© Laura Jean Grant - Cape Breton Post
Many people took time to sign a book of condolence set up at the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Civic Centre in Sydney on Thursday. The book will be presented to Rita MacNeil’s family.
SYDNEY — The loss of Rita MacNeil was being felt on many levels Thursday as friends and fans remembered the songstress in their own way and her family finalized plans for her funeral.
The funeral service for the beloved Cape Breton singer-songwriter will be held in her home community of Big Pond, Monday at 2 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church. Prior to that, a wake is set to take place Saturday from 4-8 p.m. at T.W. Curry Parkview Chapel in Sydney.
With the formal services to come over the next few days, Shirley and Pat Caiazzo, close friends of Rita, were sticking close to home Thursday. It was there where they had shared many good times with Rita, during small gatherings, dinner parties, and star gazing on their neighbouring picturesque properties in Big Pond.
“I loved having her here. We have dinner parties and she would just appreciate everything,” Shirley said noting she and Rita shared a love of cooking and enjoyed a good meal with good company.
The couple first became friends with Rita about 30 years ago through a mutual friend, and she and Pat often visited her in Big Pond, eventually taking the opportunity to move to the community about 13 years ago when they purchased a home from Rita.
“She was such a good listener and non-judgmental and just gentle and caring,” Shirley said, noting Rita also enjoyed the lighter side of life.
“She loved fun, too. She was a lot of fun. She appears so soft and gentle and that’s all true, but there was a side of her that had a really good sense of wit and she loved a good laugh.”
Pat said Rita loved where she lived and felt at peace there.
“She really enjoyed being down by the water. She just loved when the water got rough and the waves were coming in, and she also, believe or not, used to love thunder storms,” he recalled.
Also big fans of her music, Pat and Shirley attended many of her shows and were always struck by the sincerity of her singing.
“She meant everything when she sang,” said Pat.
The two, who described their sadness as coming in waves over the last couple of days, said living in Big Pond will never be quite the same.
“She is this community,” said Shirley. “I just loved her.”
Fans were also looking for ways to remember Rita. At the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Civic Centre, a number of people took time to sign a book of condolence that had been set up for the public to send their sympathy and thoughts to Rita’s family.
Norman Samways of Sydney was among those who took time to sign the book.
“She was a Cape Breton artist, she was well-liked and her Christmas specials were fantastic,” he said. “I was really sad to hear she had passed away.”