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Remembering Jean

“Jean was the heart and soul of our family,” recounts John Farrell when describing his late wife.

John’s story began in Cape Breton, in the small village of Benacadie. One of seven boys, he grew up not knowing how or if he would go to university, but several key choices and helpful advice along the way led him to larger cities, higher education, a successful career, and ultimately to creating a life and a family with Jean he is very proud of. 

In high school, John had the option to live with his aunt and uncle, who had no children of their own, in Sydney Mines, about an hour from where he had grown up. He made the choice to move away, and this eventually led him to pursue a Diploma in Engineering at St. Francis Xavier University on the advice of his cousin. He then went onto study at Nova Scotia Technical College (now part of Dalhousie University), where he earned a degree in Electrical Engineering.

After university, John was hired by Bell, and it was with this company he would lead a successful 38-year career – it was also thanks to this company he would meet Jean. His new job took him from his home province to Montreal, Quebec. Born and raised in Montreal, Jean was also working for Bell and the two quickly hit it off – John describing Jean as a ‘striking woman’ with a smile and personality that could light up a room.

John and Jean were married for almost 59 years and over this time their family grew to include three children and five grandchildren. Early in marriage, Jean left her role at Bell to focus on raising the family, volunteering, and elevating those less fortunate in the community.  Jean was a proud early member in the now 50-year Newcomers Club of Ottawa that helps women new to Ottawa or those who have experienced a significant life change to meet new friends and become part of the community.  John continued in executive and leadership roles, including on the board of the Newfoundland Telephone Company Inc., Chair and President of Telecom Canada, Telesat Mobile Inc., and Linmor Technologies Inc., Chair of Northwestel and Chair and CEO of Northern Telephone. During his time with Bell, John saw technology change and grow by leaps and bounds – from the first television coming to Canada, to telephone networks constructed across the country, to buried fiber optic networks coast to coast in Canada and state of the art enhanced digital data and voice networks.  With Telesat Mobile, he launched the first satellite mobile system in Canada.

Together, John and Jean established their lives in Ottawa. They travelled the world, and enjoyed golf, playing bridge, and entertaining old and new friends at both their home and their cottage in the Westport area. Jean continued her active volunteering including with the Royal Conservatory of Music, the junior golf program at the Royal Ottawa, the provincial Quebec Golf junior program, and the May Court Hospice.  Through John and Jean’s passion of investing in education and youth, John became a board member of Algonquin College, and Cape Breton University.   Together they established bursaries for needy students in rural Cape Breton at St. Francis Xavier University and Cape Breton University.  After John’s retirement, they made the decision to leave Ottawa and settle in Cobourg – a town John was familiar with from past work trips.

When they toured the town to look at houses, Jean was quick to decide on their soon-to-be new home, declaring, “This is it,” as they pulled into the driveway. They moved to Cobourg in June of 2005 and quickly became involved in their new community, making new friendships, joining Dalewood Golf Club, Cobourg Yacht Club, Cobourg Rotary, and other organizations. Jean helped in the fundraising activities of the Rotary Club of Cobourg, while John joined the Board of Lakefront Utilities and proudly served on the Northumberland Hills Hospital (NHH) Board, where he got a glimpse of what it takes to run a hospital.

Sadly, after living happily in Cobourg for more than 15 years, Jean was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. As her illness progressed, Jean was admitted to the Palliative Care Unit at NHH where she spent her remaining days before passing away on April 17, 2021. John and their family were able to be with her during these days and are grateful for the care the NHH team provided.

Since Jean’s passing, John and his family have found numerous ways to celebrate her memory and honour the important role she played in the family and the communities she loved, including taking a family cruise in Portugal – a trip she and John had planned to go on together.

John has also chosen to honour her memory by establishing the John and Jean Farrell Endowment Fund with NHH Foundation. This fund is a way for John to both pay tribute to the care Jean received while also providing support to help NHH staff pursue additional educational opportunities – something John and Jean have promoted and valued throughout their lives. 

“Having a well-respected and well-equipped hospital is tremendously important to any community,” shares John. “The facility and care we have available to a community the size of Northumberland is marvelous. I’ll never forget the kindness of the hospital team. One thing was clear to me from the time we first moved here – NHH is one of the most critical assets of this community.”

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