Ellen Schmeiser
Ellen Schmeiser
Ellen Schmeiser

Obituary of Ellen Catherine Schmeiser

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Ellen Schmeiser (née Rupcich), S.O.M., K.C.
June 11, 1936 – February 24, 2023

Ellen Schmeiser (née Rupcich), S.O.M., K.C., found peace on February 24, 2023 after many years of illness. A legal pioneer and supporter of human rights, she will be sadly missed by her children and remembered for her contributions to equality and the legal profession. Ellen Rupcich was born in 1936 in a small house by the railway tracks near Bladworth, Saskatchewan. The daughter of proud Croatian immigrants, she attended a one-room schoolhouse and developed a lifelong love of learning. She graduated from Sisters of Sion Academy, Saskatoon in 1953 and entered the College of Law, University of Saskatchewan. She was the only woman in her graduating class of 1957 and won the gold medal for top marks. Prior to articling and obtaining the highest average on the Bar Admissions exams, she had four children, with twins arriving the following year. Throughout her life, she remained dedicated to what mattered most to her – equality, her love of family and the outdoors.

After practicing with Francis, Gauley, Dierker & Dahlem (now McDougall Gauley LLP), she was appointed the first Director of Research at the Law Reform Commission of Saskatchewan. As a Special Advisor at the Department of the Attorney General, she prepared recommendations and draft legislation that led to The Matrimonial Property Act in 1980 which addressed inequities often experienced by women by presuming that property acquired during a marriage is to be equally shared by spouses, unless an exception applied. Regarded by many as the most progressive legislation of its kind in the country, it became a model for other provinces in Canada. In 1978, Ellen was appointed a founding Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, representing the Prairie region through to 1980. She served as Associate Professor of Law at the University of Saskatchewan for several years and as President of the Saskatoon Bar Association from 1980-81. From 1983 to 1991 she was Director of Continuing Legal Education. In 1988, she received her King’s Counsel designation and in 1992, she was appointed Judge of the Provincial Court, serving in Regina, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon until her retirement in 2001. Ellen was recognized with awards and honours during her life, including the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal (Saskatchewan).  In 2015, she was recognized with the province’s highest distinction, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

Ellen always said that her greatest loves were her children and family: Mary Ellen (Darcy), Doug d. 2014 (Phyllis and child, Stephanie [Pradeesh]), Rob (Donna and children, Robbie [Chelsea], Kaitlyn [Tim and children Lilia and Archer] and Matthew), Jamie (Vivian and children, Peter, Kai and Veronica), Gary (Janet and children, Noah and Nathan), Peggy (Katrina and children, Sam, Kata, Liam and Camryn), and numerous nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her eldest son Doug, parents Peter and Kata Rupcich, and siblings, Steven Rupcich, Anne Drage, Dan Rupcich, Mary Sarich, and Paul Rupcich. She is survived by her younger sister, Peggy Ludlow, and others, including sisters-in-law, Agatha Rupcich and Mary Lou Rupcich.

Ellen loved the outdoors and was happiest at her cabin at Waskesiu Lake and at her acreage near Pike Lake. She was an avid birder, participating regularly in outings of the Saskatoon Nature Society. She had no fear walking solo down dirt roads or into the northern woods. She travelled extensively including with her daughters to the “old country” of Croatia. She liked painting and writing, and was a regular patron of Persephone Theatre. It seemed at times that there was nothing Ellen couldn’t do. She designed the family home and her cabin. She baked wonderful cakes and never missed her children’s band concerts. She believed there was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a safety pin or duct tape. She loved to read and her volume of Robert Service poetry was especially worn. She appreciated music and often provided her basement for her sons’ (loud) band rehearsals. She gardened and sewed. She obsessively read the newspaper, followed (and usually beat) the stock market, listened to CBC, watched sunsets, enjoyed sudokus and puzzles, and went for long walks and drives. Ellen lived moments fully and took equal comfort in her solitude as well as the company of those she loved.

As Ellen faced increasing health challenges, her feisty spirit persevered longer than anyone expected. Her family is grateful for the care provided over many years by Anne Gutiw and staff from Stonebridge Crossing, Trinity Manor, and Village Rose Health Care. She often expressed how fortunate she felt to have had a good life. Through her commitment, talents and love, we have all been enriched.     

An informal gathering and celebration of the life of Ellen Schmeiser will be held at 7:00 PM Monday, March 6, 2023 at Saskatoon Funeral Home. The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10:30 AM Tuesday, March 7, 2023 at St. Philip Neri Parish, 1902 Munroe Ave South, Saskatoon, followed by a light luncheon. Interment will be at St. Andrew’s Cemetery in Kenaston, SK. To share memories and condolences, please visit www.saskatoonfuneralhome.com. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be considered for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan.

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