Every summer, a classified ad would appear in the back pages of the Bowen Island Undercurrent.
It invited everyone and anyone to pick from the plethora of plums ripening on trees beside a house on Miller Road.
If the owner of Rosebank Cottage wasn’t there, the ad said, just leave a two-dollar-per-pound donation for the island’s animal welfare society on the kitchen table. The door would be open.
When Ron and Heather Woodall moved to Bowen 20 years ago, they were so struck by the ad that Heather tore it out of the newspaper and framed it.
“We cut it out as a symbol of how Bowen works,” says Ron, who went on to become the paper’s cartoonist and island portraitist. “It’s a microcosm of that culture all in one little classified ad — there’s trust, there’s generosity and there’s care for animals.”
The woman who placed that ad, Rosebank Cottage’s Angie McCulloch, died at Lions Gate Hospital on June 17, 2019. She was wearing one of her signature fascinators and was fully made up, determined to the end to put her best face forward. Two of the family’s beloved pet dogs, Pommy the teacup Pomeranian and Chewy the Jack Russell, were on the bed with her. She was 83 years old.
Predeceased by her son Christopher, she leaves behind her daughters Jennifer, Jessica and Julia; grandchildren Luke, Leah, Raphael, Cameron and Isabella; great-grandchildren Leo and TJ; and countless friends and admirers on Bowen Island.
On an island full of idiosyncratic personalities, she was the classiest, Woodall says. “There was something charmingly swashbuckling about her. She had this kind of grand dame charm.”
“She liked holding court with people,” says her friend of four decades, Sue Clarke. “People warmed to her really quickly. It wasn’t just her openness and fun nature. She had a wicked sense of humour.”
“She was indescribable. She just had such a joy of life. She had been all over the world and had so many stories,” says Helen Wallwork who worked for Angie when Angie owned the deli at the General Store. Helen developed a close affinity for the woman who became her adopted aunt and confidante.
But apart from the public persona and large personality, Angie was so much more to the people on the island. Time and time again, people talk about her compassion, her ability to absorb the sorrows of others and of her innate gift of letting people know that someone cared about them.
“She was incredibly empathetic and sympathetic,” Helen says. “She was such a good listener. She’d listen to you and make everything feel right. She’d help people out.”
“I learned so much from her,” says Shelagh MacKinnon, the former minister of the Little Red Church, the place Angie turned to for solace and strength (and, quite often, the source of a new home for the stray dogs and cats she took in. “She’d bring them to church on Sunday and say, ‘I’m locking the door until someone takes him home.’”)
“Angie was beautiful and she was funny but life had asked a lot of her,” Shelagh adds. “She had some chapters that she handled with grace….
“She had tremendous resilience, strength and resolve. She was not going to go down easily. She just found the resilience over and over again to get on top of the situation. Other people would have gone under.”
Angela Hartridge was born on a beautifully grand estate in England, the only child of an engineer who had found great success designing diesel test equipment. The Second World War was only three years away and, for all of her privilege, her ability to “press on” was forged during the difficult war years which she spent in boarding school.
Her father sold the company and he and Angie’s mother moved to Canada. Angie married and her first children, Christopher and Jenny, were born in Montreal. After her divorce, Angie married again and two daughters were born: Jessica and Julia. The family moved to West Vancouver but then moved to England and Greece for a short time.
Angie sourced many of her stories from these early years. The one Ron Woodall remembers most is the story of Angie driving the family’s Daimler, solo, across the alps so she could attend a fancy do; Helen loved the colourful stories of life on a Greek island.
It was upon the family’s return to British Columbia that Angie discovered Bowen Island.
She and her family arrived for a day trip on a Sunday, when everything was closed. Angie instantly fell in love with the island and instinctively knew that it was here she would find happiness.
When the family settled into Rosebank Cottage, the island’s first post office, there were only 750 people on the island so getting to know her new neighbours and friends wasn’t difficult. She joined Theatre on the Isle and was also a theatrical person off stage. Shelagh MacKinnon laughs when she remembers how Angie and Sue Clarke would spoof the British television show Two Fat Ladies. Everyone would be in stitches.
Her garden was a thing of beauty, with massive rhododendrons, gorgeous rose bushes and, of course, those bountiful fruit trees. She had horses for her daughters to ride, just as she had had her own pony growing up. As a hostess, she went out of her way to turn a party or a meal into an occasion. “She worked really hard to make you know she was glad you were there,” Shelagh says.
There used to be a deli in the General Store. Angie bought it and ran it for several years. Through her volunteer passions, she had an outlet for her deep compassion and humanity. She was a founding member of the food bank and CAWES (the Coast Animal Welfare and Education Society.) In 1998 she was named Citizen of the Year.
“She had a deep social conscience and was always rooting for the underdog. She had an innate sense of fairness,” Sue says. “She was always interested in people and what they were doing and was always willing to help people.”
Shelagh says, “She supported a lot of people. She was open to their stories. She was able to be compassionate even if their problems were of their own making.”
As well, “Angie was an early adopter of gay people and openness. What a gift it was to so many people. She looked Edwardian but she was totally 21st Century.”
What Shelagh appreciated greatly was Angie’s ability to give name to her own heartaches and sorrows, as well as the things that gave her happiness and joy. Her openness about her own life helped others find the words to understand what was happening in theirs.
With some people, a posh accent and studied poise could have been used to hold themselves above others. Not with Angie. Calling people “darling, precious” was an endearingly authentic expression of the joy she got from others. People would plan their visits to the Knick Knack Nook when she was there. She helped make Dickens’ Christmas Carol come to life during the annual fundraiser for seniors housing.
Being glamorous was one of the things that helped Angie cope, no matter what. Before going to bed at night, she’d plan out her outfit for the next day. Whether she was going to volunteer at the Nook or hold court at the Strawberry Tea, she treated each day as a special occasion worthy of a string of pearls, a touch of lace and a fancy fascinator. She never went out without “putting on my face.”
“Like a lot of us, her life didn’t always go as she thought it would so she made the best of it,” Susan Clarke says.
Angie suffered from ill health in recent years and it required more of an effort to be so immaculately dressed than many people realized, Shelagh MacKinnon says. But it was important to her to make the effort.
“Angie was a queen of the community,” Shelagh says. “She gave strength and she got strength from the community. It was a reciprocal arrangement.”
For all the stories friends tell of how Angie buoyed them, Shelagh says that it was these friends who helped make it possible for Angie to be Angie.
“She loved people,” says her daughter Jessica. “Being with people fed her and gave her the impetus to keep going.”
Her daughters hope their mother has inspired others to participate in the community and help each other
“She knew the smallest gestures could make a difference in people’s lives,” Jessica says.
“You asked, what has Bowen lost,” Shelagh says in response to a question about her dear friend. “It’s really lost one of a kind. I know you’re not supposed to use an adjective with unique but Angie was extraordinarily unique. She couldn’t imagine herself living anywhere else.”
A service was held for Angie earlier this month. Shelagh returned to the island to lead the celebration of life for the Bowen icon.