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This article was published 24/8/2019 (557 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For nearly 40 years, Gwen Crawley was something of an institution to those who walked through Klinic’s doors.
People at the Wolseley community health-care centre got to know her as a generous spirit for those who needed someone to listen, and a determined ally for those who needed someone to fight for them.
"Gwen always looked out for people who needed looking out for," said Harry Crawley, her husband of nearly 50 years. "She was always on the side of the people who came through the door, no matter how much difficulty they were in. And she was their advocate."
A medical assistant, Crawley was also a proud "pamphlet lady." A name she earned through decades of collecting resources from organizations across Winnipeg, in the hopes no one would walk out the door without getting something — a brochure on counselling services, a booklet of numbers for toll-free support lines — that could help them. She was a friend people could count on to help them get what they needed.
Should someone you love fall on hard times, down a dark spiral of mental illness or addiction, she was the light you would hope they’d find at the end of their tunnel, said Cathy Trojan, a health services intake employee at Klinic who worked with Crawley for the last two years.
"Gwen was goodness personified," said Trojan. "She was just such an amazing person."
Over the years, Klinic grew, shifting from a volunteer-run, youth drop-in centre that once had to move into a small apartment when it lost funding in 1972, to a slightly more bureaucratic organization that now serves tens of thousands of clients each year.
That shift, along with a jump in the need for addictions services in particular, made the job of front-line staff increasingly trying, Trojan said.
But for Crawley, compassion was always what guided her work.
"We have to try to meet them where they’re at, and she was one of the best people ever to do that," said Trojan. "Sometimes I thought, ‘I’m gonna lose my mind.’ But we supported each other, we worked alongside each other. We had some laughs, and we talked… It was just so good to have her there."
Some of Klinic’s long-term clients and staff got to know Crawley at the centre’s iconic Broadway location, a character house with a large tree in front. Others met her when she moved to Klinic’s more recent Portage Avenue location, the flag-adorned building next to Vimy Ridge Memorial Park.
Crawley had an effect on the people she met — many of whom made a point to attend to the service held to honour a life well-lived, and to share how her life had affected their own.
"I loved working alongside Gwen. What a gift I was given," Trojan told the packed room gathered to honour Crawley that day at the Viscount Gort Hotel. Many of them would share their own similar stories. "I look at the chair beside me, and know what I’ve — we’ve — lost."
That day, Harry Crawley said he realized just how far-reaching Gwen’s impact had been. He knew her journey had started much earlier.
Their life together was a storied one: three children, four houses, nearly 50 years of marriage and countless pets.
It began with a cup of butter.
The two moved into adjoining suites in the Gannon Apartments on Roslyn Road on the same day in 1970. A few weeks later, Remembrance Day rolled around, and Harry realized he didn’t have any butter.
"In those days, on Nov. 11, you couldn’t buy anything except bread and milk, maybe, even in corner stores," Harry said. "So I went next door to borrow some.
"(It was) maybe a little bit more than a coincidence," Harry said with a laugh. "I had seen her, I knew who she was."
The rest, as they say, is history. Less than two years later, Gwen and Harry got married and moved into their first house together. Two years after they moved in, they welcomed their first son, Joe, and relocated to a slightly bigger house about 15 minutes away.
Three years after that, they had their daughter, Caitlin, and a year later, they moved again, this time to a house where they would stay for more than a decade.
About 11 years later, the family moved one last time, to Sapton Road, where they would stay for nearly 30 years. They also welcomed their youngest, Hugh.
The Sapton Road house was the place where Crawley could often be found spending time on the porch swing in the summer, or in front of the fire with a cup of English breakfast tea in the winter.
It was the place where, after she was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, she spent her final days with her family. And, when she died March 2 at age 69, it was a place that suddenly seemed different, less vibrant.
"It’s a quiet place without her," Harry said. "She is missed."
The drop-in area at Klinic, too, seems different. Her former colleagues, along with her family, have envisioned a way to make sure her legacy isn’t forgotten.
Next summer, a plaque adorned with her name will hang on the wall in the drop-in area when the health-care centre moves into a building on Sherbrook Street.
"People were very glad to see that happen, that there would be some recognition of her years of service at Klinic," said Trojan. "Something that would always be there as a reminder."