely important to her. Her Oncologist, as a follow-up to her cancer treatment, ran a series of tests and on August 3rd, Gene, with much assistance from Tim and Diane, went to the hospital to get the results of those tests.
My husband, Joe, and I had travelled that day from New Brunswick to Gene’s place and expected to see her when she returned home from the hospital that night. However, early in the evening, I received a call from Diane telling us that Gene would be staying in the hospital. The test results were devastating. The cancer had returned and aggressively ravaged her body, spreading through her remaining breast, her stomach and her liver. We then planned to go to the hospital the next morning, but at about 9:00 am, Diane called to say that we should go to the hospital immediately. By the time we arrived, Gene had already passed away.
As we, her family and friends, grieve the loss of our dear sister and friend, we realize that the sorrow we feel is for those of us left behind. The loss I am feeling is more than words can describe. I will miss the phone calls, the discussions and the visits. I will miss Gene’s sense of commitment to bettering the world around her, her insight and wisdom, and her sense of humour. As birthdays, Christmas, and summer vacations come and go, an emptiness will steal into my heart knowing that she is not here.
Gene has enriched the lives of those around her beyond measure, and her life serves as a model for those aspiring to go beyond mediocrity to become exceptional. She lived a rich and meaningful life. She had a vision and created a legacy, putting a process in place to ensure that her legacy will not be forgotten. Now it becomes the responsibility of those of us left behind to follow her example, to continue to enrich lives, to carry her vision forward, and to ensure that her life’s work lives on.
Although most of you are too young to have listened to the radio program, “As It Happens”, I will quote the host, Paul Harvey, who ended his programs saying, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
I am grateful that Gene is now at peace and without pain. As she travels this last journey into the spirit world, I can picture in my mind’s eye, Mom and Dad reaching out to guide her and to welcome her. My Mother would smile and say, “Well done, my daughter. Well done! You have earned your rest. Let your spirit soar free; free of all pain and suffering.”
Left: Photo of Karom, taken after the Sept. 8th Tribute to Gene Campbell event at the RSCT.