Mildred Irvine smiles while listening to stories shared from her friends and family during a celebration at Parkland Truro for her 100th birthday. Raissa Tetanish photo

TRURO – The year was 1920.

Robert Borden was the Prime Minister of Canada, followed by Arthur Meighan. The first airplane to fly across Canada arrived in Richmond from Halifax. The Capitol Cinema opened in Ottawa and was the only true movie palace in the capital. The Ottawa Senators won their ninth Stanley Cup.

And, of course, Mildred Irvine (nee Francis) was born.

Jan. 28 was a special occasion for friends and family of Mildred, as they gathered at Parkland Truro to celebrate the centenarian’s birthday.

“Fabulous,” was the word Mildred used to describe the celebration, after the speeches and laughter died down, the cake was cut and tea poured.

“I thought I was coming down for a little party with 10 or 15 people. I kept saying, ‘I couldn’t get in. I couldn’t get in.’”

Along with some staff and residents at Parkland Truro, Mildred was surrounded by family and friends, and a few other people whose lives she changed over the years.

Twenty years after she was born, Mildred graduated from Acadia University with a Bachelor of Arts. She returned the following year for a Bachelor of Education, followed then by a Masters in Education.

Her first teaching job was in Bass River, and she moved onto teach in Bedford shortly thereafter.

Ted Thompson, one of Mildred’s first students in Bedford, was there for the celebration. He said out of all the teachers he had, Mildred was the best.

“In this world, about every 100 years something unusual happens,” he said, with those gathering starting to break out in laughter. “Maybe the sun doesn’t come up, or the moon is green…but 100 years ago someone special was born. We remember and are very, very appreciative of that fact.”
Thompson said one of the things he remembers about Mildred way back then was that she believed in him.

“Which is something,” he said, adding he wasn’t aware until years later how invested Mildred was in her pupils.

“You gave me a good start in life. You looked on your students as persons, as real people, which to my mind wasn’t always the case, especially if the teachers didn’t like you,” he said.

One hundred years is a long time, Thompson added, and called Mildred a “beautiful teacher and great person to be with.”

“You taught us well. But there’s a certain deficiency there. I never, ever made 100 in anything…but you’ve done it.”

Mildred said marrying Tom, a war veteran whom she met while studying for her Masters, was one of the highlights of her life. They spent 50 years together, and the couple never had children.

Because of this, and their life spent as educators, the Irvines made investments into a number of areas in their communities, and beyond.

Many of those who spoke about Mildred spoke about her love for Acadia University. Ian Murray first met Mildred and Tom a decade ago when he worked in the alumni office. The couple attended the university for Mildred’s Class of 1940’s 70th reunion.

“That’s when I got to know Mildred, and I’ll tell you something – I remember like it was yesterday,” said Murray, before presenting Mildred with a certificate of achievement. “She had on a robin’s egg blue suit, and she looked beautiful, and her eyes were so blue, so beautiful and so piercing, that it just struck me the power and intensity of this woman.”

The Thomas and Mildred Irvine Scholar Bursary at Acadia University helps out students in financial need. With their donation, the Irvines gave the university direction to find a student from a certain geographical area. If none from that area were found, the money could be spread around.

Murray said the bursary is intended for students with a certain scholarly average, but who have also demonstrated financial need.
“It’s relatively new,” said Murray, saying only three or four students have benefited from the donation so far. “But now that it’s been fully vested, it will help more students going forward.”
Along with being a teacher, Mildred was the first guidance counsellor in the province. Murray said the university has a vision to create a Centre for Student Success, which would better serve the health and wellbeing of the students, in their physical and mental wellbeing, as well as finances. Murray said while it’s a vision, Mildred is interested in supporting the development of that resource.

But it’s not just Acadia University that has benefited from the Irvines’ donations over the years. A significant contribution to the IWK Health Centre 10 years ago helped create the Dr. Stewart Wenning Chair in Pediatric Pain Management, named after their friend and neighbour, who was the head of the department at the time.

Allen Finley spoke about the impact the Irvines’ donation has had over the years.

“I can’t tell you how important this has been to me and to the work that we have done,” he said.

Through the gift, Finley and his team have been able to develop grant proposals; support research assistants; send the clinical team to the World Congress on Pain; teach and support pain programs in developing countries that can’t afford travel; and devote time to research and advocacy. The gift also supported the development of Solutions for Kinds in Pain, or SKIP, an initiative that puts the knowledge the team has already about children’s pain into the hands of clinicians, patients, and families.

“The influence of this gift has spread farther than you can imagine within the IWK but beyond the IWK, and, in fact, worldwide. Hopefully we’ll continue to do so, and let us continue to advocate for prevention and treatment of pain within children in hospitals and outside, and reduce the suffering and make it a better place,” said Finley.

When asked why she wanted to make the contributions with her husband, the answer for Mildred was simple.

“We didn’t have any children of our own, and we knew that other people had difficulties paying for things, for their children, or their education. We just thought we should,” she said.

Reaching 100 years old, says Mildred, was the farthest thing from her mind.

“Being 100, oh my God,” she said. “You thought when you were 80 you were old, and when you were 90 you were super old. But 100?”