Barbara Buffie had many interests but there were few more important than education.
It was that love of learning that inspired Buffie to become involved in her local school board. In 1978, she accepted a role as a citizen member of the River East School Division board of trustees and served in an advisory capacity on its education and policy committee for four years.
In October 1983, Buffie successfully ran for trustee and served in various capacities on the board including chairwoman (1992-93) until stepping down in 1995 due to health concerns. Following a return to health, she was re-elected to the River East board in a byelection and served until retirement in 2002.
Along the way, she served on virtually every committee on the school board, as well as a pair of stints as a regional director with the now Manitoba School Boards Association.
Ironically, education wasn’t a huge part of Buffie’s upbringing.
"She came from a family where education wasn’t all that important. I think she always had some regrets about that," says Howard Buffie, her husband of 58 years.
"I said to her many times after we got married: why don’t you go back to university? She probably gave it some consideration but I think the school trustee route was more appealing to her. She saw something there she could be useful doing."
Buffie died in March at 82, following a lengthy illness from diabetes. She is survived by her husband, three daughters, Laura (Jeff), Carolyn, and Heather (Dana), as well as two grandsons, Taylor and Quinn.
"My mother was a very bright person. She just loved to learn," says Heather. "I think that’s partially where her passion for education came from.
"She felt it was important for her to encourage it in others, especially since she didn’t have the opportunity when she was younger. She was learning right until the end when she simply couldn’t anymore."
Former trustee Bob Fraser first got to know Buffie during her time as a citizen member of the River East School Board and they remained close friends.
The two served on various committees together, including one tasked with helping the division transition to a new model for high schools that included Grade 9. It wasn’t a popular idea at the time, but Fraser remembers Buffie handling the blowback with grace and aplomb.
"That was one of those issues that all of the trustees got lots of phone calls about," he recalls. "But she was always prepared to accept phone calls, whether it was the press or parents or concerned citizens. She wouldn’t brush anybody off. That’s just the way she was.
"She had the kind of personality where she cared about the students, she cared about the parents and she cared about the community as a whole. She was such a community-oriented person."
Fraser also recalls a person who had an uncanny ability to analyze and distill information. She was detail-oriented and was one of the first members of the River East board to take notes during presentations — a practice several of fellow trustees adopted soon after.
"She was the type of trustee that cared. When I say that, I mean she was meticulous. That was the one thing that people who served with her always knew. If Barbara put up her hand to speak, she knew what she was talking about."
All three daughters went on to become teachers.
Heather, the youngest, says while her mom and the example she set were huge influences, she never pushed them to pursue that career.
"I don’t know if my mom really influenced us to become teachers, but she really influenced us in terms of pursuing a secondary school education. There was always an expectation that was something we were going to do," she says.
"For me, she was always an extremely hard worker and passionate about what she did. I think she really instilled that in us, to choose something we were passionate about. She always wanted us to do something we love. Teaching just happened to be our passion from the time we were kids."
Buffie instructed her children well but also learned from them. Seeing their dedication to their jobs helped shape how she saw hers as a school trustee.
"I think she was a great trustee because she could see things from both sides. She saw that we were teachers and how hard we worked and our passion for children’s learning, but she could also see things from a parent’s point of view... She did a great job of balancing things," Heather says.
Buffie was also passionate about cooking. She took gourmet lessons with a culinary instructor who studied in France and there was nothing she enjoyed more than wowing family and friends with her latest gastronomic delights.
"She was an amazing cook. One of the things I miss the most is the great meals she used to put together for us," Howard says.
Buffie also loved to travel. She and Howard used to pack up the family car each summer for lengthy excursions. Later, the couple spent their winters at a regular vacation spot at Grand Bahamas, or met up with friends in Hawaii or Florida.
As public as her work as a school trustee was, Buffie could be an intensely private person. Over the years, she dealt with several health scares, including diabetes, kidney disease and three bouts of breast cancer, and underwent several surgeries to her hips and back. She remained stoic throughout, only sharing that information with those closest to her.
"Her saying was: it is what it is. She just hunkered down and rolled with it," Heather says. "I don’t think she ever wanted to come across as complaining."