Francess Georgina Halpenny


MAY 27, 1919 – DECEMBER 25, 2017


Francess died peacefully on Christmas Day in the presence of family in the Veterans’ Centre of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, following a distinguished career as editor, teacher, administrator, and author at the University of Toronto.


Francess was born in Ottawa, the daughter of James Leroy and Viola Gertrude (Westman) Halpenny.  She was loving to many families and beloved by them: sister of Arthur Halpenny and his wife Dora, both also living in the Sunnybrook Veterans’ Centre; aunt of Jane Loughborough, John (Ruth), Mary Smith (Steve) and Tom (Beth); great aunt of Sean and Graham (Keri) Loughborough, Christopher (Larissa) and Gregory Smith, Brooke and Dale, and Johnathan; great-grand aunt to Rowan and Mira Smith and Emma and Adalyn Loughborough; cousin of Joan Timbrell, Elizabeth Wilson, Sheila Dutton, and Christopher English; dear friend of Margaret Weiers; fondly remembered by the Haultain and Corbett families; affectionately known to many as Aunt Francess.


After earning an M.A. in English Language and Literature at the University of Toronto, Francess joined the University of Toronto Press as an editor in 1941.  In the following year she enlisted in the RCAF and served as a meteorological observer in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.  Back at the Press after the war, she built a professional editorial department unmatched in Canada, the training ground for scholarly editors who spread across Canada from Nova Scotia to Vancouver.


In 1972 she was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Library Science (now Information Studies) at the University of Toronto and professor of library sciences.  From 1969 to 1988 she was general editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, the most ambitious multi-volume bilingual publishing project in Canada.  From 1979 to 1984 she was also associate director (academic) of the Press.  She wrote many articles on editing, publication, and biography in journals and collections and, while at the Faculty of Library Science, two major studies of Canadian collections.


She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979 and Companion in 1984.  In 1983 she received the Molson Prize, awarded by the Canada Council for distinguished contribution to Canada’s cultural and intellectual heritage.  The Royal Society of Canada made her a Fellow in 1977 and eleven Canadian universities awarded her honorary degrees.


Francess was an associate fellow of Massey College and a member of the Canadian Historical Society, Canadian Library Association, Committee for the Advancement of Women in Scholarship, Northlea United Church, the Heliconian Club, and the University Alumnae Dramatic Club.  She was a gifted actor, a playwright, and a devoted patron of theatre, ballet, music, bookstores, art galleries, and museums.


Cremation has taken place.  A memorial service will be held on Monday, March 26, 2018, in Northlea United Church, 125 Brentcliffe Road, Toronto, beginning with a visitation at 10:00 a.m. and a service at 11:00 a.m., followed by a reception.


The family is grateful to the staff of K1W, Sunnybrook, who cared for Francess so kindly and professionally since 2013.  Special thanks to her readers, Anna and Fiona.  Memorial donations may be sent to University Alumnae Dramatic Club, Northlea United Church, or Heliconian Hall Foundation.


Francess was a faithful Christian, a gracious and wise woman, gentle yet determined.  Her life was a world of words: spoken, written, sung, and made into books which she lived and loved every day.


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