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Rachel Proulx was 'a force of nature'

Rachel Proulx's long battle with multiple sclerosis didn't stop her from being a “force of nature” who was “passionate” about many different causes, said those who knew her.
Businesswoman and community volunteer Rachel Proulx, seen here with husband Charlie St. Germain, passed away Dec. 26. Supplied photo.

Rachel Proulx's long battle with multiple sclerosis didn't stop her from being a “force of nature” who was “passionate” about many different causes, said those who knew her.

The 57-year-old passed away at Health Sciences North during the evening of Dec. 26. Proulx leaves behind her husband, Charlie St. Germain, children Marie-Josée Proulx and Jean-Pierre Roy, and step-children, Angèle St. Germain and André St. Germain.

At Proulx's request, there will be no visitation, but a memorial service will be announced at a later date. Cremation will take place at the Park Lawn Crematorium.
Monique Forsyth, one of Proulx's friends, said she'd been hospitalized recently because of a series of mini-strokes.

Forsyth, president of the Greater Sudbury Business and Professional Women's Club (BPW Greater Sudbury), said she actually met Proulx in Grade 9, when they were both attending Collège Notre-Dame.

The two lost touch over the years, but met up again in 1990, when Forsyth joined BPW Greater Sudbury, of which Proulx was already a member.

Proulx went on to become president of BPW Greater Sudbury from 1989-1990 as well as BPW Canada from 1998-2000. Proulx had recently received her 25-year pin from BPW Greater Sudbury.

“She was very passionate about anything she did, whether it was BPW or anything else she worked with throughout her life,” Forsyth said.

Lin Gibson, who served as the secretary/treasurer with BPW Canada when Proulx was the organization's president, said serving alongside her was “awe-inspiring.”

“Moving forward was her life motto, and she did it with passion and determination beyond expectation,” she said. “When the Rachel train was leaving the station, you would want to be on it.”

On top of her work with BPW Greater Sudbury, Proulx owned her own business training company, was the founding president of Collège Boréal, and volunteered with YWCA Sudbury and the Sudbury chapter of the MS Society of Canada.

Her obituary said she leaves “a rich legacy of love, faith and devotion to the Sudbury community, and will be very sadly missed.”

In 1996, Proulx was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. The debilitating condition eventually confined her to a wheelchair, but didn't in any way slow down her advocacy work. Proulx pressed on.

“I went from walking to dragging my foot to walking with a cane to (being) able to walk at times, using a manual wheelchair ... and graduated to an electric wheelchair in 1999,” Proulx told Northern Life in a January 2012 interview.

I cannot allow myself to be negative, but that's my character. I always see the opportunities.

Rachel Proulx,
in January 2012 interview

Proulx's husband was her “rock,” Forsyth said.

“He was very loving and took very good care of during her illness as well,” she said. “He was an extremely caring man. She'll be missed very, very much by him.”


In February 2012, Proulx travelled to Albany, New York for surgery to treat her MS.

The surgery treats the disease by placing a balloon angioplasty in a patient's neck veins to improve blood flow. It was developed by Italian researcher, Dr. Paolo Zamboni, in 2009.

Zamboni, whose wife lived with MS, hypothesized the disease was caused by a build up of iron in the brain resulting from constricted neck veins that allowed for insufficient blood circulation.

Before receiving treatment, Proulx had lived with a pins-and-needles sensation in her hands and body, Forsyth said.

“Within a week or two of the treatment, that went away,” she said. “That in itself made such a difference in her life. It was all worth it. That's how she felt.”
Proulx never let her condition get her down, Forsyth said.

“She was a remarkable woman who never complained about her illness or how she was feeling,” she said. “For her, it was 'Let's keep going. Let's forge ahead. We've got a job to do, and let's do it.'”

Proulx said in January 2012 that she always focused on the positive.

“I cannot allow myself to be negative, but that's my character,” she said. “I always see the opportunities.”

Laurel Ireland, chair of the Sudbury chapter of the MS Society of Canada, said Proulx had served as vice-chair of the organization up until last year.

“Her experience and knowledge was invaluable,” Ireland said. “Even when she stepped down, it was with the proviso that we could call her.”

This past fall, Proulx organized a fashion show fundraiser for the organization with the help of Gina Martorella, the recently-retired owner of Gina's Fashion Fabrics.

Proulx and Martorella presented the MS Society with a cheque for $1,200, raised through the fashion show, at the organization's Dec. 9 Christmas party, Ireland said.

“She was happy to be there,” she said.

With Proulx's death, Greater Sudbury is “going to be missing a force of nature,” Ireland said. “She has improved the quality of life in this community just by her actions.”

Proulx's family is asking for donations to the Sudbury chapter of the MS Society of Canada in her memory.

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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