Helen Levine

Sylvia was a very old and very dear friend of mine. We met in the 1960’s while the Cold War was raging and midst our involvement in the peace movement. We marched in many peace demonstrations, went to many meetings, and helped American draft resistors from the Vietnam War cross the border and settle in Canada.

Sylvia’s heart remained with the peace movement till the very end. My heart belonged to the women’s movement. Despite our different directions, there was always a personal and political bond between us that grew stronger with the years. She was my kind of straightforward, loyal, and generous friend.

We had much common ground between us. It had to do with the frank and open sharing of our lives. It had to do with friends and politics, with 1940’s music and folk songs. Polite niceties and tempering our ideas and passions were not for us.

There were many parts to Sylvia, things like making a lot of her own clothes, exploring painting and pottery. She was a great cook. She became a very successful real estate agent. Along with Sylvia’s commitment to her own family, she was an ardent peace activist – the sort of person that made things happen – pitching in with the work until she was ready to drop, never giving up. She managed to combine a strong sense of social responsibility with a marvelous sense of humour. She and Roy loved to travel, especially to Cuba, which they visited many times.

After Roy retired, the Sanders, the Pauluns, and the Levines formed our pre and post retirement group – thereafter known as the P and P. We had potluck dinners in rotating homes or cottages every six weeks or so. We played ping-pong in the Sanders basement or bridge and scrabble anywhere. Our gang of six came close to one another during those years of wide-ranging discussions, sharing, and fun.

The themes of commitment and respect in the Sanders family life became particularly visible during Sylvia’s last four or five years. It made a deep and unforgettable impression on me.

Roy, Heather, Richard, and Wendy and their significant others, together with Sylvia, pulled off what seemed impossible. Midst the inevitable struggles that accompany a long-term illness, they hung together in amazing ways. It wasn’t peace at any price – there were tough times – but they made it to the end, all of them.

They knew that Sylvia needed and deserved love, respect and as much autonomy as possible. They managed to turn theory into practice.  That meant care taking, visiting, parties, sing-alongs and whatever else could enrich Sylvia’s life. She was consulted directly and consistently about decisions, choices and preferences. No one spoke for her. She continued to speak for herself as she had all of her life. The family focused on her strengths. I have enormous respect for the way they  ongoingly managed to do this. I learned a great deal from them. Thank you Sanders for that. 

The family seemed to have minimal interest in mainstream diagnoses and drugs. Despite some damage from her stroke, Sylvia remained very much alive and alert, responsive and interested in the world around her. Her memory was phenomenal, her sense of humour ever present.

Roy, the children and grandchildren were so terribly important to her. And Sylvia never lost interest in people and politics and changing the world. She was a woman of courage, compassion and commitment.

I will remember my friend Sylvia with love and respect. She always insisted that I say cheerio, not good-bye. So cheerio dear Sylvia, with much love and admiration from your old friend Helen. You have been a very important person in my life. 

I will miss you.