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Elaine Thompson remembered for smile, strength and sense of humour

Long-time Channel Cats coach recently lost her battle with cancer; 'Orillia truly lost a really good part of our spirit when Elaine passed,' mayor says

Elaine Thompson wasn’t one to sit still.

Even as she battled Stage 4 ovarian cancer, the Orillia woman was working three jobs — coaching with the Orillia Channel Cats Swim Club and helping with bookkeeping for Brewery Bay Food Company and Affordable Business Service.

“She worked those three jobs up until November. She didn’t want to stop,” said her daughter, Meredith Thompson-Edwards.

Thompson died Feb. 29 at the age of 75.

She left her mark on the community in many ways, but she was likely best known for her work with the Channel Cats.

Passionate about swimming since she was a young girl, Thompson became a coach with the local club when Thompson-Edwards joined in 1982.

“She was involved ever since,” her daughter said. “She just believed, from a lifesaving aspect, that every child should learn how to swim. She just loved the water. It’s always been a part of her life.”

For Thompson, it was about more than simply teaching kids how to swim.

“She wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” Thompson-Edwards said.

It’s safe to say she did. During her time with the Channel Cats, she coached in the under-8, synchronized, senior novice and Channel Kittens divisions. Since her death, the young swimmers have reached out to share their memories of the coach, describing her as “kind, encouraging and strong.”

“They say they’ll always remember her sense of humour,” Thompson-Edwards said.

That sense of humour was “omnipresent,” said Mayor Steve Clarke, who employed Thompson at Brewery Bay.

“She enjoyed a good joke and always had one ready,” he said. “She had a great work ethic and a phenomenal sense of humour.”

Clarke got to see first-hand how much of an impression Thompson had on those she coached.

“People would pop in (at Brewery Bay) who hadn’t seen her in years and she had coached them,” she recalled. “They were so positively affected by her ways.”

Thompson’s death is a loss for the entire community, he added.

“Orillia truly lost a really good part of our spirit when Elaine passed. She just had this wonderful presence,” he said. “She certainly won’t soon be forgotten.”

Michael Gordon, treasurer for the Channel Cats, worked with Thompson since he joined the organization more than 10 years ago. Like Thompson-Edwards, he described Edwards as someone who went above and beyond her coaching duties.

“She was an incredibly phenomenal swimming coach, but she went way beyond that in terms of how well she got to know the swimmers. She really cared about them,” he said. “If she saw some of the kids were feeling down, she would take a moment to talk to them about what was going on in their lives. She was a mentor and a caring adult who was helping them out, showing a real interest. She took a very complete view of swimmers as people, not as narrowly as just athletes.”

Everyone involved with the Channel Cats has been excited about the opening of the new recreation centre, which will be home to the club.

“My only deep sadness is Elaine, as a coach for so long, will never get to stand on the edge of our new pool,” Gordon said.

Thompson did, however, leave a lasting legacy that will be permanently recognized in town. She was among the first class of inductees in the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, after Thompson-Edwards nominated her as a “builder” — the other slot being for athletes.

“She was super-proud of it. Everyone said it was very fitting,” Thompson-Edwards said.

The accolades didn’t stop there. Within the past month, Thompson learned she would be receiving the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, awarded by the Governor General’s office, after she was nominated by Rick Purcell, with whom she worked at Affordable Business Service. She wasn’t around long enough to receive the medal, which is in the mail, but the family will treasure it.

“She was really proud of that,” her daughter said.

Thompson-Edwards believes her mom will be most remembered for “her beautiful smile, her sense of humour and her non-judgmental ways.”

“She looked for the best in everybody.”

Thompson fought Stage 4 cancer for two years, and that show of strength is serving as inspiration for family members as they grieve.

“Even near the end, she said, ‘OK, maybe there’s a chance I’ll get to go back to work,’” Thompson-Edwards said.

At Thompson’s request, there will not be a funeral, but a celebration of life will take place May 9, from 12 to 6 p.m., at the Geneva Event Centre.