Family anchor, educator, advertising saleswoman, proud Estonian. Born March 2, 1923, in Paatsalu, Estonia. Died Jan. 26, 2012, in Toronto of Alzheimer’s disease, aged 88.
Leida Marley was the consummate organizer. Whether planning events for Toronto’s Estonian community, marshalling her grandchildren for Christmas pageants or finding ways to help relatives in Soviet-occupied Estonia, Leida’s work was always in the background, shining the spotlight on others.
Born on the Nurga farm in western Estonia, Leida was the youngest child of Villem and Liisu Randsalu, and doted on by her five brothers. A bright child, she was sent to high school in Estonia’s capital, despite the tuition costing all of the farm’s summer milk money. Leida found herself back in Tallinn on an errand in March, 1944, when Soviet forces started bombing the city. She was in the main city square when the raid began and was lucky to make it to a cellar for shelter.
Leida fled to Sweden in September, 1944, crossing the Baltic Sea in the dark of night. She told her tearful mother she’d be back by Christmas, though she didn’t return to the farm for half a century.
After a few months in a displaced persons’ camp, Leida found work as a nanny. She spoke no Swedish, but the family’s four kids made sure she learned quickly. She also became reacquainted with a dashing young policeman she had known in Estonia, Roman Marley, and they married in 1948. Son Jaanus was born a year later.
Feeling that the Soviet threat was still too close, in 1951, Leida and her family moved to Canada, where son Toomas was born. Though Leida became a proud Canadian, she also dedicated herself to the Estonian community in Toronto. For 35 years, she was an administrator at the language school. She also sold ads for a local Estonian newspaper, not retiring until she was 80.
Leida and Roman threw rollicking parties. Her glamorous handmade dresses from the 1950s and 1960s were so timeless that her granddaughters are still wearing them today. As empty-nesters, Leida and Roman bought a bigger house where they could host christenings and confirmations for their five grandchildren: Karin, Taimi, Elin, Paul and Allan.
In 1962, Leida and Roman made a home away from home in Washago, Ont. Despite the lack of electricity and running water, Leida entertained at the cottage as well. One Thanksgiving, a bear stole the turkey from an outside cupboard. Leida chased the animal until it dropped the bird, and dinner was saved.
In later years, Leida’s memories of daily events were eroded by Alzheimer’s disease. But she never forgot her mother tongue, or the songs of her childhood. Her last years were difficult, but she lived long enough to meet her first great-grandchild, Vera.
Leida’s close-knit family is her legacy, and we hope to make her proud by keeping alive the flame of the Estonian heritage she so cherished.
By Karin Remerowski, Leida’s granddaughter.