Helen Daniel

Obituary of Helen Daniel

Helen Daniel, who in the words of her beloved grandson Tim, was "an amazing woman with an amazing heart," took her leave from this world in the early morning hours of July 16, 2018, at Hospicare in Ithaca. Her daughter Danielle was by her side.

Those who knew Helen recognized her intelligence, feisty spirit and great wit. Though her patience for fools and scoundrels was short, her kindness to anyone in need was boundless. Her generosity of spirit extended outside the orbit of her family to her friends, students, colleagues, neighbors and beyond. 

Helen was born on January 25, 1938, in Cornwall, Ontario, the third child of Milton Marjerrison and Freda Vachon. She grew up in Shawinigan, Quebec, in an almost entirely French neighborhood. She attended high school in Prescott, Ontario, and then went on to receive her college degree from Ontario Teachers' College in Ottawa. She and her first husband moved to Corning, New York, in 1963, then later to Auburn with their children Christopher and Danielle. 

After she moved to Ithaca, she met Cletus Daniel, a young professor at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. They married in 1976, blending their families and creating a life dedicated to social justice and progressive politics. 

Helen had an exceptional teaching career in the Ithaca City School District for many years including at Henry St. John, Belle Sherman and South Hill Elementary Schools. In her classrooms, she celebrated reading and multiculturism, brought in local experts to speak to students, hatched ducklings and created a fabulous unit on the Iditarod. Parents and students alike commented she believed in educating "the whole child." Though she retired from South Hill in 1997, she maintained friendships throughout her life with former colleagues, especially her "Coffee Ladies."

Helen acted on her dedication to justice and good will by contributing to just causes. Whether volunteering at Hospicare or mentoring a child over the course of several years through Golden Opportunity Tutoring or spending countless hours helping a teenage Burmese refugee teenager adapt to Ithaca's different, and sometimes inscrutable, mores, Helen provided support, relief and comfort to those who needed it most. 

Helen was touched by a quote from Vincent van Gogh: "The way to know life is to love many things." She was passionate about gardening, and her gorgeous flower beds are the pride of Northview Road, where she is much loved by her neighbor friends. She was a member of the Auraca Herbarists for several years. She loved to plan trips and traveled widely with Clete to their beloved Cannon Beach, as well as Paris, Geneva and Dublin; with Danielle to Cape May, Key West, Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, Montreal, Ottawa and Ireland; and with friends to the Grand Canyon, Santa Barbara, London and China. 

Her other joys included reading, birdwatching, and collecting beautiful teacups and jewelry. She was a fabulous hostess and loved spending time with family and friends. But by far, her greatest joy came from the arrival of her grandchildren, Timothy Charbonneau and Sadie Rose Daniel. She thrilled to the role of "Grambam," savoring every moment she shared with them. In Sadie's words, Grambam "left a huge impact on me. She was always ready to listen to what I had to say and was great in conversation. Even when she was sick, she kept her smile and the light in her eyes, which always brightened my day." A high compliment came from Timothy: "I wish I had her as a teacher. Grambam will always be the coolest cat in the cat house."

Helen was predeceased by her adored son Christopher Dubrule in 1995 and by her soul mate and husband Clete in 2010. She is survived by her daughter Danielle Dubrule (Michael Charbonneau), her stepson Jake Daniel (Diane Goodman-Daniel), her sister Marjorie McCoy, her grandchildren Timothy and Sadie Rose, her step-grandchildren Katelyn and Brett Charbonneau, Christopher and Danielle's father Joe Dubrule, nieces and nephews and her pets Lexi, Paul and Newman. 

The family would like to thank the extraordinary care given to Helen by Audrey, Julie, Kelly, Margaret, Megan and Monica, which allowed her to remain in her home during her extended illness. In addition, they wish to thank the staff at Hospicare Residence, who worked to keep Helen feeling safe and comfortable as her illness progressed. It was a privilege to have her in their care. 

A celebration of Helen's life will be held at the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca on Saturday, August 4th at 2:30. Those who would like to make a donation in Helen's memory should consider Hospicare, 172 King Road, Ithaca, New York 14850.

Even in her final weeks, Helen remained the gracious loving person she had always been. Those who knew her best would not hesitate to say that hers was a life well-lived. But, if Helen had the last word, she would likely add: "I'll be the judge of that."