IZZY DOLL ORIGINATOR PASSES

Carol M. Isfeld of Courtenay, B.C., recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal (Civil Division), the Queen's Jubilee Medal, the Memorial Cross and National Silver Cross Mother for 2000, died suddenly on Aug. 15 2007 at age 67.

Carol is remembered for her contribution to Canada and worldwide humanitarian causes through her initiation of the "Izzy Doll," which she continued to crochet after her son, Master Cpl. Mark Isfeld, was killed in 1994 while removing landmines during his third tour of UN duty in Croatia.

Just as Mark came to symbolize the humanitarian efforts of Canadian soldiers in the Balkans who gave their lives to help others, so Carol became a symbol for all families who lost a loved one in the service of their country. Of course, my view is coloured by the 48 years I spent at the side of this gentle and unassuming person, and by the 32 years that Mark was my son, embodying the qualities and values that make Canadian soldiers special and their parents proud.

My admiration and love for both is undiminished. I take comfort, as Carol did, in what became known as the "Izzy Dolls," which she started after our son wrote home during his first tour in the Balkans, and sent a photo of a doll amid the rubble of a building. Mark, like many soldiers, used to distribute comfort items to the afflicted -- slippers, mittens, candy, etc. Of this doll on the rubble, he wrote: "A little doll has lost her girl -- a little girl has lost her doll." One look at the picture and Carol knew what she had to do -- make these little dolls, crochet them, which easily fit in a soldier's tunic and could be distributed to children who have nothing.

Slowly the idea caught on, as news stories remarked on her program. When Mark was killed while removing a landmine, the pace increased. Hundreds of women with time on their hands -- mostly elderly and most of them mothers -- began making these "Izzy Dolls" to send to soldiers for distribution to kids. Ihave watched those who've become involved in Carol's brainchild regain interest, energy and enthusiasm to help others -- a rebirth of energy. Something to gladden the hearts of children in war-ravaged lands and to revive hope and optimism in mothers who have lost sons on these missions.

Our pride in Mark has never flagged. He chose Combat Engineers and as his service and experience deepened, so did his realization that while frightfully dangerous, removing landmines was critical in saving civilian lives. And he was very, very good at it -- never careless or reckless. There is irony in his death, since he was the featured soldier in a TV documentary being filmed about the lethal job of removing mines. The Price Of Duty, the documentary by Garth Pritchard of Calgary, won a variety of awards for excellence, and became a sort of living memorial to Mark and his comrades in Combat Engineers, who daily risk their lives.

It's true that making "Izzy Dolls" helped Carol (and me) deal with the pain of losing our son. But neither Carol nor I expected the rush of enthusiasm that greeted -- and still greets -- the project. Unexpectedly for Carol, the Izzy Doll phenomenon led to her rubbing shoulders with public figures. She never realized they were as much in awe of her as she was of them. She met Paul McCartney, who identified with her project. She dined with governor generals and met with senior politicians. She received letters of support from Diana, Princess of Wales, and Queen Noor of Jordan. She received the gratitude and admiration of senior military officers.

Through it all, she never aspired to be anything other than "mom" to those who loved her, and always thought of others before herself. It was immensely satisfying when the organization, International Community for the Relief of Starvation and Suffering (ICROSS) Canada, chose the "Izzy Doll" as their icon, making thousands of these dolls to be used to pack fragile medical supplies destined for the poorest of the poor in poor countries around the world.

Carol's legacy will live on thanks to Shirley O'Connell of Perth, who has consented to become the new "Izzy Doll Mama" to carry on the tradition. Carol and Mark are now gone -- yet their legacy remains. It's been said that some people take a lifetime to impress us with their deeds and actions, while others impress us in an instant for a lifetime. Carol falls into this latter category.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, at 1:30 p.m., Carol's life and contribution to Canada and children of the world will be celebrated near her home in B.C.'s Comox Valley, at the school named after our son, Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School, 1551 Leswick Rd,, Courtenay, B.C. V9N 9B5. Everyone is welcome. Donations in lieu of flowers in Carol Isfeld's name would be appreciated to the following: Canadian Landmine Foundation, a partner in the Adopt-A-Minefield Campaign, 1623 Yonge St., Toronto, M4T 2A1 (canadianlandmine.org), or ICROSS Canada, P.O. Box 3, Saanichton, B.C., V8M 2C3 (icross.ca).

Brian Isfeld, September 2007