Less than two weeks after celebrating her 90th birthday, Miriam Grace Powell (née McAlister), daughter of the late William James McAlister and Irene Marion Iris McAlister, passed into the presence of her Saviour Jesus Christ on Sunday, February 4th after a short battle with acute myelogenous leukemia. Miriam is survived by her two sons, Timothy (Betty) and Christopher (Valerie), her husband Leigh and daughter Rachel (Paul) having preceded her into heaven. She had the great joy of being a grandmother to six grandchildren: Hannah, Noah, Abigail and Benjamin, as well as Daniel and Elizabeth. She also leaves behind her precious extended church family at Covenant Baptist Church, of which she was a founding member 50 years ago this year. Miriam was born and raised in a Christian home in Toronto. She made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ at a young age when she was confronted with the reality of life and death and eternity in a sermon, and she was concerned that she go to heaven and not hell. Her father was an elder at the time in The Peoples Church, and her uncle Gordon Wishart served briefly with A.W. Tozer when he ministered in Toronto on Avenue Road (the church now known as Bayview Glen Christian and Missionary Alliance). Miriam grew up in both churches before joining Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto as a young adult, being drawn to the Gospel clearly taught from the Old Testament by Pastor William Fitch in a bible study on the prophet Amos. She graduated in 1953 from high school at North Toronto Collegiate where she loved to play the French horn. She always wanted to be an engineer, but since that career was not open to women at that time, she found other ways to use her considerable gifts to glorify God and love and serve others.
Miriam graduated from the University of Toronto in 1957 with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and in 1959 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. After two years of working locally in Obstetrics and Public Health, she traveled to study Midwifery in Scotland and England (at which time she met her beloved Leigh). She became a State Certified Midwife in England and Wales. But more significant to her during her time in England was her church experience there. As she started attending Westminster Chapel in London, her faith grew, and she came to love solid, thoughtful expository preaching. She met her future husband, Leigh, at Westminster Chapel and then later when he interviewed her as a part-time volunteer secretary for the Evangelical Library in the early days of the Banner of Truth Trust. It was there that their romance blossomed, and Leigh asked her to marry him. She initially refused because she felt an obligation to take care of her recently widowed mother back in Toronto. But when Leigh persisted and asked if there was any reason why he shouldn’t come to Canada and marry her there while they served her mother together, she happily relented, and they were joyfully married by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Dr. William Fitch on September 7, 1963 at Knox Presbyterian in Toronto. They had 60 years of great joy in marriage, and they were a model to their three children, Timothy, Rachel and Christopher, of what it meant to be a loving spouse.
After her brief time in Britain, Miriam returned to Canada (joined in 1963 by Leigh) and filled multiple teaching roles including Clinical Instructor of Obstetrics at TGH, Clinical Coordinator of the School of Nursing in Kingston, lecturer in Nursing Education and Public Health Nursing at Queen’s University, part time faculty member at Gwynedd-Mercy College in Pennsylvania (while her husband studied at Westminster Seminary), prenatal educator with North York Public Health and NYGH, lecturer at Toronto Baptist Seminary (alongside her husband), Teaching Master in Obstetrics at Seneca College, facilitator with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and a nurse with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. When money was needed for her children’s Christian school, but a suitably flexible job wasn’t found in nursing, she took a job working in sales in the Ladies’ Sportswear department at the local Sears Canada store. She even tried her hand at selling Tupperware while Leigh was in seminary, and she was one of the top sales reps in her area.
Then, in her sixties, after her children were grown, she was determined to take on a new way of helping people. Leaving nursing behind, she went back to Woodsworth College at the University of Toronto and graduated with a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Certificate. She started a tutoring business teaching foreign national students English to help them get acclimated to Canada. Of course she went beyond just teaching them, and they, along with their families, became a part of hers, and she invited them into her home and her church life right into her early eighties.
Miriam’s accomplishments speak for themselves in many ways, and for many of you reading this you may wonder why you have never heard of all this. And that’s because she was also a humble, faithful worker. She did not desire the limelight. She just wanted to serve, and she did so faithfully. She played the piano in the church from its beginning in 1974 and served until just before her 90th birthday as an accompanist. To be a good accompanist is a ministry in itself because it’s not about showcasing your talents, but helping others to express their worship to God, and she did it well. She also served in many other ways in the church - she chaired the social committee for many years, started the women’s discipleship ministry, organized and catered the church outreach suppers, and so much more. She also advocated for church members and newcomers to get support in the Ontario medical system and counseled many pregnant mothers. She even maintained an informal thrift store in the basement of her home to make sure that all the new immigrants and Leigh’s seminary students had proper warm winter clothing when they came to Canada and a shirt and tie to preach in. She was the most generous person I have ever met. She embarrassed us all with her radical generosity and love. When she had nothing, she still gave everything she could. Up until she went into the ICU last week, she was still trying to help people however she could.
Mum loved the book of Hebrews, especially chapter 4 as she found it such a comfort throughout some difficult times in her life to have a sympathetic Saviour who calls us to the throne of grace to “receive mercy and find grace in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). She wanted her whole family to know the comfort of knowing and trusting Jesus Christ. Her husband deeply loved her and knew how integral she was to their life, their ministry in the church, and in the home. She was the person who was always in your corner, and she loved fiercely and beautifully, even if not perfectly. It was a privilege to know her and to be loved by her.
We love you Mum, and we miss you so much already. As you said to Tim and me, we will likewise always love you “more than tongue can tell.”
If desired, donations may be made to the Covenant Baptist Church and/or the Leukaemia Society of Canada or the Odette Cancer Centre of Sunnybrook Hospital.
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