Josephine Prentice

Josephine Grace Prentice (Purves)

May 20, 1920 - February 6, 2021
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Josephine (Jo) Grace Prentice (née Purves) was born May 20, 1920 in Vancouver, British Columbia to Thomas Dickson Archibald (Arch) Purves and Caroline Mary Ewart (Ina) Blair. On February 6, 2021, at the age of 100, she passed away peacefully at her home in Renfrew, Ontario.

Jo was the second of four children descended from old Nova Scotia stock, to which her family returned in her earliest years. They had been pioneers in the province, having transplanted from the first New England colonies. Jo was very proud that one of her direct ancestors was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact. She was first raised in North Sydney, and later in Halifax, where her father took a position in the civil service as an engineer in the Department of Transportation, eventually becoming the Deputy Minister of Transportation. Remarkably, her father even spoke of having surveyed the beautiful Cabot Trail on horseback as part of his duties.

Jo’s early education was in the public schools of Halifax. As a young teenager, she received a scholarship to the Nova Scotia College of Art which would have allowed her to pursue high school within a formal art program. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error, she was unable to continue after her first year, but that one year laid the foundation for her life’s passion–painting. She jokingly shared with her children that if that education would have been completed, she “might have ended up in a commune somewhere and you would never have been born!”

As a young woman in Halifax during the early years of the Second World War, Jo became a member of a ladies’ singing group created to perform and entertain troops granted shore leave. As the war began to take many young lives, including some of Jo’s childhood companions, she decided she needed to make a more direct contribution to the war effort and so enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. She trained in Ontario and Manitoba as a member of the photographic section, and was then posted to RCAF160 Squadron in late 1943 in Torbay (now St. John’s International Airport). It was there that the elegant Jo met the handsome Flight Lieutenant Vernon David Prentice. He was a pilot flying anti-submarine patrols over the many convoys from Halifax to England via the treacherous North Atlantic route being ravaged by German U Boats. Jo and Vern fell in love and were married just prior to the end of the war on July 7, 1945.

After the war ended, the newlyweds moved to Ottawa with Vern remaining in the RCAF until late 1946, having been made an aide-de-camp to an Air Vice Marshal. During their time in Ottawa, they met and became lifelong friends with Commander Alec Wells, RCN and his wife, Thelma. Alec and Thelma eventually relocated to Halifax and Jo and Vern to Toronto after Vern left the Air Force to enroll at the College of Optometry. However, the two families purchased side-by-side waterfront property on Calabogie Lake, setting the stage for many happy summers spent visiting with “Uncle Alec” and “Auntie Thelma” and their children Leslie, Lois, and Brian next door. (Brian continues to cottage at “the lake” to this day and Jo will always be “Aunt Jo” to the Wells.)

Jo and Vern lived in Davisville, Toronto and in early 1947, Jo became an expectant mother. Jo and Vern welcomed their first-born son, David William Blair Prentice, in December of that year in Truro N.S., where Jo had returned to enlist her Mother and Granny Blair’s help prior to Dave’s birth. After Vern's graduation from Optometry, Vern decided to set up his practice in Renfrew, and they made their first home as a family on Lorne Street. It was there where Jo and Vern welcomed their daughter, Carol Ann Elizabeth (August 1951), and son, James (Jim) Purves Archibald (October 1952), and where the family spent the first few years of their lives before moving to Stevenson Crescent. Jo would live the rest of her long life at the house on Stevenson Crescent. The last additions to the family were Vernon Derrick Murray (October 1958) and Vera May Erin (November 1959), and with their arrivals Jo and Vern’s family was complete.

When Jo and Vern arrived in Renfrew, they became members of the “Ball and Chain Club” as a way to meet other young couples. Many of these couples would form the nucleus of their social circle throughout the years, with social gatherings such as “Grey Cup Parties”, weddings of their children, charity fundraisers and dances at the Legion and Wing to name a few. Jo went on through the years to become actively involved in various community charity efforts such as Meals on Wheels, the United Church Women’s superfluity, Annual Tea, and fashion shows. Vern and Jo were avid curlers and for many years were involved with the Renfrew Curling Club. Jo was active in her Bridge Club and loved to play well into her eighties, still sharp as a tack even subbing in other clubs until her nineties. She was lifelong voracious reader, pouring over the Ottawa Citizen every morning, doing Sudokus and crosswords, and participating in a ladies’ book club for many years, having finished her last novel a little over a week before her passing.

In the early 1950s, with the aid of Vern Sr.’s father and Ernie McIntyre, a local carpenter who was to become like a grandpa to the kids, a cottage was built at the Calabogie Lake property, which became a well-beloved focal point for so many gatherings of Jo and Vern’s family throughout the years. Ernie told many fascinating tales about his participation in the Great War (WW1) and rural life in the old days of Renfrew. Jo and Vern loved hosting his yearly birthday party on April Fool’s Day. He would visit Christmas Day and his gift was always a bottle of “Crown Royal” which he and Vern would ultimately enjoy at the Calabogie camp on frequent carpentry excursions. Christmas dinners were enjoyed with Kaye Whitton and her son John and daughter-in-law Linda as well as Ruth Savage, a former widowed babysitter. For many years, Christmas dinner would not have been complete without them. The grand finale of these dinners was always a flaming rum-soaked Christmas pudding for dessert!

Jo and Vern were delighted when Jo’s childhood friend Margaret Harlow Rolfe, who had grown up in the house next door to her grandparents in Truro, N.S., moved to Renfrew in the late ‘50s. Aunt Margie became a librarian at RCI. Alice, Marg’s older sister became guardian to David and Lesley, her children after Marg’s untimely passing. Dave and Les have remained lifelong friends of the family. Many happy days in the summer were spent with the Rolfe’s renting the Well’s cottage throughout the ‘60s.

In those days, there were many big families in the area and all the neighbourhood moms and dads, and kids and friends were in and out of each other’s homes freely, with birthday parties and gatherings, baseball, hockey and football games with the Cooke, Guest, Murray, McPhail, Scott, Ringrose, Chown, Lindsay, Carriere and Sealy families. But it will be remembered that Jo was the only one of them able to “yodel” her children home for supper or bedtime!

While Jo was extremely busy raising her five children, she still found time in the evening to deepen her artistic talents. She continued to draw and paint, becoming well known in Renfrew and area and even teaching night classes at R.C.I. for a time. Portraits of the children of local families graced the walls of many Renfrew family homes over the years, and still do to this day. While she was well known for her oil paintings, after becoming sensitive to turpentine Jo found a new and lifelong love for watercolours. It was a perfect medium for her light and loose style, an example of which is seen reproduced on a wall next to the Renfrew Public Library. This painting of the McDougall Museum and iconic Swinging Bridge was done for the 150th Anniversary of the founding of Renfrew, with limited edition prints sold. It was even was printed on t-shirts! Jo was fortunate to share her passion for art with a great friend and painting pal in Dorothy (Lindsay) Cooke, her immediate neighbour on Stevenson Crescent. Many occasions were spent off in the countryside painting landscapes with Dorothy and the results of these efforts are found all around Renfrew. Another of Jo’s dear painting friends was Noreen (Kelly) Martinson who, with her husband Murray and children Kathy, Ruth, and Murray (from which Vern Jr. acquired a middle name) were great friends of Jo and Vern and family. The couple were always “Uncle Murray” and “Aunt Noreen” to the kids. After Murray passed, Noreen moved back to Renfrew for a time and Jo and Noreen took up their painting friendship again.

Jo’s daughter Carol took up the torch or, shall it be said brush, early in life and when she later returned to Renfrew to live, she and Jo developed an art symbiosis, feeding off one another, inspiring one another to attempt new and different methods of expression. They took courses and painted real life together, and their shared experiences often inspired tales that were amusing and occasionally ribald (as opportunities to paint the unadorned living human body would naturally afford!).

In the later years as Jo stayed closer to home, she and Carol still enjoyed one another’s company with a regular “date night”. As the Prentice females share a love for British television, Carol and Jo would regularly select an episode of “Doc Martin” or “Downton Abbey” or they would find a special on art or a biography about a famous art master to enjoy together. Not just as mother and daughter, but as best adult friends, they shared stories and discussed events in their lives, past and present. In fact, this was something Jo was able to do with all her children, as Jo was an excellent listener, never forcing her opinions on anyone and always interested in your point of view.

Remarkably, Jo continued to paint until she was 99 and only when her dexterity and eyesight failed did, she lay aside her brushes. Nevertheless, it was a source of pride and consolation to her that her artistic genes continue to be expressed in the succeeding generations of her family, some as professionals and others amateur artists who all look up to 'Granny' as their original source of inspiration and muse.

But while Jo possessed a curious mind, enjoyed deep and lasting friendships, was actively involved in her community and a master of her craft, her life’s work was always her family. Jo, as beloved mother to Dave, Carol, Jim, Vern, and Erin, was ever a true hero and role model to each of them. Jo’s steadfast and selfless devotion, endless patience, unwavering love and serenity through all of life’s triumphs and tribulations, is what her family will strive to emulate. Whether at the home she made on Stevenson Crescent, with all the wonderful milestones and celebrations spent there, or at the cottage on Calabogie Lake throughout the changing seasons or later spending precious time in her children’s home’s in the G.T.A., Ottawa, Calabogie, Pembroke, Miami or beyond, it was simply Jo’s presence that made any place feel like home. Once Jo’s children had families of their own, Granny, or ‘GG’ as the latest generation came to know her, was deeply adored and she adored them in equal measure. They, alongside her children, were what brought light to her life.

Her family jointly contributing these recollections and characterizations agree that she had the unusual gift of somehow making each one of us feel like the most special person in the world. Any time we entered the room her face would light up, whether it was just yesterday, had been a month or year since she’d seen you. She’d say, "Hi Darling!", and in that moment all of life's problems seemed surmountable. As she looked into your eyes you knew she loved you without reservation, without judgment, totally and selflessly all in that instant and every single time. She was a superb example to her entire family of the love we all idealize but so many of us fall short of showing when the stresses and strains of life compromise our best intentions. God blessed us with a soul in our mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who naturally followed the heavenly instruction “love one another as I have loved you”.

Her daughter Erin, who lived with Jo for the last twenty-five years of her life was the strongest reason we, her family, were able to have her and enjoy her for so many years beyond any normal life span—even in this day and age of tremendous medical and technological advances. Erin selflessly and lovingly chose to provide nursing care herself in Jo’s later years and she promised to fulfill her mother’s desire to remain in her own familiar surroundings until her final moments on earth. Erin had tremendous help from her children, Jared and Sam, and their young families, whom Jo was able to see almost daily, which always lifted her spirits. She wanted to go on to see how the great-grandkids would “turn out” and loved watching them grow. Their involvement in GG’s daily life was a gift they all willingly gave, enriching their lives in the process, as it did to all family members who were able to spend precious time with her. In the end, Jo’s passing was without major suffering, made so by Erin’s competent and compassionate nursing, which she was able to do despite her own personal distress and that of the rest of the family in the loss of their mom, Granny, their GG, their best friend.

Each of Jo’s children, grandchildren and older great-grandchildren could easily relate stories of their special relationship with her—as she did have precious relationships with each of them. As life’s normalcy eventually resumes and this tremendously difficult period of 2020-2021 comes to an end, Jo’s descendants and family friends will gather to share in her memory and what she meant to each of them. It will be a celebration of her life, and a bittersweet joy to honour her legacy, together once again.

Josephine Grace, we know you are with your God. The hearts you leave behind are aching but also bursting with pride for the life you lived and all that you gave each of us. Be with us in spirit as we try to follow in your beautiful footsteps.

Jo is survived by her son, David (Catherine) and their three sons, James (Terri) and their children Jackson and Stella, Blair, and Rob (Katie Ahrens); her daughter, Carol and her son David Shore (Rachel) and his daughter Mya; Jim’s wife, Rachael, and their three children, Marie, Dr. Michelle Prentice, and Joel (Alexandra Gaysek); her son Dr. Vern Prentice Jr. (Judy) and their four children, Janet (Josh Brierley), Michael, Stephanie, and Colin; her daughter Erin (Charlie Briscoe), and her children, Jared Debruyn (Jaimie) and their children Mackenzie Nolan and Ayden, and Samantha (Dan St. Michael) and their three daughters Isla, Arabella and Maren. She will also be missed by her nieces and nephews, including Donna, Michael, Caroline, Tom, Jillian, John, Cathy, Janet, and Barb.

Jo is pre-deceased by her beloved husband Dr. Vern Prentice Sr., and her dear son Jim. She is also predeceased by her two brothers and sister and their spouses, Blair Purves (Nancy Burrell) and Dr. James Purves (Mary Tobin), both of Halifax, Grace (J.C. Phillips) of Toronto, and niece, The Hon. Jane Purves of Halifax.

Professional services have been entrusted to the care of Zohr Family Funeral Home, Renfrew. Cremation has taken place and a Celebration of Jo's Life will be held when the restrictions are eased and gatherings are more acceptable. Please consider a donation to either the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Renfrew Victoria Hospital Foundation (Oncology), the Canadian Diabetes Association, or the Prostate Cancer Canada Network in memory of Jo and online at
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Barb Jorgenson

Posted at 10:36am
How fitting that a part of your mom's name was "Grace" for when I think of her that is the word that comes to my mind. May your grief be wrapped in her love and treat you gently and kindly. With support and warmth Barb (Aikenhead) Jorgenson

Sheila Havey

Posted at 12:45pm
Dear Erin and Prentice family,

Please accept my condolences on the loss of your mother. Hold onto the memories of your strong relationship to sustain you through the coming days.

Tony Sroka

Posted at 11:12pm
Erin our sincere condolences to you and your family for your loss.

Thomas Prince

Posted at 02:55pm
Erin and all of the Prentice family : My condolences to you. Jo was a marvelous lady. She led a long and fulfilled life.

Jane Wilson

Posted at 09:39am
Ron and I extend sincere sympathy to all of the Prentice family. As a neighbour and member of the Crescent gang in my youth, I have fond memories of “Mrs. Prentice.” She was a patient, gracious lady who managed to capture the image of many an impatient subject with her wonderful portraits. Your poignant obituary captures the highlights of a life truly well lived. May your many memories sustain all of you in the years to come.

Jane (Lindsay) Wilson

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