A Tribute by Keyna Bracken
My dear DIELWEN BRACKEN Teacher, mentor, advocate, adventurist, visionary. Fondly called "Di" or "Mamgu" her indomitable spirit was a force to be reckoned with. Despite her diminutive stature, exacerbated over recent years by osteoporosis and scoliosis, the effects of which she acknowledged with her customary grace and humour, my mother exuded an enormous presence that appeared unquenchable. Suddenly and peacefully while at home in Hamilton Ontario on May 29th, the light went out-leaving all who knew her stunned and in darkness.
Born March 15th, 1935 in the village of Trehafod, Wales, Dielwen Elizabeth Sault proudly called herself a coalminer's daughter and never forgot her humble beginnings. Despite living in her adopted homeland of Canada for over half her life, Di ensured her family understood and respected her/ working class roots and their Welsh heritage. It was her personal mission to lead her beloved grandchildren, Tywen and Brynne, on several occasions and as recently as last year, back to the Rhondda valley to perceive where and how she spent her formative years. Her childhood provided the cornerstone to anchor her life in selfless generosity and tireless advocacy for those less fortunate. Ultimately, loss, in a variety of guises, shaped her life's journey and cemented her unwavering desire to help others. Blessed with keen intellect and natural curiosity, the loss of her mother while still a teen propelled her into a career where she could help others. At that time, an aspiring young woman in a small village in Wales had very few career options. Medicine, for which she would have been a natural fit, was never an option, but fortunately for a generation of young impressionable minds, teaching was. An adventurist at heart, she seized the opportunity to move halfway around the world to take up her first post in Hong Kong. Hong Kong provided a bustling, cosmopolitan community full of opportunity which my mother, despite her unfamiliarity, tackled head-on. Years and two children later, with the first seeds of political unrest beginning to show, my mother, with typical aplomb and resiliency, agreed to immigrate to Canada with my father, Peter Bracken. Our family eventually settled in Oakville Ontario and, once satisfied that both my brother and I were safely ensconced in school, she devoted her considerable time and energy to teaching. Known for her insistence on the "Queen's English" and uncompromising high standards, she was simultaneously the teacher most feared and loved. Her thirty-five-year teaching career forged enduring friendships with teaching colleagues, many of whom she continued to interact with weekly if not daily right up until her death. She mentored hundreds of students and young teachers and was always "tickled pink" when she received messages from former students on social media attesting to her enduring importance to them.
A life-threatening health crisis occurred when I was a young teen, which resulted in the loss of her colon and fundamentally altered her life's course. She quickly found kinship with the local Ostomy society and over the years built impressive expertise, which she volunteered tirelessly as always, to anyone, anytime. A natural leader, she devoted innumerable hours to local, Canadian, and International groups to champion lifesaving ostomy surgery and access to ostomy supplies. Whether attending a meeting in South America as the first female president of the International Ostomy Association or more recently, negotiating with Iranian officials to secure acceptance of a desperately needed Ostomy supply shipment, her energy and commitment to help others never faltered.
Whatever the situation demanded, regardless of her previous experience, Di could adapt and handle it. This was never more evident than honing her impressive and self-learned IT skills to produce the Ostomy newsletter digitally. A devoted teacher, my mother sacrificed her career and retired at fifty-eight in order to look after my children. She wanted to nurture the same respect for education, social justice and equity in them, the same way she had done for my brother Kerig and I. She told me on many occasions that she wanted to have a significant influence on her grandchildren's lives and was not content to merely "babysitting" on the sidelines. She became their Mamgu (Welsh for grandmother) and cultivated a loving, nurturing environment affording both challenges and security. She helped raise Tywen and Brynne as she had with her own children. "Reach for the stars" Respect is earned, not given".
Her mantra in my youth, once again resounded in our home. Her advice and opinion were always forthcoming, whether or not you wanted to hear it. It was during this time that my brother's life began to unravel. Despite all of her efforts and devotion, Kerig passed away in September 2016. His loss deeply affected my mother, yet outwardly she remained her buoyant self, with renewed resolve and commitment to family. Family has always been her priority and although her biological family is very small, her extended family is legion and spread around the globe. These last four years, my spouse Jim and I have had the immense privilege of living with Di in our home in Hamilton. Our relationship flourished and she became my muse in addition to her already formidable role as anchor.
She became Mamgu to Jim's children, Brendan and Alley, and an ever-growing circle of friends. She leaves her only sibling Teifion (Gayle), my family, and her many close friends in darkness struggling to illuminate our lives from her lasting spark.
If you would like to make a donation in her memory please consider some of these; Friends of Ostomates Worldwide (Canada), Workers Action Center, CAMH Foundation, and the Ontario SPCA, and Humane Society. A virtual memorial will be held in the future. Di loved dogs, especially labs, although the recent addition of Lola the Aussie doodle did meet with her approval; licorice allsorts, fish and chips, tennis, and Boney M. She did not "suffer fools gladly" and detested bigotry, racism and social injustice. She was a world traveller.
A Tribute by Barry Maughan
Di Brackens sudden passing has saddened her family, friends, colleagues and the ostomy family worldwide.
I am sure all of us who have known Di will have recognised that as well as being an exemplary, caring mother and grandmother she was a talented leader with an indomitable humanitarian spirit.
I first met Di in Calgary in 1997 at the IOA World Congress but in was later in 2001 and 2004 that I realised the work she was doing in the IOA team at the time for ostomates worldwide.
It was a privilege to work in her team from 2004 and realise the foresight and determination Di had to take an idea, make it into a project and take it to fruition.
Ostomates in all the continents benefitted from the many projects she led or was part of the team. I recall well working feverishly with Di, at a conference, to complete the project application for the ATH projects in China and India. Di's support for others in their leadership roles was an outstanding feature of her qualities.
Jackie and I became her friends and we shared many great social times at conferences and meetings. Di managed a trip to New Zealand where we shared a wonderful week of touring and conviviality. She managed to purchase merino knitting wool she wanted in Hamilton New Zealand after watching the renowned sheep show in Rotorua.
A highlight for myself was to present Di, at her home conference in Toronto, the Archie Vinitsky Award on behalf of IOA (International Ostomy Association). This award is for dedicated and outstanding service to ostomates worldwide and The International Ostomy Association.
Di Bracken in her lifetime has contributed so much to help others.
A Tribute by Harikesh Buch
What can I say about Ms. Dielwen Bracken popularly known as Di
She was a mother to me and grandmother to my family members. I am sure she had similar relationship with many people around the world including the Ostomy Industry leaders.
Mostly this was due to her wales family background and her work experience in England, Hong Kong and finally in Toronto, Canada, as a teacher. She had this unique background of staying in Europe, Asia and Canada as well as extensive travel in many countries of the world not only for ostomy work but as a tourist as well.
I met her for the first time in a meeting for Asian Ostomy Association ( AOA) in Penang, Malaysia in November 1999 along with Mr Ken Aukett (past IOA president) and Mr John Cardosa (past AOA president) , Prof Carlo Pezcoller (Colorectal surgeon Modena, Italy) and two expert ETs from Australia and USA.
It was love at first sight with this group, especially with Di. She was a very carrying, kind, passionate and dedicated leader of International Ostomy Association (IOA) as well as a team player who wanted to make life of Ostomates better specially in the under privileged countries of Asia.
Our group tried to do things nobody from IOA had thought or done before. For instance, we discussed teaching programs over a dinner table in a meeting in Penang, and ultimately put it in action in Asia, in the following year. With the financial support from The Lions Club of Modena, Italy, and Carlo Pezcoller being the main supporter and founder member of the LFSC (Lions for Stoma Care) project, we could train health care workers in short course of five days in Asian countries and Di was a very important part of this group.
With this experience in Asia and Di becoming IOA president, she became a part of international travelling teaching team with that she could also help in Spanish speaking countries of South America and few countries of Africa specially Kenya.
She also trained health care workers in Asian, South American and Kenya International Stoma Care Advocacy Program (ISCAP), which was written by Mrs Brenda Flanagan (Past IOA president) with support from industry but it was Di who made it popular and pushed in many countries of Asia, South America and Africa.
After stepping down from IOA she continued to work with Friends of Ostomates Worldwide, Canada (FOWC). Through this, she sent ostomy products to many countries of the world specially Kenya and Iran. Her last major work was to send ostomy products to Iranian ostomy society despite of major sanctions against the country by way of taking the help of an international lawyer to complete the paperwork in both countries' government. It was finally received by Iranian ostomy society few weeks ago.
Ostomates throughout the world were touched by her for better life. I was privileged to have known her so closely and work in many countries of Asia, South America, and some countries of Africa, for over two decades. My family in Mumbai was honoured as she came to India and stayed at our home few times to have a first-hand experience of how Indian family lives as joint family, latest being in January 2020.
Every time she visited us in Mumbai, she was invited by Dr Ashok Mehta, past president of Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) for dinner at his house which is rare. During one of the dinners, Ashok Mehta asked her where was she staying and her instantaneous reply was with Harikesh's family in his house. Dr Ashok Mehta was surprised and dumbfounded and asked her why? She replied that it was a rare opportunity for her to stay with Indian joint family and understand how exactly they live together. Dr Ashok Mehta was so impressed with her reply and here dedication to improve quality of life of Ostomates throughout the world that every time she was at dinner at his house, he personally served her and explained about various Indian dishes that were served. He went out of the way to get financial support from LCIF for short training course under Lions for Stoma Care (LFSC) because people like Carlo Pezcoller and Di were involved in this project in many countries of the world. I was privileged to stay with her and her daughter Dr Keyna and Dr Jim (Dr Keyna's partner) when I visited them in Toronto, Canada. During my stay they had arranged a gathering of about 40 friends. I was very impressed by their kind gesture and that is where I met Di's grandchildren and many FOWC members and Ostomates from Toronto.
She was not only working for Ostomates, but she loved to travel and see many countries and enjoyed glass of wine with her friends. She was ardent follower of cricket and tennis wherever there is a tournament. She also loved music and knitting. In fact, she was regular at knitting classes just so that her fine movements of hands were kept intact. She was very fond of reading books and newspapers.
She loved her family members specially her grandchildren whom she raised as their mother from school days. She was very fond of her daughter Keyna, and big supporter of her work at the Mac Master medical school and university, in Toronto, and working for government sponsored socio medical projects in many underprivileged countries of the world.
Looking back what did I learn from her life?
There is a proverb "Every one that is born in this world will eventually die. But those who leave behind a legacy, are remembered eternally. And these are the people who have made a difference in life of others in this world". In short because of their passing through this world, the world became better. Di worked tirelessly with dedication and commitment to make a difference in life of fellow Ostomates around the world despite of major health challenges that she had to face herself. And she did all of that with a smiling face and she set an example for us.
The true tributes from us would be if we continue to do what she did throughout her life.
Regards and lots of love