Illustrating Excellence

Lillian Shepherd
Lillian Shepherd, enjoying a booksellers’ whale-watching cruise off Newfoundland in 1995. Photo: Liza Hageraats

The Lillian Shepherd Award recognizes the region’s best children’s book illustrators

Lillian Shepherd loved books.

The former buyer for the once-iconic Book Room in Halifax took particular joy in illustrated children’s books and in locally produced books—so much so that one of Atlantic Canada’s most prestigious book industry awards now bears her name.

The Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration was established in 2003 by publishers’ representatives and booksellers who wanted to memorialize Lillian’s dedication to the book industry, her ability to put clients and authors at ease, and her love of life.

Sense of adventure

Lil (as she was affectionately known) was born in 1926 to Herbert and Marie Schlenger—in Massachusetts, because her mother was visiting there, although the family actually lived in Lunenburg, NS.

When Lil was 18 months old, her father died at sea. Her mother raised her in Lunenburg, and supported them both by working at the family business: the Malagash News, Lunenburg’s first daily paper. After finishing high school, Lil went to work for the local weekly, the Progress Enterprise.
She was known for her sense of adventure. When Lil was 25, she met a composed and quiet ship’s officer, Fred Shepherd, who was visiting Lunenburg aboard a Bermudian schooner—and she was smitten.

Before long, thanks to her acquaintance with the vessel’s captain, the athletic and independent young Lil was serving on the schooner’s crew for the return voyage to Bermuda. When they arrived, Lil found work at the Mid-Ocean News, one of Bermuda’s largest newspapers, and she stayed with Fred’s sister.

Lil and Fred married in 1952, and settled into a converted boathouse. Lil wrote for the newspaper’s art and entertainment pages, while Fred
followed his trade as a cabinetmaker.

Books, music and community

During Lil’s pregnancy with their first child, Lynne, she and Fred travelled to Lunenburg for a visit—and stayed. Fred got a job as a woodworker. Four years later, daughter Cynthia was born.

Today, Cynthia says her childhood memories are of a home filled with books, music and love. She recalls her mother as an active, outgoing woman who was very involved in community service. “Mom really threw herself into everything she did… and she did a lot of stuff,” she says.

Eventually, Lil went back to work at the Progress Enterprise. She renewed an earlier interest in the Girl Guides, and served as a leader for Brownies, Guides and Rangers before becoming District Commissioner.

In the late 1970s, with their daughters grown and Fred retired, the couple moved to Halifax. They ran a small hotel until 1980, when Lil took a job with The Book Room—at that time, Canada’s oldest bookstore (which, sadly, closed in 2008).

Fred’s sudden death in 1981 devastated Lil, but she remained active. She continued her work with The Book Room; she took up folk dancing, subscribed to the Nova Scotia Symphony, and sang alto with the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo chorale. She was also an accomplished pianist, and she sang in the choir at St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

When Lynne died of cancer in 1991, Lil was crushed but carried on. Finally, in 1997, Lillian Shepherd died, shortly before she was to retire from her job at The Book Room.

“It was all a great adventure, with some tragedies along the way,” says Cynthia. “Mom loved life, loved people, loved music and loved books—and above all, she loved her family dearly.”

Monica Graham has written countless magazine and newspaper articles and columns, as well as seven non-fiction books about Atlantic Canada—with more under construction.

Written By

Kim Hart Macneill is a journalist and magazine editor whose work has appeared in This Magazine, Canadian Business, and East Coast Living. She divides her time between Halifax and Moncton.

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