By Susan Hickman
Janice Elliott and Ed Bigelow’s love story began 24 years ago in the hallways of Carleton University.
“He always had a quick joke and, as groundskeeper, he knew his way around,” recalled 57-year-old Elliott, who worked at Carleton for 27 years until 2014, when she left to deal with a diagnosis of bladder cancer.
Only minutes after Elliott and her 60-year-old groom were finally married in the cool, sunny afternoon of Saturday, April 9 in the River Building atrium, she recalled their first date, when she took the initiative and invited the shy Bigelow home to meet her family.
It may have taken the alarming news from her oncologist that she will lose her battle with her now inoperable cancer before next Christmas to convince Bigelow, who worked at Carleton for 17 years, to finally propose to Elliott. But it took less than a month for the staff at Carleton’s Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities (PMC), where Elliott worked for 15 years, to become wedding planners and organize a day the two would never forget.
“First thing,” said Amanda Bettencourt, a learning strategist and disabilities coordinator at the PMC, “we contacted Janice and Ed and asked them who they wanted involved. We got them working on the guest list, met with Sally Babson in event management, and worked with (PMC Director) Larry McCloskey and (PMC Student Support Officer) Bruce Hamm about what we needed to get done.”
Jocelyn van Wynsberghe, a PMC student services officer, was also a major contributor to the wedding planning.
While the couple was determined to have their grandchildren involved (Elliott’s seven grandchildren, including the youngest, five-year-old Ezra, were flower girls, ring bearers and ushers for the ceremony), Bettencourt said the biggest challenge was making sure the guests knew where to come and where to park.
James Wright, a Carleton music professor and pianist, volunteered at the last minute to perform on the special day, and he was accompanied by Hamilton operatic soprano Marie-Claire Bissonnette. Food and drinks were donated by the caterers and the rental fee for the atrium was waived.
Among the nearly 200 guests was Carleton President Roseann O’Reilly Runte.
“When the River Building opened,” Runte said, “we thought: ‘Wouldn’t this be a great place for a wedding.’ This is really a great community and it’s a community that makes a great family. I think we felt as an audience we were all giving the bride away.”
Elliott, in fact, walked into the atrium from the mezzanine, slowly descending the staircase on the arm of her son Scott to the strains of Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.
Wearing a royal blue pant suit and white shell, with a sparkling flower brooch set against her snow white hair, Elliott was her sunny, joyful self throughout the ceremony, the personality she is famous for at Carleton.
Former Carleton employee Dawn Brown, now a wedding officiant, performed Saturday’s wedding.
“I knew Janice when she worked for our Student Life Services Department,” recalled Brown. “I left Carleton many years ago and every time I have seen Janice, I have got a big hug. It’s as if I never left. She was special to me at the time, because of her very positive attitude. Now, it’s like giving back.”
Said McCloskey: “I recruited her because of her infectious laugh. She is a natural in human connectedness. People are drawn to her because she is the exemplar and she holds the formula for a life well lived.
“We all feel like we own a piece of Janice today,” he added, and to the newlyweds: “Janice and Ed, you have had hard things come your way recently and you have handled them magnificently.”
Ottawa psychologist John Meissner, who works with students at the PMC, told Elliott her easy-going nature combines with a rare form of genius. “You connect with each person as an individual,” he told the bride, “and the ability to see people that you are working with and care about the person and not the adversity they are dealing with.”
Indulging Elliott’s fetish for firemen, the PMC staff/wedding planners arranged a surprise visit by off-duty firefighters Moe Roose, David Andre, Don Tolle and Victor Org from the Ottawa Professional Firefighters. While awestruck by the pair’s gifts of flowers, champagne and kisses, Elliott’s new groom slipped away to change into full-on firefighting gear. To Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire, the couple each picked up a mike and spontaneously sang along.
“I can’t say enough about what this day means to me,” Elliott said after the ceremony. “It really has taken my breath away.”