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Labradorians of all ages are mourning the loss of Philomena Abbass, who passed away on Friday, Nov. 2 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Originally from Grand Falls-Windsor, Philomena and her husband Doug arrived in Goose Bay over 30 years ago. The parents of four children, both quickly got involved in the community.
Abbass is known to many Labradorians for her long teaching career and her involvement in the arts community. Kathleen Hicks worked with Abbass for over 20 years on musical theatre productions, from St. Michael’s school to Mealy Mountain Collegiate.
Hicks spoke passionately of her colleague and departed friend.
“She thought of every detail, sharing ideas for all aspects of directing these big casts of 50 or more people-set, costumes, schedules, scenes that needed work,” she said. “She was always so organized and always kind, so easy to get along with. We never once had a disagreement — mostly I just did what she asked and she was always right!”
After years of lobbying by Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s artistic community, a permanent performing arts space was finally opened in 2009, the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre.
This made space for musical productions by youth, as well as the Mokami Players and Melville Music Festival, all organizations Abbass was deeply involved with. Hicks became the manager of the theatre and Abbass lent her skills to the
Eastern Labrador Arts Alliance board, work Hicks describes as invaluable “with her wisdom and energy and thoughtfulness.”
While many skilled administrators and directors shy away from performing onstage, Abbass embraced that side of theatre as well. Known for playing both comedic and dramatic roles, she appeared in everything from the drama “The Constant Wife” to playing a Broadway dancer in the western musical “Crazy For You”.
Pieces with the Mokami Players often times went to Newfoundland to appear in the provincial drama festivals, and many of her castmates recall the fun she brought to these journeys.
While a notable aspect of her life in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the arts were not the only area of expertise.
She was also heavily involved at Our Lady Queen of Peace parish as well as a long-term member of the Birch Brook Ski Club.
Even as she grew ill with cancer over the past 16 months, her commitment to the arts didn’t wane, remaining a board of director’s member for the arts centre and continuing to volunteer as an usher at the centre.
Debbie Gill, an administrator at the theatre and a friend of Abbass, said, “it was quite a shock” on the passing of her friend.
“She had just worked with us on The Once and she had also just reorganized our volunteer schedule. She will be greatly missed,” Gill said.
In addition to Doug and their children Erika, Karla, Kaitlyn and Thomas, Abbass is also survived by her mother and five siblings.
“I treasure every minute that I got to spend with her. She was a gift to us all, whether she was in schools, in the theatre, on stage, back stage or directing,” said Hicks. “I know her spirit and zest for life is in me forever