Elva McManus drafted a letter she’s going to be sending to Anne Branson, to tell her “just how much she means,” to thank her for all of her years of dedication and friendship, and to wish her a speedy recovery. McManus hopes others touched by Branson’s contributions through the years will follow suit. (Linda Ehlert/Special to The News)

Elva McManus drafted a letter she’s going to be sending to Anne Branson, to tell her “just how much she means,” to thank her for all of her years of dedication and friendship, and to wish her a speedy recovery. McManus hopes others touched by Branson’s contributions through the years will follow suit. (Linda Ehlert/Special to The News)

Friend launches letter-writing campaign for her mentor

Elva McManus feels notes of encouragement will help in her 88-year-old friend’s recovery

Elva McManus has known her mentor, Anne Branson, for more than half a century.

So, when the 87-year-old Maple Ridge woman learned her friend and former colleague had been hospitalized with a broken shoulder and hip from a fall, she stewed on how she could best help.

Then, the proverbial light bulb went off.

McManus launched a letter-writing campaign aimed at lifting the ailing woman’s spirits and hopefully – indirectly – assisting in her recovery.

“If you’re fortunate, once in a lifetime, you encounter a friend whose dedication to the needs of others is both profound and unforgettable,” McManus said. “For me, that person is Anne Branson.”

But she knew it was not only her own life, but probably hundreds of others locally, who have been “significantly impacted” by Branson through the years.

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McManus – who once worked for Branson as a teacher – explained a bit more about her mentor’s background and contributions.

“As a young child in England, Anne endured the horror of the bombing of London, and the trauma of being separated from her parents – as she was sent to the safety of the countryside. That experience of loneliness and fear remained paramount to her childhood memories, and was one of the reasons she chose to become a teacher of children with emotional and intellectual problems,” said McManus.

Trained as a teacher in England, Branson married a Canadian (Don) and accepted a posting in Maple Ridge.

“In Maple Ridge, she quickly became an advocate for special needs children who had no opportunity for education or were severely limited as to appropriate training or adequate curriculum that focused on their individual needs,” McManus recounted.

Ultimately, Branson became principal of Arthur Peake School, a specialized facility that – in the day – provided individual instruction for 20 children. Arthur Peake School is still a school district space near Thomas Haney Secondary, but has since been transformed into an alternate school for at-risk kids.

“Anne’s no-nonsense personality, along with genuine loving concern and amazing innovation was the catalyst for programs that achieved province-wide approval and were sanctioned by UBC, Douglas College, and a variety of organizations that fostered the development of those with handicaps,” McManus said, calling Branson an inspiring woman with a positively infection personality.

In the day, children stepped into, what McManus called, an individualized learning mode the minute they entered “this little school.” Life skills were paramount, along with recreational and basic work experience skills.

“The children loved the cooking, sewing, woodwork, music, drama, and camping programs, along with skills achieved in swimming, bowling, skating, and bicycling. Anne was an outstanding educator. No opportunity for learning was overlooked,” said McManus, who went on to be director of recreation at the Woodland school.

“Anne, we want you to know how much we appreciate all you’ve done,” she noted.

Scrambling for a way to really make a difference in her friend’s recovery, McManus threw out a request for people who know Branson to send a get-well notes – hoping she’ll be inundated with messages of love and admiration.

“Anne is now age 88, and her health has recently taken a downward plunge,” said McManus. “So, it would be a gesture of appreciation for her years of dedication to you and your children, if you would drop her a short note of encouragement.”

Branson is now home, healing from her fall, so letters can be sent directly to her at: 21470 124th Ave., Maple Ridge, B.C., V2X 4H3.

“Anne has touched so many people’s lives,” McManus told The News. “She’s just such a delightful lady… I think this will mean so much to her.”

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