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Lives Lived: Halyna Maria Kopach, 69

Halyna Maria Kopach

Mother, grandmother, teacher, mathematician. Born on Jan. 1, 1947, in Neu-Ulm, Germany; died on Sept. 6, 2016, in Toronto, of pancreatic cancer, aged 69.

Halyna always had an air of quiet determination about her, often accompanied by a strong sense of humour.

Born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the Second World War, she was raised in Winnipeg by parents who had fled war-torn Europe and their home in Ukraine. At 17, Halyna won a scholarship to attend a triple honours program – maths, physics and chemistry at the University of Toronto.

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In her first year of studies, a professor told her that the program (which some students referred to as a "course for neurotics") was not for women, and that she should pursue another degree. There were only two women in the class of 120, but Halyna persisted, graduating with an honour's science degree in 1968, followed two years later by her master's degree in science.

Halyna and I first met at a summer camp in Gimli, Man., when she was 13 and I was 14. Our paths crossed again at university and, after dating for five years, we married in 1969. From the very start, we were a team. We raised three children, Renata, Larisa and Denis, and travelled as often as we could, many times with our children, visiting 25 countries, including Japan, South Africa and Ukraine. Through the years, we volunteered together in the Ukrainian community, in particular the Ukrainian scouting movement, and in our church.

Halyna always knew she wanted to teach maths and sciences. She loved the classroom, and her students. After teaching at various high schools in Toronto, she became head of mathematics at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School, a position she held for 25 years. There she coached her math teams, who consistently ranked at the top in provincial and national competitions. She mentored students for the University of Waterloo Mathematics Contests and did extra tutoring at our home on Saturday mornings, much to the dismay of our children, who wanted her all to themselves.

She had a keen interest in how students learned, especially those with learning difficulties, and those who were math challenged. Halyna embraced new technologies in her teaching, even creating her own YouTube channel, explaining the complexities of algebra and calculus. She was a consultant for the Ontario Ministry of Education in the development of math curriculum and co-authored six math textbooks.

But it wasn't all serious work: She was often asked by students to participate in school skits, playing herself and poking fun at the high expectations of the math department. In her last year before she retired, at 68, she was seen shooting hoops with students.

Her great love was her young grandchildren, Matthew, Kalyna, Larysa, Petra, and Olena. She had a special relationship with Matthew, a non-verbal child. They were kindred spirits. Many people noticed their special rapport, but few could explain it.

In a note that was left at Halyna's funeral, a former student wrote: "You called me your prodigal daughter. I got lost in high school with no one to hold me accountable. You didn't judge me. You helped me salvage what I could of that final year. Your firm and gentle hand pulled me from the depths of chaos. Thank you for being there, thank you for saving me." Halyna's kindness and grace lives on in all whose lives she touched.

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Jury Kopach is Halyna's husband.

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