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Till death do us part: remembering Nomi Whalen

Nomi Whalen was a founding member of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, a former Calgary alderman, and a well known marriage commissioner

Longtime Canmore resident, former marriage commissioner and lifelong community-builder Nomi Whalen was laid to rest Tuesday (July 16) in a private ceremony for family and close friends. 

But online, messages of remembrance and reminiscence were pouring in from across the country since her passing on July 11. 

“A single one of Nomi Whalen’s accomplishments can be considered applause-worthy,” wrote one couple she married. “Together they form an overture of a life lived to its fullest, in service to those in her community.”

“I remember how graceful and honest her presence was, how she encouraged us to focus only on each other, and how her words were everything to us in that moment, and afterwards too,” wrote another. 

Nomi Whalen (née Shapiro) was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C., and moved to Calgary as a newlywed in 1957, but it was Canmore where she was happiest. 

Her son Tony Whalen said she had an intense love of the mountain town, where she lived in her dream house – her “enchanted cottage” – and where she now rests beside her husband Ed Whalen, who passed in 2001. 

“I don’t want to go anywhere,” she said in April 2018, sitting at her kitchen table, her beloved dog Abby at her feet. “I’m done standing in line in airports.

“I’ve been all over the world, and I don’t want to go anymore. I just want to be right here.”

Nomi was many things to many people. 

She was a founding member of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, a former Calgary alderman, and was best known as a prolific marriage commissioner, who wed more than 6,000 couples over the course of her career. 

“Can’t you imagine what it’s like to be with people on the happiest day of their lives,” she said. 

Nomi met Ed, her “Eddy,” when she visited a local news station to promote something she was working on. 

“For some reason or another, the guy on the kitchen set tossed an egg and it hit me on the forehead,” she explained. “Eddy looked out of the side of his eyes and said ‘I have to know a woman who can laugh with egg on her face.’ ” 

“That was about a hundred years ago,” she added. “We just always wanted to make each other laugh.”

Nomi became a marriage commissioner after her wedding to Ed in 1967.

She said the person who married them was so terrible she broke down in tears, but the experience drove her to become a commissioner herself. 

She performed weddings all over the province, from her own living room, to the middle of Lake Louise, and on one occasion, during a Calgary Flames hockey game, with Ed in the broadcast booth.

“She was the best, no-nonsense commissioner,” wrote a couple she married in 2008. “She asked us if we planned to do anything different during the ceremony, write our own vows or anything. When we said ‘no,’ she said, ‘good, I have perfect vows, just follow along, because you won’t remember the ceremony anyway.’ And she was right.”

Nomi retired in 2016, but she was just as proud of the other hats she wore as she was of her professional career. 

She was a piano player, starting classes at the age of four, and apparently having a “nightmarish” experience moving her childhood piano from Vancouver to Canmore, because she wasn’t ready to give it up. 

She was a singer, a TV host, an avid golfer and skier, a poet, painter, business-owner, and collector. 

Nomi had dozens of collections, even writing a book about the things she accumulated, and dedicating it to her children, the “most wonderful collection of [her] life.” 

She collected everything, from thimbles (although she said that collection was “at capacity”) to strawberries – featuring prominently all over her kitchen – to gnomes, spoons, and walking sticks.  

Nomi was also a volunteer. Her hand-knit scarves were a cherished contribution to many local fundraisers. 

She had a fierce belief in the importance of giving back, and her family, the Ghitter-Whalen-Gang, would turn any gathering into an excuse to raise some money or awareness for a cause near and dear to them. 

They released a CD of a collection of love songs, re-mastered from 40-year-old tapes of Ed singing to Nomi, with all the proceeds going to charity. 

Nomi was an animal lover and a proud supporter of the
Bow Valley SPCA.

She is survived by her brother, six children, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

The family is asking that donations be made in Nomi’s name to the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre in lieu of flowers.