As a young kid growing up in the years just after the Second World War, I maintained the old belief that most of us—or at least many of us—had a favourite relative we looked up to during that impressionable stage in our lives.
I know I did.
And, through all these decades, each time we met up, I thought of her as “my favourite cousin.” But gosh no, I never said it out loud, maybe fearing it would be an embarrassment, if not to her, to myself.
Isabel Townsend, though born in Cape Breton, came to New Glasgow at a young age, where she spent most of her school days.
Three years older than myself, she was a daughter of Dr. Henry Townsend—“Uncle Henry” to me. He was a younger brother of my father’s. They lived on Washington Street in New Glasgow, just “up around the corner” from our home on Temperance Street.
I began to appreciate her athletic abilities and love for sports when she preceded me through the halls and classrooms of New Glasgow High, where athletic director John (Brother) MacDonald was a big influence on her sports activities.
By the time I reached Grade 9, she was graduating and moving along to Acadia University, where she was truly a multi-sport star.
At Acadia, she played on the women’s hockey team, was a competitive synchronized swimmer, and a member of the varsity basketball, volleyball and field hockey teams. She might have been the one who introduced the term “multi-sport” in the valley.
With so much athletic participation, imagine the time she spent away from the books. Yet her studies successfully resulted in her obtaining an arts degree in history and a bachelor of education degree in physical education.
Guess what? There was a young sports-minded man on campus also eyeing a career in teaching. His name was Jim (Lefty) MacVicar, also born in Cape Breton. He, like Isabel, was in the class of 1955.
After graduation, Isabel and Lefty both began their careers at Oxford Regional High School where they taught and coached.
Did I mention that Isabel Townsend became Isabel MacVicar? That was in 1957 and, by 1964, they moved to Dartmouth where they taught at various schools, participated in community activities while raising two daughters and two sons, all young and talented athletes in their own right.
There was still lots of time left over for Isabel and Lefty to spend in Pictou County, especially in the Black Point and Little Harbour area where they loved their cottage and loved the waters of the Northumberland Strait.
There’s another guess what: Lefty got to know the New Glasgow area before he and Isabel reached the Acadia campus.
You see, he became a baseball player at a very young age. In fact, he began throwing rocks, he once told me, by the time he was four. That, not pitching, was how he became Lefty by name.
He was a pretty darn good pitcher too, good enough to be invited to the Philadelphia Phillies training camp one year. He didn’t go. Later, he sometimes wished he hadn’t allowed home sickness to keep him in Cape Breton.
Go to Philadelphia to play? He went a pretty far distance in 1953 as it was, joining the pitching staff of the Stellarton Albions in the Halifax and District Baseball League. That was the summer in which the Albions were moving towards a third consecutive league championship.
He pitched for Bill Brooks’ team for two months and lived with second baseman Kay (Baby) Rogers. But Brooks wanted to make changes, one of which was dropping Lefty to bring in a big American addition, Monk Raines. Old H&D fans would certainly recall that name.
Lefty took his baseball back to the Glace Bay area, and played for teams in Springhill and Newfoundland. In the early 1960s, the married Lefty pitched for the New Glasgow Bombers in the Pictou County Twilight Baseball League.
But back to Isabel.
She always wanted to be doing something, and that included joining a quilting guild in Pictou County, and serving as a volunteer with the Little Harbour Fire Department.
Most of all, she found another athletic challenge and fell in love with it. That’s when she developed a passion for paddling as a member of the A Breast A River dragon boat team, competing in places like Ottawa, Detroit, Vancouver and Florida.
No, that wasn’t all she did—for good reason. She enjoyed running, biking, skating, snowshoeing, skiing and cross country.
I mentioned their four children and, of course, their natural love for sports. It couldn’t have been any other way.
Kathy starred in volleyball like her mom, Janet participated on Nova Scotia’s field hockey team at Canada Games, Jamie had a great baseball career like his dad, while Andrew was good enough in hockey to play professionally. Understandably, all of them were in other sports as well.
Following Lefty’s death years ago, Isabel continued living in Dartmouth. Every once in a while we met up at things like services at Woodlawn United Church and concerts in the metro area.
I hadn’t seen her—or heard about her—since COVID-19 arrived almost a year and a half ago. But that wasn’t a concern under the pandemic conditions that changed our lives so dramatically.
Then, two weekends ago, when I turned to the obituaries, before reading her name, her familiar face and smile was looking back at me.
Isabel Townsend MacVicar, my favourite cousin, had passed away suddenly at home. By the calendar, she was 86 years of age. By her heart and enthusiasm, she was more like half that age, considering her many activities.
She had an eventful life, a life that developed many, many friendships with all who knew her.
I’ll surely miss not running into her around Dartmouth.