Dr. Mary Ann Richards

March 3, 1960 – September 15, 2023

She was the one who wasn’t supposed to die. Out of all of us, young or old, she was the one who had to stay. We said this to her two months ago, in the early days of finding out her terminal diagnosis, and she didn’t refute it. She held us all together, fixed us, guided us, and told us what to do. We listened because she was brilliant, wise, generous, and lovely. Her priorities were her partner-in-life, Dirk, her five adult kids (Donovan, Adrian, Mosey, Joel, Alina), her three toddler grandchildren (Owen, Willow, Elijah), and her eldest grandson, Charles, who all survive her today. She was also devoted to her role as professor at the Vancouver Island University, her two dogs, her glassblowing, her late-in-life love of travel, and those darned rescued Macaws (plus all those folks she was mentoring).

When she found a spare moment—perhaps a day or two—she’d fill it up with something grand, pulling Dirk along with her. And he always said yes. She didn’t believe in taking a breather, and she didn’t believe in doing anything that didn’t impact others positively (including cleaning her house).

Born to Owen and Joy Richards (late in their lives, after the war), Mary Ann was raised as an only child on a Red Deer dairy farm. She started her big family at age 18, bringing Donovan into the world, marrying Robert Cerminara at 20, adopting a son (Mosey), and having two more children (Joel and Alina). Her mother passed away tragically when she was 18 and her elderly father ten years later.

Mary Ann and Robert bought a big farm in northern Alberta, where she worked as a middle school teacher and fabulous theatre practitioner.

Bravely leaving the marriage, Mary Ann brought her four kids, two dogs, two cats, tank of fish, and bird to Calgary to start anew.

She met Dirk right away and fell in love, adding a beautiful stepson, Adrian, to the family. She taught junior high and high school, earned her master’s degree, and purchased a summer cabin on Gabriola Island.

In 2008, Mary Ann moved with Dirk to Gabriola—her oasis—where she completed her PhD, got a job at VIU teaching teachers, took on glassblowing in a bigger way, and finally, travelled the world. Throughout this time, she continued to take care of her adult children, who had a hard time doing anything without her exceptional guidance.

This is only a snapshot of Mary Ann. Words with no breadth. We don’t know how to go on without her. It feels impossible, but we are trying to figure it out. Her terminal cancer diagnosis came just two months before her death, and through this devastation, all she wanted was more time to watch her grandchildren grow.

The only solace in her passing is that she was a badass woman who lived a million lives. She made the best decisions (even if we didn’t always agree), knew what she wanted, lived richly and deeply, and inspired her children to do the same. Mary Ann will be more than missed. She will be consulted often—what would Mary Ann do?—and we will listen.

If you’d like a way to honour Mary Ann’s passion, please contact foundation@viu.ca to donate to the Dr. Mary Ann Richards Memorial Fund for students in literacy education.