Valerie Christine Wilmot passed away peacefully at the Elisabeth Bruyère Hospital in Ottawa, Ontario, on January 20, 2022; she was 96 years old. She lived a long life.
Val’s life was marked by her enduring commitments to family and friends, her expansive intellect and life-long curiosity, which led to her remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge, and her determined capability in a diverse array of endeavors. Her genuine good nature at times obscured a fiercely competitive spirit.
Val was the daughter of Maj. L. Allan Wilmot and Ada Hopkins Wilmot, and was born in London, England, in 1925. The family, including her two older brothers, Robert D. Wilmot and Allan H. Wilmot, soon returned to Canada, and Val grew up and attended public schools in Toronto. Excelling academically, she earned a B.A, Honours Science degree in Physiology and Biochemistry, from the University of Toronto; and an M.Sc. degree in Biochemistry from McGill University in Montreal.
Val began her professional career in biochemistry and physiology: she worked at the Montreal Neurological Institute as a graduate student, studying lipid metabolism, and then was a Research Assistant at Oregon State College (now Oregon State University), where she met her first husband, Joseph Sonnenfeld, who, freshly discharged from the United States Marine Corps, was working on his bachelor’s degree. Soon, the couple moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where Joseph was to pursue a Ph.D. in Geography at the Johns Hopkins University, while Val worked as a Research Assistant in the Johns Hopkins laboratory that performed ground-breaking research on cells’ energy transfer mechanisms.
After her sons were born and into school, Val earned a Master of Education, and a PhD in Behavioral Science, both from the University of Delaware, in Newark. Following the dissolution of her marriage, Val returned to Canada. In 1972, she joined the Federal Public Service in Ottawa, working in the Ministry of State for Science and Technology, focusing on university research; she later worked as a Senior Policy Advisor in National Health and Welfare, focusing on science policy and Canada’s “Healthy Communities” initiative.
Val began her 80+ year relationship with the Gatineau River and Larrimac Golf & Tennis Club in 1939. She became an avid golfer at Larrimac, in Chelsea, Quebec; and there met her life-long, best friend Lenore Henry Ott. Val actively participated in, and often led, many activities at the Larrimac Golf Club, including serving on its board of directors, and becoming the first woman to be the President of the club. Val continued playing golf at Larrimac into her 90s and, following her mother’s example, played Duplicate Bridge at the club through Fall 2021.
Val loved to travel, and met her second husband George Svenson (“Sven”) Anderssen on a trip to Portugal. Val and Sven were married in 1981, and were each other’s constant companion for the rest of his life. Following Sven’s retirement from teaching, they bought a farm in Kemptville, Ontario, along the Rideau River, and raised purebred Angus cows – building a herd of 100 cattle, and selling the best, free range beef anyone has ever eaten. In a decade of ranching, they never turned a profit, but it was what Sven had always dreamed of doing. As members of the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, it also provided them an opportunity to travel, visiting cattle-ranching operations around the world.
In many other ways, too, Val was thoroughly engaged in her world She was an active artist into her 90s, painting landscapes and still-lifes primarily; in her earlier years, Val was a sculptor and lithographer, as well. She read books daily, played bridge two or three times a week with her friends, played cribbage with her children and grandchildren (including online during the pandemic!), and loved doing crossword puzzles faster than anyone else in her family. Val enjoyed performing and never forgot the lyrics of songs she had performed, no matter how long before. She was a long-time subscriber to the Ottawa Little Theatre, and enjoyed special exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada. Val participated actively in the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) for many years, organizing and participating in fund-raising events, presentations, and regular bridge games.
In retirement, Val and Sven became “snowbirds”, following her friend Lenore and Lenore’s daughter Karin to Florida, where they enjoyed spending winter months at the Lehigh Acres Resort, near Fort Myers, building a strong community of friends from around the world, sharing golf, outings, dinners, and card games for over 25 years. Lenore, Karin, and sometimes her step-daughter Joy Anderssen, were Val’s road-trip companions, joining her on the three-plus day drive from Ottawa to Florida (and back), each year.
Val was devoted to her family and enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She traveled often to spend time with her children and grandchildren at their homes and loved nothing more than taking trips with her sons and grandchildren. She never forgot a grandchild’s birthday and greatly enjoyed introducing the third and fourth generations of her family to the Gatineau River and Larrimac Golf and Tennis Club.
Val was always thoughtful and analytical, collecting data, evaluating alternatives, and assessing options with precision and discipline. Owing perhaps to her Scottish heritage, she was determinedly frugal in her affairs, while remaining generous with her family and the organizations to which she was committed. She never wanted to “complain about her complaints,” and addressed life and its challenges with determination and a can-do attitude.
Val’s father fought in both World Wars, and her parents were married in London while her father recuperated from injuries suffered in France during WW I. Val’s Wilmot ancestors included Robert Duncan Wilmot, designated as a Father of Confederation for his role as part of the delegation in London, negotiating the British North America Act, and who served as Speaker of the Senate in Ottawa; and Benjamin Wilmot, who emigrated from England to the New Haven Colony, where he was a signatory of the Fundamental Agreement of the New Haven Colony, adopted on June 4, 1639. Val’s Wilmot ancestors were United Empire Loyalists and the family abandoned homesteads and moved to New Brunswick after the American Revolutionary War. Val’s ancestors on her mother’s side included Nathaniel Turner, another signatory to the Fundamental Agreement of the New Haven Colony.
Val lived independently beyond her 96th birthday, structuring her affairs to remain in her home in Ottawa and summer cottage near the Larrimac Golf & Tennis Club, and continued to drive between Ottawa and Chelsea. Val’s world contracted dramatically in March 2020 when the pandemic hit: Val’s dear friends Karin Ott and Bruce Dixon provided immeasurable loving support for her during her many months of pandemic isolation. With the Canada-US border closed, her chair and TV were her primary companions for the better part of 18 months.
Val was pre-deceased by her husband Sven Anderssen, and is survived by three sons, David Sonnenfeld (Kathleen McGrath), Michael Sonnenfeld (Betty Symington), and Will Sonnenfeld (Jean Sonnenfeld), nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. She is survived also by her sister-in-law Gwen Wilmot, her nieces and nephews, and their spouses, and her “adopted daughters,” Karin Ott and Joy Anderssen.
Val’s joy for life and active engagement in the lives of her family and friends will be missed profoundly by all who knew her. The family intends to celebrate Val’s life at her beloved Larrimac Golf & Tennis Club in Chelsea, Quebec, when it is safe to do so. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Val’s memory to the General Fund of the Larrimac Golf & Tennis Club, or the Scholarship Fund of the Canadian Federation of University Women.