“First, keep breathing; second, keep working; third, keep smiling” is the advice offered by Connie Isherwood, who celebrated her 99th birthday last week.
Connie radiates this philosophy, demonstrating her positive nature with a big smile, continuing her participation in outgoing activities with others as she has done all her life.
Lori Rittaler, whose age measures just half of Connie’s, describes how Connie’s enthusiasm, bubbling ideas and craft skills contribute to the cultural group to which they both belong.
Born in 1920 near Nanaimo, Connie Holmes, along with two younger brothers, attended Harewood Elementary School and then John Shaw High School in Nanaimo, graduating in 1937, the same year her parents, forest ranger Charles Holmes and his wife Grace moved to Victoria after a job promotion.
After a year at Victoria College she became a law clerk with Ernest Tait. Always musically-inclined, Connie became part of a singing trio called the Rhythmettes, who provided musical entertainment for events.
During the Second World War, the group was asked to perform concerts for army training camps, such as Gordon Head camp, Otter Point Camp, for the sailors at Naden, and for the airmen at Patricia Bay.
She followed this as a drummer with an all-woman band, Eight Gorgeous Girls, which played dance music after the war.
Meanwhile her career did not take a back seat, and she decided she’d rather be a lawyer than a law clerk, so she worked on her pre-requisites and then attended the University of B.C. for her law degree, with the result she was called to the bar in 1951.
Colleagues she met at UBC included Charlie Perkins, who was to become well-known in Sooke during the 1960s to 1980s, and Foster Isherwood, who she was later to marry.
Connie and Foster married in 1963, established a law firm together the next year, Holmes and Isherwood, and made their home in Victoria, though Foster, who was a history buff, was looking into historic properties to invest in.
In the late 1970s he bought Burnside House on Maple Avenue, one of the historic Muir houses in Sooke, and so it was that the couple’s Sooke involvement was initiated.
The pair adopted two sons, Charles and George.
An Anglican, Connie had sung in the church choir in Nanaimo and again in Oak Bay, so she naturally became a member of the congregation at Holy Trinity on Murray Road.
She was a member of the Womens’ Business Network of Vancouver Island, and through the following years, was honoured with a variety of awards and honours, including, in 2015, an honourary doctorate from UBC and in 2016 a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Law Society of B.C.
By the early 1990s the couple bought an Otter Point property with a beautiful view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. An imposing house sits on this lot today, a white structure fronted by stately pillars.
Their love of history was demonstrated by the use of original components of heritage buildings, such as antique windows and doors, and the 10 white pillars which came from a Rattenbury-designed house that was dismantled in the Rockland/Belmont neighbourhood.
The Isherwoods were involved in the building of the new Holy Trinity Anglican church after fire destroyed the original. They kindly included me in the invitation list for the consecration in December 2007 and it was impressive to view Connie as she carried out her role in the consecration, as Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia. This was a post she held for 31 years, retiring just recently.
While Foster passed away in 2011, Connie continues to commute to her law practice in Victoria, the eldest practicing lawyer in B.C. It was fitting that Connie’s 99th birthday was celebrated with friends and a champagne toast at the church last Sunday.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.