TULLE, Claire Marie (Ballantyne)
August 30, 1957 – January 29, 2022
With incredible sadness we wish to let you know Claire has passed away. Claire came into this world in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, the first born of Catherine (Bryan) and Howard Ballantyne (now deceased) and soon thereafter Karen (MacNeil), Brian (now deceased), and Heather (Chieffo) came into the world forming the family. As a child, Claire was an excellent student, and athlete. She graduated from East Pictou regional High School in 1975 and put herself through St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish Nova Scotia graduating in 1980 with degrees in Science and Education. Claire always wanted to be a teacher. Teaching jobs were tight to be found in Nova Scotia and Claire boarded the airplane for Calgary in early September 1980 to seek a job. She was one day from traveling to the northern end of the world for a teaching interview and position when the Calgary Separate School Board called and the interview with Bishop Carroll High School’s cast of characters in the Science Department quickly hired her and she began her teaching career for the next 23 years. Bishop Carroll was a 1970’s experiment in education that focused on continuous progress and self learning, and her mentors were amazing. The teaching and learning environments were incredibly positive, and Claire flourished as a teacher and mentor. It was common for Claire to run into her students many years later and they would happily reminisce of how she helped them find little ways to learn complex subjects. If you did your work, Claire gave loose rein, if you fell behind, Claire was on you 100% daily to get the work done. Her proudest evening every year was the graduation of her students in June.
In the fall of 1980 Claire was at a friend’s after work and drinking a beer when 2 construction fellows came in; one that lived there, Venning Goad, and one who couldn’t hear very well and laughed loudly at life. Claire spilled her beer, Venning laughed, and Claire shot him a look that would freeze your blood. The young man sat spell bound, incredulous that such a female existed on this planet, but too shy and stunned to even speak. On Christmas Eve, as many Maritimers gathered at a house to drown their sorrows for being 5,000 kilometers from the homeland, Claire came over to the young man and asked, “Do you want to hear about my school”? And the love affair of Claire and George began that became their wonderful journey in life together for the next 41 years. Claire remarked recently when she saw me that first time, “you were someone I wanted in my life forever”, and the feelings were so mutual.
During those years, Claire took up 5 pin bowling, and quickly rose to the top of the heap. Men were spell bound when after 10 strings of qualifying in the biggest money tournament in the province, Claire led everyone. Claire would show up on Saturday afternoons to take on the men even up in the money games. Claire represented Alberta in the Nationals several times and in December 1987, Claire picked up her Mom after work at the airport, brought her to the apartment, and headed for Chinook Lanes and the money league. A grilled cheese sandwich, two hours and 4 games later, 1359 pins were toppled shattering the Alberta record that was set in the 1950’s. Her record still stands today, over 33 years later.
At the card table, Claire took money from everybody; as long as the cash was on the table Claire was in. Later in life bridge became her card passion and Claire could see tricks where few other could find the path. Puzzles? Do you know anyone who took apart the Rubik’s Cube and put Vaseline inside it and put it back together? That was so she could spin it faster and beat anyone in a time trial race to solve the Cube.
In 1985 Claire received a set of golf clubs for Christmas and spent the next summer exclusively at the driving range. In 1988 we got married in August, and we joined the Redwood Meadows golf course. Many evenings were spent dodging lightning bolts and playing golf, often joined by Claire’s “baby sister” Heather. Claire always said Heather was her first child, they grew up 7 years apart in age, and Claire would spend summers looking after the children while Howard and Catherine worked. But the location was paradise, as anyone would quickly agree who has visited the Melmerby Beach/Chance Harbour area of Nova Scotia. Heather was another natural athlete, Claire and Heather’s golf matches were legendary, almost always ending up tied, or within one stroke either way. When Claire doubled 18, and Heather sank her second shot from the fairway for an eagle and a tie was one example of the shenanigans that went on.
All the while Claire was teaching and mentoring her students. There was no set home room at Bishop Carroll, the model was much different and was a haven for the athletes living in Calgary and training internationally. Claire would describe how world class medal winning Olympians could travel and take the lesson plans with them and work from afar. There was no internet, no emails back then. And the teachers wrote the lesson plans. But under the tutelage of Claire and Ernie Lakusta, it was the wonders of science and Biology that inspired an amazing number of students who graduated from Bishop Carroll to continue their education to become doctors.
In 1992, the unthinkable happened; Claire who never believed she would have children got pregnant and after 54 hours of labour Megan Catherine was born into the world. Motherhood was Claire’s calling, and in 1994 Carolyn Marie was born. Carolyn recently expressed Claire never laid down a law, she taught to think critically, and quietly it was actions that were taught not words, and the expectations to try were always there. Claire always believed more students failed from the fear of failure and not from actually trying; that is how you learn, you try.
In 2003, Claire felt the lump, and she faced the breast cancer surgeries, chemotherapies, and pills with dogged determination to recover. And recover she did; her teaching career at Bishop Carroll ended, and the full time focus was on family; Heather had three daughters with her late husband Domenico Chieffo; Stephanie in 1993, Maria in 1995, and Nicky in 1996; now there were 5 girls spaced on year apart and over the years they have become inseparable; they call themselves “The Chulles”. Everything was family. In 2012, cancer struck again throughout her abdomen, the surgery was major, and her incredible oncological surgeon Dr. Ghatage said “18 weeks of chemo and I am confident we can get a cure”! His care for Claire was amazing. Claire healed from the surgery, took the chemo and rebounded to see the girls graduate from high school, shoot in the 80’s again and continue to dominate the money leagues in bowling. Claire’s Angels was the team name for Damien, Curtis, Kyle, and Claire and they took the money and laughed. Claire received an invitation by Maureen “Mo”, the organizer of the Priddis Green Ladies Member Guest to join her for the day of golf and festivities. Where else to shoot a hole in one?
In 2016, another diagnosis came in; almost an unheard-of form of leukemia. Dr. Shafey broke the news and attempts to get a cure could only come from chemo to try for a remission, and then a stem cell transplant. After many chemo sessions, the remission was found and enter Nicole, a young lady from Germany who swabbed 10 years earlier to try and save a classmate (Germany dominates the word bank of donors by the way). On June 21, 2017 Nicole’s stem cells arrived and were given to Claire. Claire made a full recovery and went on to terrorize the ladies at Willow Park. Teamed with Bobbie B. “the Little Angel” they went 15-1 in match play over three summers, losing the first year in the final and then winning the next 2 years. The matches were unreal fun to listen to. Claire would walk off that course, and to the patio with a Cheshire grin hoisting the cold beer and “cheating death” one more day. That is how we have lived for years, one more day.
In May 2021, after 20 games of golf and walking the course with ease, an irritation in her left eye began; “must be some goose poop from the fountain at the pond on the golf course” was her belief. Sadly, it was the cancer coming back, and it came back hard. Dr. Shafey was at her side immediately and pulled every trick in the book, but it kept spreading, and finally the realization hit. It was over. Without one word of remorse, not one word of self pity Claire prepared fearlessly for the end of her time in this existence. It was time to see the afterlife. The final days were exclusive to Claire, Heather, Megan, Carolyn and me. To see the strength of her sister Heather and our daughters tending to Claire, to see the strength of what family means, that it is the utmost reason why we exist, it is our purpose, and thanks to Claire we found it.
In the end those were Claire’s last lessons to us, and to the legions of doctors and nurses that treated her we simply bow our heads in thanks and amazement at their devotion to Claire, and for the treatments and help she received. To Dr. Evans, Tory, Nicole, Victor, and the incredible walking angels on earth at the Dulcina Hospice we simply bow again. And to Claire’s silent pallbearers and incredible friends, you have become too many to name. You have given Claire endlessly what money cannot buy; friendship and love. Our eternal thanks