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Canadian Navy pioneer Thelma Eunice Coward-Ince dies at Northwood Halifax campus

Navy pioneer Thelma Eunice Coward-Ince has died at the age of 86.
Navy pioneer Thelma Eunice Coward-Ince has died at the age of 86. Arbor Memorial funeral home

Navy pioneer Thelma Eunice Coward-Ince, who marked many firsts in Nova Scotian and Canadian history, has died at age 86.

She died on April 17 at the Northwood Halifax campus after suffering from dementia and the most recent outbreak of the coronavirus at the long-term care home, according to her obituary at Arbor Memorial funeral home.

Coward-Ince became the Royal Canadian Navy’s first Black reservist in 1954 and the first Black senior secretary when she became secretary to the chief of staff to the admiral.

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At the Department of National Defence, she became the manager of administrative services. Coward-Ince was the first Black manager and the only female manager in the Ship Repair Unit Atlantic between 1979 and 1992, when there were fewer than 100 women employees out of a total complement of 2,000.

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She is survived by her daughter, Michelle Ince, and her son, Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Tony Ince.

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“The minister is very proud of his mother and I had the fortune of knowing her professionally, and socially I adored her,” Premier Stephen McNeil said at Tuesday’s COVID-19 press briefing. “She had a great sense of humour.

“I watched her glow with pride in her son and I know how much Tony admired the strength of his mother. She grew up at a time when discrimination was rampant but she continued to find her way, to set many markers for herself, for the women in this province and, frankly, for all of us.”

McNeil said that with the many health issues Coward-Ince faced, she continued to keep the love of her family around her and kept providing them with support.

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“Death. It is silent, peaceful even, yet it can take away everything you’ve ever known, in a mere second,” her daughter, Michelle, wrote in her obit. “She was an extraordinary Mom with undying, unconditional Love, that made me know she was my best friend; and no-one made me laugh like she did. Mom I will truly miss you! There is no one who could take your place. I love you.”

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Coward-Ince was deeply involved in her community, serving on multiple boards, such as the Black United Front, the Health Association of African Canadians, and the Canadian Ethnocultural Council.

She was also a devoted member of Saint Thomas Baptist Church while she lived in Dartmouth, and was a member of the Nova Scotia Mass Choir for more than 20 years before she became ill.

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In 2015, she moved to Northwood’s Halifax campus.

According to Coward-Ince’s obituary, due to the restrictions resulting from COVID-19, a funeral will be held at a later date. Donations can also be made in her memory to the Alzheimer’s Society of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Mass Choir.

As of Tuesday, Nova Scotia has reported three more deaths connected to the novel coronavirus at Northwood Manor in Halifax, bringing the death toll at the facility to 35 and the province’s to 41.