A life well lived and fully shared celebrated
March 6, 2017
As a drone with a tiny camera overhead captured the final rites at York cemetery on March 4, a total of 25 white doves were released into the sky marking the end of Raphaelita Walker’s well lived and fully shared life.
The dove represents peace and faith which was what this wonderful woman was all about.
She died on Valentine’s Day – February 14 – in her 90th year.
Walker, who always ended a conversation with the words, ‘Love You’, became ill last year and the prognosis wasn’t good.
“But this never stopped her,” said stepson Hamlin Grange in the eulogy. “She never slowed down.”
For the last two decades, she was an active member of the Jamaica Independence Church Committee in Toronto that planned the annual service to mark the country’s independence anniversary.
“Last year, the committee met at her place when she couldn’t physically leave home to attend the meetings because that’s what she wanted,” Grange, a diversity and inclusion strategist, noted. “She said, ‘I will make the phone calls tomorrow because I’m home doing nothing’. That was signature Raphaelita.”
Married in 1955 three years after their first meeting, Walker and her husband, Gifford, left Jamaica two years later for England. She registered for modelling and dress design courses and secured employment in a boutique where she could utilize her skills. In addition, she was an active volunteer in her community, often lending a helping hand to newcomers.
Frustrated by a rising wave of anti-Black sentiment in the early 1960s and the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigration Act, the Walker’s came to Toronto in 1963 in search of a better life.
They joined the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) which was their second home and, for nearly four decades, were Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus at the annual JCA Kids Christmas party.
She worked as an assistant housekeeper at the Sheraton Hotel and a dress designer at a downtown store before entering the health care field. Along the way, the Walker’s put in quality time and money in almost every JCA endeavour.
They also opened their Toronto home to many students coming from Jamaica and newcomers who arrived here without support.
“Raph, like so many women from the Caribbean, came to Canada for a better life, but they also made Canada better,” Grange pointed out. “They were skilled women who came as domestic workers but eventually became much more – teachers, nurses and caregivers to the elderly. Their story is Raph’s story, filled with hope, compassion and love.”
Last December, nearly 250 guests braved a winter storm to be at Walker’s milestone birthday party at the JCA.
“It’s hard to believe it was nearly two months ago that she was dancing to one of her favourite tunes, ‘Electronic Boogie’, and doing the Electronic Slide,” added Grange, a former Toronto Police Services Board member. “She sure had some moves…With all the uncertainties and hate in the world today, I suppose the Good Lord decided he needed a little help, so he called her home.”
Almost 850 mourners packed into Revivaltime Tabernacle Church to pay their final respects to Walker who was a Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) Canada life member. They included her daughter Olivia “Babsy” Grange who is Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport, Jamaica’s Local Government & Community Development minister Desmond McKenzie, high commissioner Janice Miller, Mayor John Tory, Ontario’s Education minister Mitzie Hunter, former legislative assembly speaker Alvin Curling and gospel & reggae singer Carlene Davis who did a musical selection.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness and former PM’s Edward Seaga and Portia Simpson-Miller sent messages of condolence.
“Aunt Raph’s early years in Jamaica were the basis that shaped her life,” said Holness. “In the 1950s and 60s, she developed a love for service and a love for emulating one of her favourite persons, Sir Alexander Bustamante (Jamaica’s first PM)…She not only emulated Bustamante, but offered invaluable service in the trenches to organize and mobilize persons to take their civic responsibility keenly. She worked hard for Jamaica and for that we are grateful.”
Simpson-Miller described her relationship with Walker as that of a mother and daughter.
“She was a real person in every sense and the words, ‘Love You’, followed by her infectious smile symbolized Aunt Raph. She was a lady and a mother. I have no doubt that her work and worth as a woman has had a profound positive impact on my life, even to this day.”
Seaga said Walker’s goodness and humanity were hallmarks of her life.
“The words, ‘Love You’, and the accompanying genuine smile spoke volumes about the integrity of the woman,” he noted. “As a JCA longtime member and PACE life member, she took the best of the Jamaican lifestyle and culture to Canada and handed it out with warmness and love. We shall not forget the smiles, laughter and friendship that Aunt Raph has left printed on the sands of time.”
The Jamaican delegation at the funeral also included retired senior superintendent of police Newton Amos who is the Institute of Sports deputy chair, superintendent David White and former Member of Parliament Verna Parchment who are family members; sports administrator Dawn Heron and Grange’s senior adviser Lenford Salmon and her entertainment special adviser Clifton “Specialist” Dillon.
Toronto Police Service members escorted the funeral procession from the church to the cemetery.