A friend of the island is gone, but not forgotten

My wife, Joan McNeill, one of the most avid lovers of Bowen Island, passed away on September 22, 2011, at our home at the end of Mt. Gardner Road.

Joan first visited my family on Bowen in 1976, the year before we were married. But it was not until 2004 that she declared that Bowen would now be our real home instead of our apartment on that other island called Manhattan on the east coast of the U.S. (which coincidentally is also 20 square miles in size) and where my career with the United Nations happens to be based.

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Bowen was already a self-contained paradise for her, but when she realized it had a health food store (Ruddy Potato) and fine restaurants (Blue Eyed Mary's and others), she knew she had everything she needed.

Indeed, one might have thought that I would be the one to declare Bowen our home, because of my long family history here. My grandparents, Prof. Mack and Antonia Eastman, bought their land at the end of Mt. Gardner Road in 1919 (for $300), and it was my mother, Isabelle Eastman McNeill, born in Vancouver in 1922, who also considered Bowen to be her favourite spot on earth.

But in fact, it was Joan the "newcomer" who would lose her heart to Bowen to the friends, neighbours and community, as well as the wildlife and the ever-changing beautiful scenery.

Joan's career in education spanned 30 years, beginning as a high school teacher, then evolving into senior management at the global educational enterprise, Landmark Education, where she touched the lives of thousands by assisting them to find ways to fulfill their dreams and aspirations for their relationships, health, career, leadership, self-expression and satisfaction.

In 2005, we bought the house next to my grandparents' little cottage on Mt. Gardner Road, and six weeks later, it sadly and mysteriously burned to the ground.

Joan quickly set about re-building in the most environmentally sustainable manner possible. She made certain that almost every bit of wood was recycled, that the house was as energy efficient as possible and introduced dozens of other resource-efficient, environmentally friendly, construction practices.

For her efforts, the house received the first "Platinum" rating on Bowen for a "BuiltGreen" house (with special thanks to local builder, Roger McGillivray).

The sudden diagnosis of liver cancer on August 2006 launched a new chapter in Joan's life, and undaunted, she prioritized being on Bowen even more since she knew the fresh air, peaceful way of life and community on Bowen was essential for good health.

Cancer led Joan on a dedicated search for health interventions, one of which was good nutrition. She received dramatic benefits from a raw food and vegan diet.

Through a most rigorous adherence to this diet, her health (and mine) improved significantly, keeping her cancer at bay for several years thereafter.

She came to understand that the same steps one undertakes to improve one's own personal health (i.e. a local, organic, plant-based diet) when multiplied across many people, also happen to be among the most potent solutions to the rampant global crises of deforestation, biodiversity loss, clean water shortages, land degradation and climate change.

She remained a passionate and outspoken advocate for this lifestyle until her final days.

Joan went to great lengths to spend the last part of her life on her beloved Bowen Island and purchased a one-way ticket from New York to Bowen this past August.

Despite the strong advice of her medical team to move to a Vancouver hospice, and in the face of excruciating pain that she managed with medication every few hours, Joan was committed to staying in her beloved home to the end. As a result, both our families were able to visit and spend meaningful time with her there.

With the generous help of kind neighbours and the wider Bowen community, as well as with the expert assistance of Dr. Paul Sugar, Colleen O'Neil, and Rebecca Kline, Joan continued to experience joy and happiness until her last day in the place she loved more than any other.

Please see Joan's blog (www.joanmcneill.wordpress.com) to see photos and get a sense about Joan from many of her friends and admirers.

I am grateful to all Bowen Islanders for creating such a nurturing environment for both Joan and me.

We have been blessed by our time here.

CHARLES McNEILL

Special to the Undercurrent

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