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Living life to the fullest

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Phyllis Thomson loves her family, her students, music, and teaching above all else.
She’s one of those "who knew?" sort of people who live in our own backyard — someone who’s lived a more exciting life than you might expect.
For example, she teaches singing lessons, but who knew she actually won numerous musical awards, and toured all over North America and Europe with the University of Manitoba Ancient Instruments as their lead soprano?  
After accomplishing all that, who knew she had the time to raise three children, get a degree in home economics, a teaching degree, her master’s degree in psychology, and teach high school students full time?
"My life has not ever been a straight path," said Thomson. "It’s sort of had many, many side journeys, but I think that’s true of every life."
Thomson said her accomplishments, though, aren’t the most important things in life — not compared to the affection she has for the people she’s taught.
"You can have every degree in the world, but if you don’t love your students, What do you have?" said Thomson.
Throughout her life, Thomson has tried her best to help every one of her students because in the end, they helped her, she said.
She married Stewart Thomson in the late 1960s. He was a musician, an architect, and the love of her life. They had two little boys, Andrew and Christopher, then adopted a little girl named Selia.
It was in 1978, after a very difficult surgery, that Thomson was in the worst shape of her life. Stewart decided to leave.
"He decided he really wanted a different lifestyle," said Thomson. "So he left, and I had three children to raise and a brand new job, and 50% health… It was probably one of the worst things to ever happen to me, and probably one of the best."
Thomson laughs about it now, but that new job turned out to be one of the toughest teaching jobs she ever had, at Elmwood High School, but it was where she truly learned to teach.
"They taught me how to teach," said Thomson. "They were amazing kids, they taught me so much. They taught me about how to rip off a bank… I didn’t know anything about that life, but I learned to listen."
To connect with the students who didn’t care about her perfect lesson plans, it all came down to cookies — hundreds of cookies.
"There were so many fights," said Thomson. "So for anyone who wasn’t involved, they got a cookie. Then they started to listen."
Today, everything still comes down to her voice students. She started to teach singing for free on her lunch hour. Then, finally, there were so many students coming that she decided to teach singing full time in 1998.
"I don’t hold auditions," said Thomson. "If I have room then they are welcome."
Throughout the years she has watched her students win local and national awards. One of her students was even accepted to The Juilliard School in New York City.
A constant in her life has been the importance of family, said Thomson, and the ability to keep moving forward in life.
"Life is wonderful," said Thomson. "It’s sometimes very tough but that’s when you grow, and you can’t get to my point in life without having had a few little things along the way. But that’s what helps us learn."

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