(On 4 July 2014 a memorial service for Yvonne Woods was held at Knox Church, Toronto. Yvonne’s great-nephew, Rev Robbie Symons, senior pastor of Harvest Bible Church, Oakville, presided and preached a powerful message from Rev. 3:20, the text that led Yvonne to accept Christ as her Saviour and Lord as a child. I was asked by the family to say some unscripted words at the reception afterwards).
To understand why Yvonne was such a remarkable woman you have to grasp the world into which she was born the first year of the Great War. The Toronto of 1915 was an outpost of the Empire, a colonial city described as “Toronto the Good,” strongly Christian and conservative, the mirror opposite of today’s metropolis. Yvonne was born into an upper middle class family, her great-grandfather William McDougall was a father of Canadian confederation. Her own father, a lawyer, died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 leaving her mother in straitened circumstances, reduced to taking boarders into their large home on Spadina Road. Yvonne was shaped by the heritage of Ellen Knox, first headmistress of Havergal College (named for the hymnwriter) which she attended. Havergal was described, when founded in 1894, as “uniting Evangelical spiritual influences with a thorough intellectual cultural” preparation. As recently as 2010, when she was 95, Yvonne contributed to to the Ellen Knox Fund at Havergal. When Stacey arrivwed in Toronto in 1934 to take up the reins of the struggling Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship it was Yvonne’s mother, Joyce Ritchie, who was his stalwart associate. At every point Joyce was there for Stacey and it was not long before he noticed her daughter had the same qualities of leadership and resilience, The courtship stood the test of a six month separation as Yvonne and sister Jocelyn made a trip to Europe with their mother. The relationship thrived and on 30 April 1938 Stacey and Yvonne were married at the Anglican Church of the Redeemer at Bloor and Avenue Rd. where the Ritchies worshipped. Their rector preached the sermon that the Holy Spirit used to lead her to the Lord. Stacey later acknowledged that “I did one thing right. I prayed for the wife I needed and God gave me the wife He knew I needed.” For forty-five years Yvonne stood by Stacey, providing his tempestuous spirit with all the stamina and encouragement that he required to do a great work for God. As her son Stefano stated at the memorial service, in their late teens her sons could be critical of her excuses for their father but that later disappeared as they (and theirs) also received unconditional love and acceptance through their various marriages.
The story of Stacey’s years with IVCF in Canada, the founding of the movement in the United States, and relocation to Switzerland, are all told in my biography for which Yvonne provided both practical and moral support: “warts and all” was her blank cheque. She was exemplary for a biographer of a spouse. On Stacey’s death in 1983 Yvonne did not crumple but seemed to get a fresh breath of energy and maintained for the next quarter century a global circle of friends, prayer partners, and young admirers. She was the grand dame of the IFES quadrennial when it was held in Ancaster, Ontario, in 2007, basking in the new biography of her husband, just out. Her last days were not easy, she was eager to go home, but in those final months no-one was more supportive than her son Geoffrey, the closest geographically of the three, and kept in regular communication with all of us who were privileged to call Yvonne a friend. We will miss her but most all we will miss her prayers.