Cathy Aitken (left) and her friend Margaret Boyd hold stuffies donated by the community for Toys for Tots in a December 2014 photo. (Steven Heywood/file photo) Cathy Aitken (left) and her friend Margaret Boyd hold stuffies donated by the community for Toys for Tots in a December 2014 photo. (Steven Heywood/file photo)

Sidney remembers stalwart volunteer

Memorial on Friday for Cathy Aitken, longtime head volunteer for the Mary Winspear Centre

Cathy Aitken valued her independence, kept busy, and lived life on her own terms.

One of Sidney’s most recognized volunteers, Aitken donated her time at the Mary Winspear Centre from its opening in 2001 until she retired in 2017. The centre announced her death on Aug. 26. Aitken was 88.

Harold Aitken, the oldest of Cathy’s four children, said she was always involved in the community as far back as he can remember. Cathy and her late husband Robert shared a love of square dancing (he was a square dance caller) and after he died, she carried on serving as an executive of a local square dancing association.

“Every time we turned around she was doing something,” he said.

She was born in Winnipeg on June 19, 1930, moved to Calgary and ended up in Victoria for her husband’s Navy career. Aitken did not play an instrument, but her love of music and dance was very clear.

The Friday before she died, Harold said she “picked up her girlfriends in her car, they all went for lunch, and she took them all home.” She had just had a physical and renewed her car insurance. Even though she had chest problems and dialysis three times a week for the last three years, Harold said she kept a smile on her face despite the pain.

As head volunteer, Aitken would ensure shows had sufficient volunteers to run, from ushers to front of house to collecting tickets to working the bar. It was a way for seniors to stay active in their community and continue to learn. Aitken herself got her bartending ticket “when she was about 82, I think,” said Harold.

When the physical demands were too great, she retired as head volunteer in 2017, and the Mary Winspear put a plaque in the front row with her name on it.

“For the rest of her life, she could go to any show at any time. There was always a seat for her.”

The centre released a statement saying they were saddened to learn that the community has lost a valued and loved member.

”She brought smiles and joy to the hearts of everyone who witnessed her energy and vibrancy.”

Cathy could be seen dancing in the aisles of the Charlie White Theatre to everything from Led Zeppelin to George Canyon.

“She was always in the corner in the front row, and she would always dance.”

According to her son, bands would sometimes ask Cathy to dance to egg on the crowd, saying “if Cathy can dance, you can dance.”

In an interview, Sidney mayor Steve Price said he was saddened to hear of her death, and said it was a “tremendous loss to the community.

“I think she epitomized what the Town’s all about. Just with her sense of community,” said Price. “She volunteered for virtually everything.”

Besides her work with the Mary Winspear, Aitken volunteered for Canadian Blood Services, Toys for Tots, the Sidney Museum, Star Cinema, and the Sidney Sister Cities Association. For her work, Cathy was honoured with a nomination from the Hearts of the Community Awards for her years of volunteerism on the Saanich Peninsula.

“In a way, she’ll be remembered so fondly by everybody,” said Price.

“I think that’s when you truly leave your mark in life, when everyone around you has nothing but good things to say about you.”

“She was one of those rare people.”

A service for Cathy Aitken will be held Friday, Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. at First Memorial in Royal Oak and is open to all. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the renal unit of the Royal Jubilee Hospital.

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