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Alexander, Denise “Vanessa” (Varenne)

January 13, 1936 – Leeds, England
November 11, 2014 – Calgary, AB

Denise Vanessa Alexander (nee Varenne, Ramsey), born January 13, 1936, in Leeds, England, passed away at Chinook Care Center on November 11, 2014 with Keith and family at her side.

Denise Vanessa Varenne was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, on January 13, 1936, the only child of Jessie (“Cherrie”) Cooper Gaunt and Roger Leon Georges Varenne.

Until she was five, Vanessa was raised by her grandmother “Doshie” in Edinburgh, Scotland. She was also very close to her father’s aunt, Aline. She began performing on stage at age three. Her mother and stepfather, Harold Ramsay, moved from England to Bowness (Calgary) in 1952. At Crescent Heights High School, she met Joyce Rowden, and Nora Eaves, who became life-long friends, as well as Lance Alexander, her basketball coach. Vanessa would become part of the Alexander family in later years, when she married Lance’s brother Keith. Joyce described her as ‘the most beautiful person, inside and out’. This description of Vanessa continually made people feel wonderful, followed her until her last day. She eventually learned the rules of basketball, played well and enjoyed her many friends

In 1954, Vanessa sang the lead in The Messiah just after high school in 1954 – her stepfather Harold Ramsay conducted the orchestra. She declined a university singing scholarship, when she met and married Noel Lax and moved to Victoria, British Columbia. Together they had three children: Marc, Jonathan and Andrea. Vanessa had a love for performing all her life, and honored her talents by singing and acting on the radio and stage in Calgary, Victoria, and Edmonton. Vanessa was well-known for both her poignant dramatic and comedic timing in her numerous stage performances in the Victoria theatre community in the late 1950s to mid-1960s in such shows as Little Miss Sunshine, Rashomon Gate, Camelot, and Maximum Speed 20.

Upon return to Calgary, Vanessa met Keith Alexander, her former basketball coach’s eldest brother. They fell for each other immediately (literally, on a patch of ice on their first date, which landed them both under the car!) and were married on June 19, 1970 at First Baptist Church in Calgary.

Family, politics, golf tournaments and membership at the Calgary Golf and Country Club kept Keith and Vanessa busy for a few years, and they were blessed with the birth of their daughter, Jennifer Carrie, in 1972. They enjoyed living in Bragg Creek, then moved to Edmonton in 1976, at which time Vanessa’s sons Marc and Jonathan joined the home.

Golf, school, church, politics, friend Sveva Caetani’s art shows, and acting opportunities at Stage West filled the next decade, and the family was particularly proud when Keith became a MLA and Jenny was accepted to attend the Royal Winnipeg School of Ballet. Daughters Susan and Jenny shared a love of dance with Vanessa; the backyard swimming pool was usually full.

Vanessa and Keith returned to Calgary in the mid-1990s. One of their favorite mutual activities was to renovate and decorate their beautiful homes; the ranch in DeWinton was their masterpiece, and two beloved Shelties completed the effect. They travelled frequently to visit with family and enjoyed a beautiful golf course community home in Scottsdale for several years. Vanessa proudly scored a Hole-in-One in 2000, and enjoyed her many CGCC friends.

Jonathan’s passing in 2004 was a big shock to the family, as was Jenny’s accidental death in 2007. These events took a heavy toll on Vanessa’s physical wellbeing and she was admitted to Chinook Hospice, where the loving and thorough kindnesses of the staff and volunteers surrounded her; she ‘graduated’ to go and live in Chinook’s long-term care, where the staff has gently and fondly cared for her – and eventually Keith – until her passing.

The family will always be extremely grateful to Lorraine, Cheryl, Oksana, Louise, Jenifer, Joey, Ana, Vicky, Solange, Marilyn, June, Jean, Dr. Majeed, and the many others who were so incredibly generous with their tender encouragement. Knowing that Vanessa was in your hands was very reassuring to us, thank you.

Vanessa was preceded in death by Jonathan Phillip Alexander, Jennifer Carrie Alexander, and Robert Brent Alexander, who went to be with the Lord in 2011. The love story seemed complete, when her loving and devoted husband Keith quickly followed Vanessa on November 12, 2014. Vanessa is survived by Rob’s wife Diane, (sons Cole and Kyle); Marc; Jonathan’s children Michael (Amber) and Sydney; Susan (Jerry; Rachel and Lily); and Andrea (Chris; Luke and John).

Additional thanks go to Joe and Kathy Woodard, Eric and Colleen Lowther, Ray and Kay Coad, and Stew and Jean Fisher, for their dedicated support of Vanessa in her last years – in particular to Joe and his loving young children who vastly brightened Vanessa’s long days. We are grateful to First Alliance Church members for their loving kindness over the years, as well as the many friendships at Calgary Golf and Country Club.

A memorial will be held at First Alliance Church on Saturday, November 22, 2014 at 11:00 a.m., with Pastor Ray Matheson attending. With thanks, in lieu of flowers, please make a donation by cheque to Chinook Care Center Foundation for Seniors – Hearts of Excellence, a fund which supports employee appreciation events, purchase of needed equipment, and education for staff at Chinook. The mailing address is 1261 Glenmore Trail SW, Calgary, AB, Canada T2V 4Y8. If you would like to correspond with family, please leave a note on McInnis & Holloway’s guest book at We very much appreciate your friendships and visits to Vanessa and Keith over the years, and welcome your entries.

In living memory of Vanessa and Keith Alexander, a tree will be planted at Fish Creek Provincial Park by McINNIS & HOLLOWAY FUNERAL HOMES, Park Memorial, 5008 ELBOW DRIVE S.W. Calgary, AB, T2S 2L5, Telephone: 403-243-8200.

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  1. I am truly sorry for the loss of your loving parents. The love they had for one another was truly endearing and they will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved them. It is comforting to know however that neither of them are suffering but rather sleeping peacefully in death, awaiting for the time at John 5:28,29. This will be a glorious time that only can be made possible by means of God’s Kingdom that we pray for in The Lord’s . I hope each passing day gets a little easier for your family. Please take care.

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  2. Condolences to the entire Alexander Clan… Keith was a good person to golf with albeit very quite… He would say Hello!… Goodbye!…. and “Thanks for the money!”….. RIP Keith.


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  3. Rae-Ann Houston :

    It is how this world functions – people that are here today will be gone tomorrow …. They were here to fill our lives with love and joy. Now that they are gone, let us honor and cherish their memories with smiles and not tears … Wouldn’t they have wanted that? Condolences to you Andrea and your Family.

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