We recently lost our friend Yulanda. She was 77. Smart, funny and glamorously beautiful, Yulanda’s essence was her enthusiasm. She made meals of books and read the newspaper daily from cover to cover. Most of all, Yulanda loved art — especially music and dance — and brought others along in her passion. She would perch at the edge of her chesterfield, her eyes wet, unfurling an ardent description of a previous evening’s concert, with a smile open like a sun-soaked harbour. Ever nurturing, she once taught me how to prepare lentils — the small, French kind — how to keep them intact when you cook them, like smooth, earthy pearls of caviar.
Yulanda was born in 1937, the daughter of a shopkeeper in Spaldings, Jamaica. Her school principal suggested she apply to McGill University, and she was promptly accepted into second year. She then moved to Montreal where she met her husband, Moh. “I was fascinated by the spirit she had,” he said. After living in Lebanon and Kuwait, they settled in Western Canada in 1974 where Moh, an engineer, pursued his passion for business. Yulanda opened her heart to volunteering. Over the next 40 years Yulanda devoted herself in spirit, time, fundraising and philanthropy to the Vancouver Opera, the Judith Marcuse dance company, the Community Arts Council, the Saint James Music Academy, the Scotiabank Dance Centre, the Vancouver Dance Foundation, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival, Bard on the Beach, the Vancouver Symphony, the Vancouver Children’s Festival, the Downtown Women’s Eastside Centre, and lent her support to Moh’s dedicated involvement with the Scotiabank Dance Centre, the Vancouver Dance Foundation and the West Vancouver Foundation. You could say she fell in love with enriching and engaging in the things she already loved.
In 2007 she received the B.C. Women’s Women in Music Award from the Minerva Foundation, an organization that supports women in leadership, and in 2008 the Mayor’s Arts Award for Support of the Arts. In 2013 Yulanda was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. At 75, she embraced her new role as the culmination of a lifetime of her heart’s work.
PS: “As the Dalai Lama says, ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito!’ ” (Yulanda Faris) “Work is love made visible.” (Kahlil Gibran)
Esoterica: Besides her 3 daughters and 6 grandsons, Yulanda’s legacy includes the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program at the Vancouver Opera — an artist’s Master Class program named by Moh in her honour in 2012. As part of the program, young singers, pianists and stage directors are given the opportunity to train and be mentored by senior artists. The result is ever more artists nurtured and, in turn, giving.
In 2010, The Governor General of Canada awarded Moh and Yulanda Faris the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Volunteerism in the Performing Arts. In honour of the occasion, film director Lynn Stopkewich made a short movie about how it all came to be. You can see it here:
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