Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com
GRAVENHURST — Family, friends and members of the business community are “shocked” and mourning the sudden passing yesterday of Audrey Van Petegem.
The busy and active Gravenhurst and Muskoka community leader died of a heart attack Sept. 15.
She had just turned 58 in June, her husband Scott Harkness said this morning.
An active fitness buff who managed a large yoga business in Laguna, California, before moving back to her hometown of Gravenhurst in 2014, went to hospital in Bracebridge Monday night suffering severe chest pains.
Doctors diagnosed a blockage in the heart early yesterday and she suffered a heart attack hours later while in hospital and again while being rushed to Newmarket.
“It was just out of the blue,” said Harkness.
He said she was in “great condition” and had no previous health problems.
An “active” pickle ball player, today (Sept. 16) she was to have made a presentation to the town about building a public pickle ball court.
Two days before her passing she touted Hanover for having nine outdoor pickle ball courts.
This afternoon was also “excited” about meeting with Rotarians to be inducted as the service club’s latest member; following in the footsteps of her late father, Ted, who was a former warden at Beaver Creek prison. Ted and his wife Baya predeceased their daughter.
Van Petegem is survived by her husband, their three children, Chase, 28, Thea, 16, and Adanna, 14; and by her older sister, Deborah van Petegem and her husband Brian Bredewold.
Also by her dog, Della, who she and her husband often took on walks down to the Muskoka Wharf from their nearby home.
“She was such a good person and mom,” said Harkness, the son of the later former long-time Bracebridge councillor Norm Harkness.
Together Harkness, 60, and Van Petegem operate the popular Muskoka Foundry furniture, entertainment and lifestyle business on Entrance Drive, where she was events and marketing director.
They bought the building five years ago from the owners of Simply Cottage, who remain a tenant.
Harkness said the day Audrey died he received notification that the town had just approved the next phase of of construction on the Foundry that will open another half of the building.
He credits her and expects she will be watching over his shoulder as he goes forward.
The south Muskoka-born couple — who were together 36 years and married for 34 — moved to California in 1994.
They were there to promote “the Stabilizer,” a promising golf practice swing device he invented and endorsed by Masters winner Nick Price.
“We said we’d go for one year and it turned into 20,” said Harkness.
He eventually sold the business in 2000 and hooked up in the auto parts business with Alan Rypinski who started Armor All.
She managed the second largest yoga businesses in southern California
Van Petegem and Harkness moved home seven years ago.
And she immediately became involved in various community and business groups, working with the Bracebridge Chamber of Commerce, Mentors a small business entrepreneurial group and most recently with Ash Muskoka an initiative to improve the water quality of Muskoka Lakes.
She described herself on LinkedIn as an influencer and social media and marketing specialist.
She also ran for Gravenhurst town council last term.
A graduate of Gravenhurst High School and Carleton University, she helped organize a GHS class reunion a couple of years ago.
Former classmates took to social media yesterday offering their condolences and remembrances, dozens posting sad, caring and heart emojis on Facebook.
“Thank you for the time we spent together over the last 40 years of friendship. I am so grateful for your light, generosity, and fun-as-hell girl next door. You have blessed my life, soul sis,” said friend Lori Ann Lothian
“I will never be the same and the world is a little bit dimmer,” added Linda Gillis Davidson.
Greg Goodwin said “I’m still in shock about this.”
In an email to MuskokaTODAY.com, he said: “I was mostly friends with Debbie who was my age, but was in the Outer’s club at GHS with Audrey.
“After high school, Audrey and I started Carleton University at the same time (1981).
“She went right to residence and I was off campus the first semester and in residence the second semester.
“We hung out a fair bit during that year and would always come back to Gravenhurst together for Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. She was always introducing me to new people, because she made friends so quickly.
“Everyone at Carleton wanted to be her friend, and other people were jealous that I actually knew her. After that, I shared a house with her best friend for about the next four years, so I’d see her often…
“Audrey had a smile that would light up a room, and I always enjoyed spending time with her. She would go out of her way to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room. We’re all going to miss her terribly.”
Brenda Rhodes, director of the Bracebridge Chamber of Commerce, said in an email:
“It is with the saddest of hearts that we say goodbye to Audrey van Petegem.
“Audrey sat on our Board for three years and has been a major contributor to the direction and drive of our chamber.
”Audrey was a vivacious, outgoing and caring woman. She always brought a unique and important point of view to issues of discussion with poise, humour and confidence. She had a strong love for the Muskoka community that shone through her work and her volunteer work – notwithstanding, her work here at the chamber.
“We cannot express how much she will be missed around the board table and in our lives.
“Audrey, we miss you tremendously, friend.”
Harkness said a celebration of life will take place later.
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