Roger Skinner was a young Windsor lawyer beginning a career in estate law in 1967 when he was introduced to an elegant new client who would not only influence his career, but would come to be a great family friend to both him and his wife Libby, and whose generosity will have an impact on UWindsor students for years to come.
Eleanor Catherine Courtney Wallace was born in 1908 and died in 2012 at the age of 104. She was a lifelong Windsor resident and the last of a bygone generation who travelled the world by propeller plane and ocean liner.
Libby Skinner says Eleanor’s ladylike grace and kindness were matched with a rapier wit and sharp mind for business—a combination that allowed her to bequeath $3 million to UWindsor, an extraordinary sum that will provide ongoing scholarships for dozens of first-year students in the coming years.
Over time, the Skinners developed an enduring friendship with Eleanor that eventually saw Libby taking responsibility for her care in her final years.
Eleanor was raised on Chilver Road in Walkerville as the only child of the influential Courtney family. Following an education at the Ontario Ladies’ College in Whitby, Ontario—now the Trafalgar Castle School for Girls—she returned to Windsor and caught the eye of her future husband, Harry Wellman Wallace, who also hailed from a prominent early 20th century Detroit family. Mr. Wallace was running a Canadian subsidiary of the family-owned U.S. steel fabricating company, Wheel Truing.
The couple, who never had children, enjoyed a love story that saw them travelling the globe in each other’s company, with Harry often showering generous gifts on his beloved wife.
“He doted on her, and always called her Missy,” Roger recalls.
“It was always nothing but the best for Missy—he just really adored her and she adored him. She was always up for a trip and she travelled extensively with Harry. I don’t think there were many countries in the world that they didn’t visit,” Roger says. “They went to places people just didn’t go to back then. She had a wonderful life.”
Sadly, Harry passed away in 1972 while on a winter vacation in Barbados.
“She really had quite a life,” Libby says. “Eleanor was cheerful and generous of spirit—she never portrayed herself as a wealthy woman and possessed a gentle, kind, and very dry sense of humour.”
Eleanor always enjoyed music and regularly attended and supported the Windsor Symphony for many years. She was also a lover of poetry. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was among her favourites, although Libby says her caregivers best remember her for this little ditty:
As you are now, so once was I;
As I am, so you shall be;
Prepare yourself to follow me.
To follow you I’d be content;
But damned if I know;
Which way you went.
Roger recalls Eleanor cruising around the countryside in her pale blue Oldsmobile Toronado, accompanied by her friends and the Yorkies she favoured.
“She always had these little Yorkshire terriers and she took them everywhere. I remember her coming into my office and just moving things over and plopping them down on the desk,” he says.
In spite of a life that allowed her these luxuries, Roger says Eleanor was smart, savvy and had a lifelong interest in business and investing.
“She read the Globe and Mail every day—she was knowledgeable of the affairs of the world.
“If I stopped by the house at 9 a.m., she would always be up, dressed and ready to go. Although she had competent brokers, she invested independently in four stocks back in 1970: Royal Bank, TD, CIBC and Weston, and always read the annual reports. She was a very astute woman and those holdings alone were very instrumental in her financial well-being. They were the basis for the eventual bequest to the University of Windsor scholarship fund and these entry scholarships.”
Roger says Eleanor’s business acumen and thoughtful planning will benefit several organizations in addition to the University of Windsor, with her university gift earmarked primarily for students in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science.
“She didn’t want to make it too complicated. She was very pragmatic and had an interest in the arts.”
The Eleanor C. Wallace Scholarship will be awarded annually to full-time undergraduate students entering directly from a Canadian high school. The scholarship is based on academic merit (minimum entering average of 80 percent), leadership potential, commitment to community, and participation in school activities. Applicants must submit a short essay demonstrating their suitability. The University will allocate 18 awards for 2015/16.