Obituary – Partington-Richer, Marilyn

Passed: July 11, 2014
Longtime Lakeside Leader Editor Marilyn Partington-Richer passed away on July 11, after a battle with cancer. She was 59 years old. Richer is being remembered as a rigorously positive personality, strongly devoted to her family and to public service. Her dedication to the betterment of her community was legendary.It was all the more impressive because she accomplished it in the face of a decades long affliction by multiple sclerosis. “She persevered where most people would quit,” says longtime friend (and Scrabble opponent) Marilyn Larivee. “Quitting wasn’t in Marilyn’s dictionary and she knew all the dictionary.” Richer took over as Leader editor in 1986, shortly after arriving in Slave Lake following three years in Africa. She had previous stints in journalism in Morinville, St. Albert and Rocky Mountain House. She had met husband-to-be Jacques Richer when she was studying journalism at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton. It was his career in the oil industry that took the family to Gabon in west Africa and then to Slave Lake. She started as a reporter at The Leader right away, and fairly quickly made the jump to the editor’s chair, which she held for almost 20 years. “Over the years,” says Leader publisher Jeff Burgar, “I learned to admire Marilyn’s strength of character. Specifically, I was always amazed at her unwavering spirit as she dealt with not only the daily trials of life and work we all face, but her multiple sclerosis condition. Many people let disease define them. For Marilyn, it was there, but just something as normal as brushing your teeth or combing your hair. Life itself was far too important to live to let something like MS get in the way.” The job in those days was quite demanding, often requiring long hours, lots of staff turnover and the challenge of new technology, among others. She fairly quickly set an upbeat, uncomplaining, positive tone that was to last for her tenure and beyond. “Mar was the kindest, most caring boss out there,” says Kathie Millett-Suto, who worked under Richer as advertising manager for several years. “She never, never got mad and only saw the good in everybody.” Kim Wilde is another former Leader colleague and later friend. “Working with Marilyn was a wonderful surprise,” she says. “Upon interviewing me she saw potential in me that I certainly didn’t see in myself.” Richer took a similar gamble on an underqualified (but enthusiastic) reporter applicant in 1990 that has worked out pretty well. The Richer era at The Leader wasn’t all a bed of roses. She led the paper’s coverage of the lengthy and acrimonious Ziedler strike and never missed a beat on the 1988 flood story, even while being flooded out of house and home on 9th St. SE. When she retired in 2005, Richer left a smoothly running office, and for several years continued to contribute, offering articles, advice and encouragement to young reporters when the editor was off on vacation. One of them was Doug Beattie. “She should be an inspiration to us all regarding dealing with adversity,” says Beattie, now a heavy equipment operator in Fort McMurray. “To take a page from her most recent writing style, I am grateful to have met and worked beside her. She was in my thoughts daily as she battled and I will never forget her.” Outside of family and work, Richer had an impressive record of public service. She was a founding member of the Rotary Club of Slave Lake, and served in it right up to the end. She served on the board of Slave Lake Victim Services and was also a strong supporter of the Northern Haven Support Society. She was also a justice of the peace for several years in Slave Lake. In that latter role, Jacques recalls, she “never said ‘no,’” to any request for her services. “But the Lord have mercy on anyone who had beaten his wife or a woman.” And let’s not forget about the Terry Fox Run! Richer was the chief organizer of that event in Slave Lake for two decades. The list goes on. She won a prestigious award from the regional Persons with Developmental Disabilities organization for offering regular employment at The Leader. She was also the local rep for an MS support society, recalls son Lenny, offering support and encouragement to other people who had the disease, and their families. “Don’t ever give up!” he says she told them. Richer’s dedication to community service received its highest recognition when MP Dave Chatters presented her with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002. Richer was born Marilyn Partington in Unity, Saskatchewan, on Nov. 6, 1954. The fourth of five children and the only girl, Marilyn grew up on a farm near Evesham. Active in 4-H and other typical farm-community activities, she noticed the first symptoms of what would be diagnosed as MS during a school curling bonspiel. It got bad quickly, and put her in a wheelchair. But she refused to accept such confinement. “She gave credit to acupuncture,” says husband Jacques. “But it was sheer willpower.” That willpower was in evidence throughout the succeeding years. Jacques gives numerous examples of Marilyn refusing to be pampered or pitied, or even helped to get up when she fell, which she did quite often. She resisted a cane for years, he says; also the walker. The MS was always, there, but never did it get her down. It took cancer to do that. The latest bout of peritoneal cancer caused damage to the operation of her lungs and heart that she and her doctors could not overcome. Her heart gave out at 9:35 a.m. on Friday, July 11. Marilyn is survived by husband Jacques, son Lenny, daughter-in-law Jamie and grandchildren Kaitlyn and Liam; also her brothers Terry, Bruce and Arch. She was predeceased by her parents Tom and Anne Partington and brother Boyd. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for people to consider donating to the MS Society of Canada or the Canadian Cancer Society.

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