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Longtime River John resident, community supporter, passes away


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RIVER JOHN – A woman described as a “quiet force” in the village of River John passed way Sunday.

Janice Murray Gill, an author, playwright, former county councillor and historian with a real sense of pride for her hometown, died Sunday in a Halifax hospital.

“She did a lot of behind the scenes work and will be missed by many people and organizations,” said Ronnie Baillie, warden for the Municipality of Pictou County and councillor for the River John area.

Gill was born in River John, but left the village early in her life for school and later marriage. She made frequent trips home throughout the years to visit her mother and returned permanently to her family homestead in 1983 with her husband, Christopher.

Her son James said people have been kind to share stories of his mother’s life with him and his brother during their visit home.

“There are two distinct phases,” he said. “There is her childhood growing up and a period when she came back to the village for the past 30 years.”

He said it is evident his mother touched the lives of many people in both phases of her life.

Gill’s sense of pride for the village was obvious by the way she researched its history, listened to stories and worked tirelessly behind the scenes for her friends and neighbours for many different causes.

“She has done so much for this community,” said her friend Bonnie Murray. “This was her home. She would go about her business and didn’t ask for recognition.”

Gill is remembered as being an important part of a group that organized River John’s bicentennial and again recently shared her knowledge of the village’s history for a community kiosk.

“She was one of those people you could go to and ask a question and if she didn’t know the answer, she would find out for you,” said River John resident Mary Beth Sutherland.

She stepped out from behind the scenes every now and then to lead the charge for something important in the village.  She served on county council for six years and played a key role in getting the village its first library.

When the library expanded years later, Gill was there again, making sure the village got what it deserved.

Margaret MacLean, a River John library branch assistant, said Gill was a dependable volunteer who was a regular worker at the C@P site.

Gill’s involvement with library will continue to live on since her two cookbooks, Canadian Bread Book and Nova Scotia Downhome Cooking, are sitting on the shelves waiting for someone to take them home and whip up some of her recipes.

“She was an excellent cook,” MacLean said with a laugh.“We had a taste every now and then.”

In addition to the cookbooks, she served as food editor for well-known magazines like Canadian Living, Cuisineart and Wine and Food. She also owned a cooking school in Montreal and spent many years as food commentator on CBC Radio.

James said her love of cooking was passed on to him and his brother John over the years.

“Both my brother and I learned at her knee, or her other lower joints, as she used to say,” he said. “She didn’t just pass on just her cooking, but cooking good quality foods.”

When she wasn’t in kitchen, on the radio or in the library, Gill could be found in front of a computer working on projects for community.

Sutherland said she was very computer savvy and often helped people with their photos, brochures, CVs, workshops and bulletins.

James said his mother was writing long before computers came into play so when technology evolved she took the natural step from the typewriter to the keyboard.

“Then came the ability for desktop publishing, photo editing and she used it extensively for community work,” he said. “She found it to be a very useful tool. There is a certain degree of isolation in River John and things like the C@P site really provided a way to stay connected with the community at large.”

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