Charlene Reaveley was born on April 4, 1980, in Dundee, Scotland. Her father, Colin, was thinking of moving the family to New Zealand, but instead opted for Gosport, on the south coast of England, where he got a job with the Ministry of Defence as a hydraulics technician on war ships. Charlene and her mother, Mary, stayed at home.
In 1986, the family made the trip to Vancouver for Expo. “When we got there,” says Colin, “I decided B.C. was going to be our home.” They settled in Canada one year later, and Charlene fit right in at Chalmers Elementary School in North Delta. “She loved sports, playing softball and ringette,” says Colin. “She was a great team player. She just liked being a member of a team, no matter what goal she scored.” Char, as she was known, went on to Pinetree Secondary School after the family moved to Coquitlam. But after her parents divorced, she had a rough time at school. “She went through a rebellious period of a couple of years,” says her father. “I found out that she was out having fun instead of being in class.”
When Char was 17, she met a young man named Dan Reaveley at a house party. “There was this amazing energy about her,” recalls Dan of the girl with the beaming smile. They began dating, and moved into a basement apartment. Within two years, Char was pregnant. Dan jumped into a job in construction, and Char became a baker at a grocery store. In 2000, Kaeden, their first child, was born. Char went on maternity leave, and never looked back: being a mother became her full-time job. “Kaeden changed everything for her,” says Kim Debenedictis, a friend. “Char said to me, if it wasn’t for Danny, or Kaeden, she never knew what she would be, who she would be.” Three more blond and blue-eyed babies followed: Rebecca, Alicia, and Tristan.
In 2004, the year they married, Dan and Charlene bought a house in Port Coquitlam, which friends described as “full of life” and “organized chaos.” At the centre of the home was a big pile of clean, unfolded laundry. “The laundry was non-stop,” says Kim. “Char used to walk around singing ‘the never-ending laundry’ to the tune of The Neverending Story.” Someone asked her recently why she didn’t enlist more help from her brood, and, Kim says, Char replied, “My kids are kids. There will be plenty of time when they are adults to do dishes and laundry.”
Just as Charlene fiercely protected their childhood, she also had a habit of showering them with affection. “There wasn’t a day that went by when she didn’t tell them how beautiful they were, that she loved them,” says Kim. That love extended to other children. Giacomo Debenedictis, Kim’s husband, says, “Whenever she saw a child, she would sit there and play with them. Children were her thing.” Once, on vacation in Mexico with Dan, the pair got into an argument. To clear his head, Dan walked to the other end of the beach. Charlene tried another tactic. “As I walked back,” Dan recalls, “I saw her. She had grabbed a bunch of kids, and they were playing volleyball on the beach.”
At home, Charlene would leave the door open, inviting neighbourhood kids to play in the backyard, or stay for dinner. She’d even muse that if she won the lottery, she’d spend the money on an orphanage in Haiti, and adopt more children. “After four babies, she’d say her boobs were nothing, a set of pancakes,” says Kim. “She’d joke about getting a boob job. But she said she thought about it, and if it costs $5,000 to get a boob job, and $7,000 to adopt a child from Haiti, she’d adopt a child.”
Random acts of kindness could happen anywhere with Char. “She was always very generous,” says Giacomo. “When we were younger, we would go downtown, and if she saw somebody that was struggling, a homeless person, she would stop, and take them to buy food.” Then she’d sit there and talk, learn about the person’s life. “She wanted to give them a little bit of hope.”
On Feb. 19, Dan, Charlene, Giacomo and Kim were on their way home from dinner after midnight. They saw a car accident and stopped to help. “We told Charlene to stay in the car,” says Giacomo. “But good old Char said, ‘I’m coming out to help.’ ” As they stood by the side of the highway, another car slid into them, and killed Charlene. She was 30.