“Gardening is like everything else in life, you get out of it as much as you put in. No one can make a garden by buying a few packets of seeds or doing an afternoon’s weeding. You must love it, and then your love will be repaid a thousandfold, as every gardener knows.”
This quote from Margery Fish so accurately describes Rita’s love of gardening. She loved spending time outdoors and working in her gardens. She took great pride in them and never took any shortcuts. Her hard work never went unnoticed, as she often shared the fruits of her labour with her family and friends. Rita’s work ethic and giving personality will live on in those closest to her, for generations to come.
Helen “Rita” was born to parents Francis and Helena (Keais) Cox in Brantford on May 19, 1935, where the family was staying temporarily as her father and a brother were recovering from tuberculosis. Rita joined older siblings, Jack (1925), Bill (1927), Gerald (1929), and Kathleen “Kay” (1933). The Cox family soon relocated back to the Ayton area and, in the spring of 1943, they moved to Hanover where Rita began attending school at Holy Family. In her youth, Rita and her sister Kay did a variety of tasks to raise spending money for themselves. Rita often recalled collecting pop bottles from the neighbours and cashing them in for $0.02 apiece. Imagine! They required six bottles ($0.12) each to earn enough money to attend a movie at the local theatre. She recently said that she couldn’t believe there was a time in her life when she didn’t have $0.02 to her name! Rita graduated from the Hanover High School, before heading to Kitchener to attend Nursing School. In later years Rita shared a unique story on how she often got home from school for family visits. As luck would have it she was introduced to the Grey-Bruce delivery driver for the KW Record. Before long, she was grabbing a ride home with him as he delivered papers. Therefore, in true Rita fashion, she needed to repay this act of kindness and subscribed to the daily KW Record. She continued to support this paper until it was no longer available for daily delivery in the Chesley area. Imagine! Her schooling led to placements at St. Mary’s Hospital, Homewood in Guelph and SickKids Hospital in Toronto. Rita graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1956, and returned home to be closer to family.
While enjoying a night out, roller skating, in Hanover Rita was introduced to a young man by the name of Francis “Frank” Anthony Vandervoort. The young couple hit it off immediately and soon began dating. They were married on October 4, 1958 at Holy Family Catholic Church in Hanover. Rita had spent some time working at the Hanover & District Hospital before relocating to Chesley, and beginning to work at the hospital there. The newlyweds settled into an apartment on the Main Street of Chesley, and the Vandervoort family soon began to grow. Tom was born in 1959, with Rick following along a couple of years later in 1961. With a growing family the Vandervoorts needed more space, so they moved to a smaller home on the south end of Chesley before moving to Rita’s current home in January 1962. Rita kept very busy supporting and caring for the three men in her life. As a nurse, shift-work was difficult with a young family, so before long Rita left her career to further support Frank and the garage business. However, once a nurse, always a nurse as Rita cared for and helped countless people throughout the duration of her life.
Before long, a routine soon developed in Rita’s life whereby she would get the boys off to work and school, Frank would come home for a hot lunch daily, from 1 – 2 p.m., and dinner was prepared for between 6 – 7 p.m. In her spare time, between all her tasks at home, Rita would assist Frank with the business books. This was no easy task as she often struggled to decipher Frank’s penmanship and keep clients apart. As an example, do you know how many Mr. Thomsons there were? 🙂 Although not always her favourite role, she settled in nicely and was a big asset for the business. She was always there to support Frank and in turn helped the business flourish through the years.
In their free time, Rita and Frank loved to dance. I am told Rita coached her husband along a bit in the beginning but before long they were gracefully moving around the dance floor like one. As previously mentioned, she also loved to be outside in her gardens. Rita’s specialty was her roses, but she was also fond of geraniums and tulips, and enjoyed Amaryllis bulbs at Christmas. She cherished the Jack-in-the-pulpits, Bloodroots and Trilliums that, as young boys, Tom and Rick dug up for her for Mother’s Days over the years. Gardening was truly a labour of love. In fact, her talent had no boundaries as she even helped (without knowledge of the plant, as it was not in her flower books) one of the boys (apparently not Tom :)) grew a now legal plant in their backyard. Needless to say when it did not flower, and she became aware of the type of plant, she was not too happy and the plant soon disappeared. As her family grew, Rita loved spending time with her grandchildren, always trying to keep up with the happenings in their lives. She also enjoyed swimming, whether in the river at Scone or in the pool when on their vacations south with close friends. Countless memories were made on their 36 trips to southern destinations as this was their only escape over the years from the family business. Rita also was a member of St. Anne’s CWL and always helped out where she could. She particularly enjoyed supplying flowers from her garden for CWL events. She enjoyed collecting glassware and wooden carvings when they appealed to her.
Rita was an avid reader, enjoying a variety of genres like documentaries, historical novels and non-fiction. She enjoyed visits from her family’s pets, always showing them the same love as everyone else in the family. Rita loved her music, particularly anything Irish. In fact, the first thing she saved for while working part-time in restaurants, was a radio. When it came to TV, she enjoyed Antiques Roadshow, any form of House Hunters, or simply kept up with the news. She was particularly drawn to the colour turquoise as “it went with everything”. Her appearance was very important to her and she loved her jewellery, whether it was of good quality or from Giant Tiger or from a beach vendor in Mexico. She especially enjoyed haggling over the price with the latter. Rita preferred her own cooking but loved her shrimp. I am also told she had a soft spot for Timbits, Aero Bars and BB Bats. What are BB Bats you may ask? Type it into Google and you will probably recall them from your childhood. Rita was first introduced to them at church, as it was their treat after attending weekly catechism classes.
Rita was an honest, independent woman, who enjoyed giving and helping others whenever possible. She was resourceful, never wanting to waste anything that may be needed down the road. On occasion, she was known for her Irish dander, but mainly she was just a big supporter of Frank and her family, often putting their needs and interests before her own!
Sadly, the last few years have been extremely difficult for Rita and her family, with the death of Frank in 2017 and Rick earlier this year. Although not one to dwell on these huge losses publicly, Rita missed them both dearly. Unfortunately, in recent months, her own health began to deteriorate and she passed away on Saturday, December 5, 2020 in her 86th year.
Beloved wife of the late Frank Vandervoort (2017). Loving mother of Tom (Sandi) and mother-in-law of Nancy Vandervoort, all of Elmwood. Cherished grandmother of Kerri (Daryl Dunstan), Alaina, Brad and Jodi (Aaron Heipel) and great-grandmother of Eveah. Rita will be fondly remembered by her sister Kay Horan of Hanover, sister-in-law Mary Lou Cox of Walkerton and the entire Cox and Vandervoort families. She was predeceased by her son Rick (2020), brothers Jack (June), Gerald (Joyce) and Bill Cox, brother-in-law Jerome Horan and her parents Francis and Helena (Keais) Cox.
A private Funeral Mass honouring Rita’s life will be held on Thursday, December 10, 2020 at Holy Family Catholic Church, Hanover. The Mass will be live-streamed for those who wish to view by going to: http://holyfamily.ca/media/ at 10 a.m. A recording of Rita’s Mass will also be posted on the Rhody Family Funeral Home website afterwards. Father Emmanuel Azike officiating. Interment in Chesley Cemetery.
Memorial donations to the Chesley Hospital Foundation would be appreciated as expressions of sympathy.