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Yukon loses a dynamic elder

Ethel Frost, 72, a familiar figure to the people of Old Crow, died last week after a long battle with a cancer, which had spread to liver and lungs.

Ethel Frost, 72, a familiar figure to the people of Old Crow, died last week after a long battle with a cancer, which had spread to liver and lungs.

She is survived by her husband Stephen Frost, 11 children and a bevy of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and godchildren.

Frost will be fondly remembered by her large family many friends.

Last year, this southerner got lucky — I got to sit down with Frost and hear about her life.

When we were finally face to face, I could see the strength of her opinions, her humour and her charm etched in the laugh lines around her eyes.

She was a woman who sparkled with personality and vigour every time I met her, whether she was having her hair set in Whitehorse in between chemotherapy sessions, or relaxing at home in Old Crow.

By the time we met, Frost was fighting for her health at home. She was reclining in bed beside an end table scattered with prescription tablets, ointments and syrups, but she spent the most time bragging about the bear grease and pitch cream her sister had made for her to help with painful dry skin, one of the side effects of chemotherapy.

According to her, that mix was better than any commercial cream. “It works pretty good,” she said, giving her hands a cursory look then filling the bedroom with a cheerful laugh.

Frost came to Old Crow after her wedding to Stephen Frost in 1953. When she arrived, she had nothing but a trunk full of her belongings. That trunk is still in her house, filled with memorabilia from a life spent in Old Crow.

It was a busy life. Ethel Frost played a number of roles; in her early years she was a midwife and a nurse. Over the years, she delivered 19 children in all, after the doctor/minister in town discovered he could turn over the task of delivering babies to her.

“Now they’re all married, they have kids of their own,” she said, nodding happily in her room last November.

“I remember each one,” she added.

Beyond her nursing duties, Frost spent the most time playing a very important civic role in the fly-in community of Old Crow.

She worked for 40 years as an airline ticket agent. Airlines changed over the years, but Frost continued to work as an agent for all of them.

When TransNorth stopped flying to the community, and Old Crow found itself more and more isolated, Frost knew she had to step in.

She wrote a letter to Air North, suggesting they check out what it would take to serve the community.

She continued by saying that many people would work for the company, if the company would take the risk.

The rest is history — the Vuntut Development Corporation is now a part owner of Air North.

Although Frost was strongly engaged with current events (when we met, she was avidly watching CBC Newsworld) she was also a believer in traditional ways.

She was fluent in the Gwitchin language, and spend fall days ice fishing with her husband. The pair and their friends always came back with armloads of fish.

Frost’s eulogy lists many other skills that she brought to the community when she arrived from Fort Yukon.

“As many of you know, Ethel was a talented and creative in many ways. She loved cake decorating and filled many, many orders,” reads the remembrance.

“She made garments for her family … and always ensured that Stephen had good beadwork and garments to wear.”

It also lists Frost’s creative endeavours: Easter egg hunts that are family legends; Christmas decorations that were the talk of Old Crow, and a garden that was in bloom as soon as spring came to the community.

Frost will be remembered as a person with a passion for life, and a sharp wit.

Even in the last few days she spent with her family, Frost was apt to entertain her caregivers by telling them a joke or two, said niece Shirlee Frost.

“She was still making funny comments, even in the last few days.”