As beloved local artist Henrietta Marie “Rickie” Woods passed on from this world, hundreds paid their respects from a distance.

A founding member of the Studio Tour Haliburton Highlands, Woods passed away from cancer April 15. After she chose medical assistance in dying (MAID), her friends in the community paid tribute to her on social media as she passed, with music, painting, toasts and grieving together – apart.

Friend and colleague Mary Wallace made a painting in the moment, depicting Woods sailing into the horizon on a canoe, posted with the message, “farewell, my friend. Go gently into that good night.”

“She was loved,” Wallace said of why so many joined in what she termed an “online wake.” “For her no-nonsense, no-frills, truly authentic generosity and practicality.”

Woods lived in Haliburton for decades as a potter, attracting people with her wares for 30-years on the studio tour.

“She worked hard; she produced a lot. Her pottery wasn’t just a hobby,” Debbie Wales, another friend and colleague, said. “She was making her living and she just wanted to be the best potter she could be.”

Woods left her mark as a founding member of the tour, also serving on the executive for many years. Wallace said Haliburton’s was one of the first and most celebrated tours in the province. It was there Woods made many friends and acquaintances. Wallace said people would love to visit her studio.

“She was really a pioneer in the studio tour movement,” Wallace said. “Treated everybody like family. People would come back night and day to her house in the Blairhampton triangle. Just because you were always welcome.”

“She was an excellent cheerleader,” Wales said. “Her favourite thing to say is, ‘we have to put on the best show we can and go all out.’ It wasn’t just open your studio and hope some people come. You have to make people feel welcome.”

But though she had a tremendous love of her craft, daughter Katie Woods said her family came first. Alongside husband Timothy, she raised four children. Woods said she maintained a close bond with all her kids.

“She was very involved in our lives. She was the mom who went on school trips,” Woods said, adding she remained close even after her children left the nest. “She would drive hours to pick us up if we needed to come home for the weekend.”

She is also survived by four grandchildren, which the family said would fondly remember her as “grand-smother.”

After her husband passed due to cancer in 2015, Woods decided to leave the Haliburton Highlands and head to Lisle two years later, to live in a home on her daughter’s farm. She worked to make a new studio while being a fixture in the life of her daughter and grandchildren.

“She loved people and she absolutely adored her life in Haliburton and did miss it,” Woods said. “She loved her life here too.”

But though Woods was a “picture of health” earlier this year according to her daughter, her condition suddenly took a turn for the worse in March. Her health deteriorated quickly until she was eventually diagnosed with cancer, with a bleak prognosis of three months with treatment, four-to-six weeks without.

After going through a difficult process when her husband contracted cancer, the potter opted for MAID. Katie Woods said the family completely supported the decision.

“There’s no nice way to say goodbye to your parent when you love them as much as we loved mum and dad, but watching somebody suffer is hell,” Woods said. “In the grand scheme of things, her pain was minimal, and mum was 100 per cent at peace with her decision.”

“It’s so quintessentially Rickie,” Wallace said. “It takes a lot of guts to go gently into the night.”

With the decision made, Woods said her mother had time to focus on contacting her friends and family to say farewell. The messages came pouring in and Woods read and listened to them in her final days. The family has put off a celebration of life, until “after Rickie fulfills her promise to get rid of this COVID crap for us,” her obituary said.

But those who loved her still found a chance to grieve together virtually as she passed.

“Grief is a strange thing in that we need others to share it with,” Wales said. “In this crazy world of self-isolation that we find ourselves in right now, it was strangely comforting to be connected virtually.”

“She just kept saying over and over again that she felt so loved,” Woods said. “She left this Earth surrounded by that and there’s no way for our family to ever, ever explain how grateful we were that that’s what she was given before she died.”

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