17 SEP 2018: Family, friends and business associates past and current gathered Saturday to celebrate the life of a woman who lived her life with passion. Jennifer Perry was passionate about her family, her friends, her work – the term ‘workaholic’ most certainly applies – she was passionate about life. So, as we gathered with her husband Bob and daughter Lauren, to remember, to wipe away tears and to laugh at memories, there was an overwhelming sense of sadness and disbelief for a life that ended far too soon. But Jennifer Perry is also a reminder to those of us, especially in this industry that she so loved, that friendships are integral to our lives. During Jennifer’s illness, her ‘Strand Girls’ were also there to help keep her encouraged, entertained and distracted.

Friendships made as part of one’s business are inevitably work centric and often fizzle away once you no longer work together, usually with a promise of ‘let’s get together for a drink’ or ‘let’s have lunch’– well meant but unfulfilled civility as you go your separate ways. Perhaps social media will change this – but certainly for previous decades that has been largely so.

In travel however, perhaps because we do so much business in a such social atmosphere – hotels, restaurants, resorts, trips - the bond is stronger. Our knowledge of each other is often more personal, our caring of each other becomes deeper – and long lasting friendships result.

This was the case with Jennifer and her ‘Strand Girls.’

It all began after Strand Holidays went the way of so many other tour operators of the seventies. After its demise a group of women who had worked there remained friends - meeting, dining, laughing and supporting each other through the decades. They are now scattered in different cities and countries, but they still connect and still manage to get together from time to time. Now, in the fourth decade of this ‘group’ friendship, with no sign of abatement, we thought it appropriate to invite the members of ‘Strand Girls’ to tell us about their friend, Jennifer Perry.

Lesley Halloran

My wonderful, amazing friend... who asked me to look after two kittens for six weeks while she went to Europe and then didn't come back for four years.

My adventurous, fun loving friend who arranged a boat excursion that almost drowned our young family as well as her own (the 'boat ride from hell' is legend with my four, now adult, kids!).

My strong and courageous friend who feared many things but was not afraid to confront whatever life threw at her, head on… she was the true embodiment of 'Carry On and....'

My extraordinary, incredible friend who never hesitated to help you out, to go to bat for you (and there really was a bat that sometimes made an appearance in meetings).

My very dear, close friend, whom I often didn't hear from for weeks at a time, especially in winter....but it didn't matter because I knew she was away doing important stuff - forging contracts in Cuba or Mexico, searching out new spots like Roatan or Hobox, stepping extremely carefully through the Amazon jungle (still elegant in rubber boots), or tied up in meetings with doctors and carers, fighting fiercely for her Mom or her sister, or just out shopping, more shopping … always looking for that bargain. I loved your courage, your strength and your zest for life.

Bonnie Buckhiester in from Vancouver:

Conventional wisdom says that long distance relationships don't work. Using an acceptably light-weight expletive … I say hogwash! I first met Jennifer Perry in 1976; I moved to Vancouver in 1991 and enjoyed a wonderful, fulfilling, loving friendship with her from afar for 42 years. When we saw one another it was like no time had passed.

There was not a weak bone in Jen’s body. She was as tenacious, as courageous, as ethical, as hard-working, as determined when she faced death, as she was when I met her in 1976. She battled leukemia ferociously, with dignity, humour, grace and fortitude. As I write this, I am in tears at the loss of this amazing friend, this extraordinary woman. And one more thing, never take for granted the bonds that are forged with colleagues, who become friends, who become a support system, who are there when it counts...even after 42 years.

Helen Tilston from Ireland

Jennifer's mother was the inspiration for our "Strand Girl's Night" which began in 1979 after Strand Holidays closed, as she had founded and was a member of such a group. Our Strand Girl's Nights started out with spaghetti and pasta and a salad served on Corelle dishes. We took turns in hosting. As the years progressed and we became more affluent, our carefully prepared meals were served on our best china and crystal. Typically, we’d recount stories and events from our days at Strand and our new experiences in travel. Caribbean music would inevitably be playing in the background. Several times over the 40 years we took weekends away including quite recently a five day trip to Florida.

Jennifer was a standout at our gatherings. She was a gourmet cook - her scalloped potatoes were my favourites. She laughed often, so loudly, heartily and uncontrollably that she had difficulty completing a story. Jennifer loved us to include horseback riding in our weekends away and the memories of riding at Talisman Resort and Prince Edward County are dear to our hearts. One of my all-time favourite memories of Jennifer is of her dancing (along with the rest of us) at Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, all sporting ridiculously large sunglasses and singing Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ into our own toy microphones.

 Patti Neville:

A job I love and am passionate about." Words that Jen not only spoke often but lived by. They enveloped both her home and work "jobs". We, the "Strand Girls", have 40 years of seeing the results. Always starting at home where she was grounded and happy with support from Bob and the joy of a close relationship with Lauren, we have all shared her love for great meals, a few glasses of wine and most recently she amazed us with her passion to tackle 60 km bike rides.

Jen's work always seemed an indulgence for her. It was an integral part of who she was. It was obvious in the way she exuded great joy no matter the pressure or hectic schedule, obvious in the way she enjoyed dressing so elegantly, in the way she reveled in the challenges, in the way she inspired others by her enthusiasm, and most noticeably in the way she blurred the lines between personal friends and business colleagues.

Not just a job, but a life filled with love, activities and people she was passionate about.

Lorol Nielsen:

I think Jennifer was about 16-17 when her boss at the butcher shop I frequented said to me ‘Jennifer really wants to work in the travel business' and I looked over and there she was with a kerchief around her hair sorting out the cabbages.

Even then there was no mistaking Jennifer's spunk and awareness, and her enthusiasm, and we immediately hired her at Strand Holidays. All the rest that Jen accomplished in the travel business was a direct result of her smarts, tenacity, and her loyalty … and those are only a few of the attributes she put into her friendships. We're going to miss that girl. Big time."

Toni Mancini:

We all knew that Jennifer really enjoyed her work at Sunwing and was away a lot of the time, but she always made a concerted effort to be home for our Strand Girls Nights. Whether we were on a beach in St. Thomas, in the UK at Bob's parents' home, at Lorol's home or at Helen's in Indian Rocks Beach, the Strand Girls were always up for a party and we really enjoyed being together.

“We all agreed, that we treasure those memories now, as it was the most fun we ever had together.”

Nancy Wakely:

When we would get together someone would say do you remember when … and we would all start laughing.

Jennifer would say, ‘Oh My Gosh You Guys, remember the time …’ and she was so beautifully animated – and bent over full of laughter tell us something we maybe had forgotten. Well, that would set us all laughing hysterically and throw in an Irish, British, and all Canadian laugh. Great times.

Jennifer had an amazing heart and her kindness and compassion helped me, a house bound mom at the time get a couple of part time jobs in the industry. Jen was a diamond, a rare beauty in every way.

Norma Chalmers from Spain:

Jen and I first met in 1977. She was young, vivacious, and fun. She so obviously loved her job and was noticeably one of those always last to leave the office. She was probably the youngest of that wonderful group of workmates who were forging friendships then that have lasted over 40 years. Once while working in a destination on Christmas Eve and sending a message to the office on an old fashioned telex machine, when a response came through, “what are you doing working at this time?” to which I replied “and what about you?”.

Although our paths only crossed in Toronto twice a year, when we met up it was a happy round of house parties, re-unions, outlet sales and confiding in each other. Not only did she put my name forward for CD position in Regent, her support and encouragement afterwards went far beyond anything I had experienced before or since. I always admired the energy she put into everything, her fun-loving spirit, her infectious laugh and so very much more.

Those are the Strand Girl’ memories of their friend of forty plus years.

I will disclose that I am a ‘fractional’ member of the group. Having been employed by Strand Holidays for a mere nine weeks – I limit myself to one annual attendance at ‘Girl’s Night.’ They are precisely as described – food, wine, conversation, gossip, silliness and laughter – lots and lots of laughter – usually punctuated by Jennifer’s ‘YOU GUYS!’

At the next one undoubtedly there will be tears mingled with the laughter.

So, on Saturday, in a large room at a bar in Toronto, there had to be a couple of hundred people gathered. People who had not seen each other in years, brought together by a common grief at a life ended all too soon. While we laughed at the memory of that sudden bray of laughter, we teared at the images flashed on screens  around the room, at the loss of a woman who loved her family, her friends, her work, her life – she was planning to the end what to do next. A woman so alive, so vital, so loved, so respected.   Gifts provided for us by the family were so fitting yet so poignant – packets of seeds of ‘forget-me-nots’ to plant in Jennifer’s memory – and many, I know, will join me in doing just that.

The last word must go to Bob Perry, who looked at the crowded room, smiled through filled eyes and said of his wife, “She’s still working the room!”

The Strand Girls:
Helen Tilston, Lesley Halloran, Norma Chalmers, Toni Mancini, Lorol Nielsen, Nancy Wakely, Jennifer Perry, Bonnie Buckhiester, Patti Neville. 

Related article: Jennifer Perry

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Jen Savedra

Jen Savedra is the founder and editor of Travel Industry Today with  a long career and considerable experience in various sectors of travel and tourism. She is dedicated to producing a publication that differentiates itself from the pack. One that pulls no punches, and - along with being a forum for news and ideas - is easy to navigate and always fun to read.

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