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Obituary of Donna Isabel PISTELL
Donna Isabel Cordelia Pistell, February 3, 1940 – October 24, 2020 Donna Pistell, advocate for people with disabilities, devoted friend, and independent spirit, died peacefully at her home in Sidney on October 24, 2020, surrounded by lifelong friends. Donna was predeceased by her parents, Ted and Eleanor Pistell. Donna is survived by a group of close and loving friends who were proud to consider themselves her family, and who deeply grieve her loss. The group includes Sachi Tamura, Penny Sigouin and Judith Armstrong, of Victoria; Anne Scott of Prince George; Carol Gray of Ottawa, Ontario; Jayne-Ann O’Reilly of Denman Island; Liz Hewetson of Ladysmith and Linda Hill of Duncan; devoted caregivers and friends Robyn Walker, Jenal Kennedy, Karen Chenard, Lorian Maendel, Tera Rail and many others over the years. Thank you also to Donna’s longtime case manager Val MacDonald and her family physician Dr. Ambrose Marsh. Donna was born on February 3, 1940 in Victoria, and as a result of a severe birth injury, lived with profoundly disabling cerebral palsy throughout her life. Although she was unable to walk, care for herself, or even speak clearly, Donna’s adventurous spirit, wit, and sparkling intelligence drew people to her. Because Donna’s speech was so hard to understand, decoding a single sentence could often take many minutes, and would usually require the use of her alphabet board. Despite this, Donna always insisted on using the specific words she had in mind (rather than acceding to her conversational partner’s guesses), and chose her words with precision and humour. In the words of one friend, “You might spend 15 minutes puzzling out what Donna wanted to say, only to find she was poking fun at you!” It was always worth it. As a young woman, Donna decided to live independently, and with the consent of her brave and loving parents, was able to live on her own for the rest of her life. A big moment in Donna's life was when she got her first power wheelchair and was able to go where she wanted on her own, without someone pushing her. She excitedly told friends how wonderful the freedom was, comparing it to flying. Another milestone for Donna was the purchase of her own home, a beautiful condominium in Sidney, which she extensively customized for wheelchair accessibility (and to feature her favourite colour, purple!). She had always wanted to own her own home, and moving in after a year of searching for the perfect place was a dream come true for her. Donna’s fragile 80-lb frame radiated a gusto for life. In the 1980s and 90s she took up sailing, often going out on the water in Esquimalt in a specially modified boat; she was always especially thrilled on those occasions that she soloed. Accompanied by friends Liz and Bill, Donna went to Europe in 1985, travelling to England, Wales, France , Switzerland, and Germany, then spending a week in London. In 2010, at the age of 70, Donna achieved her lifelong dream of a trip to Greece. Donna spent a month with her caregivers driving throughout the country in a wheelchair-friendly van, engrossed in museums, archeological digs (her passion) and savouring Greek cuisine. She was an avid photographer and shared her photos of this trip with anyone willing to relive it with her. Advocating for the rights of people with disabilities was always an important part of Donna’s life. Some of her letters to the provincial government sparked questions in the legislature, where Donna was mentioned by name. As well, she was often asked to speak to advocacy groups on this topic. She was part of the fight against cutbacks to home support, taking hours to type each letter, as she had only the use of one finger. In the words of one friend, “Donna’s letters were always perfect both in print and in meaning. She fought the good fight!” During her 40s, Donna studied at the University of Victoria, completing a substantial number of courses towards a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, with a focus on Pacific and Asian Studies. During this time, she also worked for a period as a research assistant for one of her professors. Donna was a devoted friend, an exceptional person, and a lifelong student. She loved reading, watching videos, listening to light classical music and opera, and keeping up with the news. She was a formidable opponent at Scrabble, backgammon, and other board games, and always enjoyed attending lectures or going for a walk in Butchart Gardens or by the sea. Animals and children were drawn to her, and she to them. Despite her tiny frame, she relished her food and especially loved eating out, including Japanese food, Chinese food, seafood, brunches, and more. Donna was “tough” in the good sense, and the world is a better place because of her. She will be truly missed by her friends, caregivers, and all who knew her. In light of COVID-19, a celebration of Donna’s life will probably take place in spring or summer 2021. A legacy fund in Donna’s memory will also be established at UVic. If you’d like to be updated on details for either of these, please contact Sachi Tamura at Sachi.Tamura@gmail.com.
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