Helen-Ann (Tudsy) Bourke
Falmouth-Helen-Ann Bourke came home to die on May 20, 2020, at her daughter’s farmhouse in a room envisioned for that purpose. Accompanying her journey to God were her son, son-in-law, and daughter. Helen-Ann was born July 31st in Lewiston Maine into a reverent and joyous family: a gregarious ice cream salesman who indulged this life-long love; an impish homemaker who attended all her school events—even debates; and a beloved, admired brother who taught her to jitterbug so well that they had no problem attracting dance partners. Helen Ann became Tudsy in high school when a peer mis-pronounced her maiden name of Tardif. Eventually her children’s high school friends used it—who wouldn’t want to say Tudsy?!
A natural athlete, she played basketball, swam and dove, bowled, played tennis and racquetball, and skied. In her teens/twenties she coursed down the tree-laden hill across from Bates College (You learned to turn!), and down Tuckerman’s Ravine, a rite of passage. At Camp Pesky, she progressed from camper to counselor to camp nurse. Prompted by a maternal grandmother with diabetes and a neighbor with brain-based struggles, she knew her vocation: nursing. Tudsy worked in delivery, emergency, a doctor’s office, as a traveling nurse, and doing blood pressure and flu clinics. She drove all over; no weather intimidated her. Though she earned the C.H.S. Group Inc. 1989 Nurse of the Year Award, she spoke more about her training at Mercy Hospital, Class of 1951, maintaining that “There’s a difference between taking care of someone and caring for them.” In the last four years she humbly accepted assistance. Ever the champion and mentor, she’d tell staff to take one course at a time and get their degree: "You can do it."
Tudsy took initiative. She’d chosen to live on Anthoine Street in South Portland, so her children could walk to school, as she had with her brother. When the new junior high school was built, the street became the dividing line. With this, came the need for buses. Tudsy went to the town and was granted permission: her children could walk to Mahoney. She was instrumental in starting Close the Gap, which enabled youth tennis players to play on indoor tennis courts at six a.m. on Sundays under the tutelage of ranked adults. The goal was to provide better footing for spring competition for Mainers up against those who had resources for indoor practice or who lived in warmer climates.
Fiercely independent, her tool shed and bulkhead were stocked with every tool imaginable for house or yard. Her family only got her to stop climbing six-foot ladders when they helped her move from her house of sixty years…from her ladders. She traveled worldwide, had a camper, and attended Elder hostels and a new generation of children’s birthday parties for her younger friends. One time she skinny-dipped in broad daylight off Mackworth Island to cool off after playing tennis with her buddy.
Inseparable from her life narrative was her innate love of a little lakeside camp her father built out of hemlock slabs. It was there, as a young adult, she’d raced to the water ahead of the neighbor boy—once in her pajamas—and there, as a middle-aged person, she’d gone alone for a week (with plenty of gum) in order to quit smoking.
To many, she was considered a second mom or a surrogate grandmother. Her greatest sustenance, family. Her daughter-in-law treasures her advice to her as a young working mother: “Carrie dear, remember to stop and smell the roses.” Her son-in-law Michael relates how when he took her to doctor’s appointments, he’d instinctively reach out for her arm, but she’d naturally reach out for his hand: that’s how they walked. Her grandchildren on both sides agree that on outings, “The constant was always the desire to turn strangers into friends.” When her son thinks of an adage that embodies her, it’s “Happiness in an inside job.” When her daughter thinks of the best gift she’s received from her, it’s being introduced to God and Mary when she was little.
Nineteen days before her death, her family surprised her with a May Day tree decorated with notes stating why she was their sunshine. She added her own: “Je vous aime tous! I came. I love. I live. Thank you all.” She was strong before succumbing to an unexpected, sudden health issue (not Covid-19). What strength and will to remain alive until she came home to us.
She is predeceased by her mother, Mary Costain; her father, Valmont J. Tardif; and her brother, V. John Tardif Jr. She leaves behind her son, Charles T. Bourke Jr. and his wife, Carrie Bourke, their children Chris, Haley, and Emily; her daughter, Terri Ann Bourke and her husband, Michael Conroy, their daughter, Nicky Conroy, her husband, Jon Larner-Lewis, and their son, Shepherd; and sons, Nathan, and Sean. Also, her sister-in-law Sylvia Tardif and special cousin, Patty Crowley.
Heartfelt thanks to Birchwoods, where she was respected for her wisdom and famous for making the rounds at mealtime with her red oversized coffee cup; and to Avita, where she swung her mother’s cane more than leaned on it, and was celebrated for her individuality and spunk: staff knew she’d still be up and awake between one and three a.m., ready to joke or share stories.
Condolences may be sent to A.T. Hutchins Funeral Home, 660 Brighton Avenue, Portland, Maine, 04102, c/o Helen-Ann Bourke. The family looks forward to a Catholic Mass and a gathering in the future. In the meantime, may we all consider how in her old age Helen-Ann continued to offer her unique combination of good cheer, playfulness, gratitude, acceptance, faith, and love.