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This article was published 1/5/2021 (267 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
You could take Colleen Horbay out of the Children’s Hospital but you couldn’t take the Children’s Hospital out of her.
After graduating from its nursing training program in 1956, she returned as a pediatric nurse for several years before she got married, immediately becoming the matriarch of a family.
Her husband, Dr. Vincent Horbay, had four children from his first marriage — two sets of twins — and they had another daughter not long afterwards.
But the pull of Children’s Hospital was so strong that she soon started another chapter there — volunteer extraordinaire. Who could match this record? She was on the Book Market committee for 52 years, she was an original committee member of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic and in 2014, she played a leading role in launching the hospital’s food cart program.
"Pediatrics was always where my heart was, because I have always loved helping and being around children," she said after being recognized for her more than half-century of volunteerism several years ago.
"I’ve always been a very positive person. I enjoy people and I like to help out whenever I can."
Horbay died in September after a brief illness.
Born in Winnipeg in 1934, Horbay attended Gordon Bell High School. Although she practised nursing for just a decade or so, it took her around the globe — from God’s Lake in northern Manitoba to Europe, with her dear friend Betty Glidden.
Eldest daughter Angela Huot described her mom as "always positive, lively and always up."
"She put others before herself and lived her life to the fullest. Her favourite activities were family gatherings and entertaining her wide circle of friends," Huot said.
"She loved summers at our cottage at Minaki, which was more swim time and fun family time. She was always organizing events, bridge parties and she helped with fundraisers with the volunteer hospital people there. She enjoyed golfing with the ladies league at Falcon Lake in her later years. She just loved being out there with the kids. She was brave, as she was by herself a lot. My dad only took a month off."
Shelagh Yarnell met Horbay more than 50 years ago when they were both members of the Junior League of Winnipeg, an organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism and improving communities. They became fast friends, celebrating their birthdays — which were just two weeks apart — for decades.
Teaming up with two other members of the Junior League, they presented educational puppet shows for elementary school children around Winnipeg.
Using their puppeteering skills, they were volunteer co-hosts of the weekly in-house television show at Children’s Hospital for a dozen years.
It was during this work that Yarnell saw one of her friend’s best qualities — treating everybody equally.
"She would speak to the head of the hospital in the same manner as the woman mopping the floors of the wards or the man running the elevator. Everybody was equal. Colleen had a genuine interest in everyone" Yarnell said.
They were also part of a fivesome called "A Touch of Trash" that performed at fundraisers, conventions, birthdays, retirement parties and anniversaries. They put words that suited the occasion to well-known songs and regaled their audiences. They never accepted money for their gigs but instead asked that a donation be sent to the Children’s Hospital Foundation.
"Colleen loved Winnipeg. She contributed much to our city. She sat on more boards and committees than I could name, often presiding over the meeting," Yarnell said.
"She was a skilled leader."
That leadership began at home. Huot said her mom ran the house like a nursing station.
"She always had everything so organized. Everything went tickety-boo every day," she said.
"She kept us on a routine. We knew when our meals were, when playtime was and the time to be home. She was great all around with everything. Weekends were always fun. It was hamburger night on Saturday and we had roast beef on Sunday."
She was affectionately called "Dr. Colleen" by her friends and family for her ability to diagnose whatever ailed them, too.
Family was her top priority but friends weren’t too far behind. She would bake for both in the run-up to Christmas and for 20 years on Christmas Eve, she hosted an open house.
"Sometimes we’d have 150 people coming through the house. She loved Christmas more than anything. That was always a highlight, plus Easter and Thanksgiving. That’s when we miss her so much," Huot said.
Yarnell said everybody should be so lucky as to have a friend like hers.
"Colleen was loyal, generous and thoughtful. She was also spontaneous, funny, energetic, off-the-wall and fun to be with. She had a big heart. She talked faster than most of us could think but she was a good listener as well," Yarnell said.
Horbay was also known for her flamboyant style and her trademark green and orange colours. One of her signature items was a green feather boa and she also had an extensive collection of hats.
"Everybody should have a friend with whom they can be really stupid and do outrageous things, a friend who makes your smile broaden and your heart happier," Yarnell said.
In addition to Vincent, her husband of 55 years, she is survived by five children — Mary-Lea (Michael), Angela (Jean-Marc), Beverly (Brian), Thomas (Deborah) and Francesca; grandchildren Russell (Trish), Paul, Patrick (Juliane), Liam and Michael; great-grandsons Bentley and Eli, and many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life will be held when circumstances allow.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to — where else? — the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba.