Farmer, traveller, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, lover of life. Born March 29, 1919, in Arundel, Que. Died March 25, 2011, in Walkerton, Ont., of congestive heart failure, aged 91.
From playing the kazoo in the local kitchen band to secretly attending her son's Halloween party dressed as a ghost, Greta McLaggan always found a way to have fun, no matter what challenges life threw at her.
Born to a farming family in Arundel, Que., Greta met Alex McLaggan, an Air Force flight lieutenant, while she was working in Montreal as an adding machine operator. They married in 1945, and within 10 years were happily raising five children – Murray, Janet, Heather, Bruce and Victor – on their own farm.
Greta and Alex first built a house in Port Perry, Ont., that was so modest it was exceeded in length by their 1950s sedan. When they realized they had too many sheep for their tiny landholding, they bought a farm near Tyrone, Ont., where they also raised dairy cattle and produced cream and milk.
Just for fun, Greta decided she wanted to raise exotic birds such as banty hens and guinea fowl. She also cared for a large vegetable garden and grew cucumbers for Bick’s pickles. Greta loved gardening – even at 90 she’d be on her hands and knees pulling up weeds.
Along with running the farm, Greta sewed most of her kids’ clothes, participated in church activities and was a member of the local women’s institute, where she volunteered for 45 years. She lived on the farm for 58 years, only leaving last winter.
Greta had little concern for “the way things are done.” She’d store important papers in the freezer and nurse lambs in the house. When she landed the pickup truck carrying her five children in a ditch, Greta, who didn’t own a driver’s licence, insisted on getting a neighbour to pull out the truck so she wouldn’t be caught by police.
After her children grew up, Greta stayed close to them and her 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She phoned regularly, knitted relentlessly and visited frequently. Like a journalist, she chronicled every trip, sharing the main headlines and photos with family and friends.
One of her most memorable trips was to Zimbabwe to see her youngest daughter. Greta loved going on safari, and although 72 at the time, she slept in a tent without complaint.
At 86, Greta bought herself a little hatchback so she could zip to the yarn shop, drive her friends around and attend church. She stopped driving just before she turned 90, but continued travelling across the country to visit with family.
Greta continued to be active and healthy until two weeks before her death. Even in the hospital, she’d pick up her walker and zoom off down the hall, leaving family chasing after her. She died peacefully with her beloved family close by.
By Leah Geller, family friend.