THESE WORDS encapsulate and reflect the life of a much-loved woman who savoured the journey that is life. The actual journey, while cut short, was so full and rich that it requires many more words to even attempt to capture the essence of the woman who was Debra Van Ginkel.
Debra was born on September 30, 1957, in St. Boniface, Manitoba, the eldest of five children. In 1973 she moved to Calgary and subsequently, being fluent in French, pursued her undergraduate degree at McGill University. In 1981 she returned to Calgary, graduating from law school in 1984. That same year she moved to Vancouver where she articled and established a litigation practice, which eventually specialized in family law.
Debra's professionalism extended beyond her legal practice to many other contributions within the legal profession. During her career she chaired the Canadian Bar Association Family Law Section and was the BC representative at national Section meetings. She served as a representative to project run by the International Institute of Child Rights and Development to study child participation in the court process. Debra served nine years on the Board of the Lawyers' Assistance Program, three years as Chair and 10 years as Chair of the Board of the Benevolent Society.
Debra had a personal vision to start a mentoring program for women in the legal profession, and she devoted endless energy and hours to the creation of that program. This became a reality in 2003 through the Canadian Bar Association Women Lawyers Forum, which Debra also chaired.
Such was her contribution to volunteer work and mentoring in the legal profession that in 2005 Debra was awarded the BC Lawyers Assistance Program 'Lawyer Helping Lawyer Award'. In 2006, Debra's contributions to the legal profession were recognized by her appointment as Queen's Counsel.
For many people, a professional career can become all-consuming, not so for Debra. Her personal life was lived with equal energy, passion and diversity. She was the treasurer of Les Dames d'Escoffier (BC Chapter), an international organization of women in the food, wine and hospitality industries. While Debra's culinary skills were legendary, these were, surpassed by the warmth and fun which permeated all of her many dinners, parties and social gatherings. She loved people, drew energy from them and invested much of herself in the art of friendship. Debra had a unique ability to live in the moment and squeeze the most out of every day.
On a personal level, life presented Debra with many challenges, all of which she confronted with strength and a determination not to become cynical or embittered. Instead, she emerged from each challenge stronger, wiser and more determined to move forward.
Despite divorce, the inability to have a much-wanted family, and the sudden and tragic loss of a much-loved fiancée, David Scammells in 2004, Debra rebuilt her life and moved forward. In July 2006 Debra met her future husband - Murray Robinson - and life began a new, wonderful, but bitter-sweet chapter because it was ended by Debra's death from cancer in January 2008.
Debra's approach to her illness was characteristic of her approach to life. She remained optimistic, engaged and engaging. She approached this final experience with the same strength, grace and dignity with which she lived her life. Debra refused to be bowed or to engage in self-pity. She remained the same warm, vital and passionate
she had always been.
Debra left a rich legacy to all those who were fortunate to know her and
message that, regardless of life's challenges, it is to be savoured,
treasured and lived at full-speed.
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