War veteran, hospital volunteer, Jays fan, gardener. Born on March 25, 1923, in Libau, Man.; died on Dec. 10, 2013, in Etobicoke, Ont., of sudden heart failure, aged 90.
Eileen Gibson had a failing heart near the end of her life but this did not affect her spirit or sense of humour. She would laugh and tell her children that the doctors had no idea why she was still alive. She would tell her medical team that it was God’s will that kept her going, not their skills as physicians. Her family would lecture her about slowing down but, for the youngest of nine farm children, this was difficult advice to follow.
Her parents, Mary and John Petznick, emigrated from Russia to Libau, Man., in 1900 to start a farm, and a family, in true pioneer fashion. Eileen learned to hunt with a rifle, to knit and cook, to suffer through cold winters, and to amuse herself with her three brothers and five sisters.
As a young woman, Eileen moved to Toronto and lived with her older sisters, Martha and Bertha, for about five years. Then, with a sense of patriotic duty and adventure, she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a wireless operator during the Second World War. She hoped to be sent to Europe, but was stationed was in Gander, Nfld. Eileen must have envied the pilots she knew there, because she later took out a bank loan to take flying lessons at Toronto Island Airport. Though she didn’t pursue a full pilot’s licence, she graduated to the point where she was allowed to fly solo.
After the war, Eileen moved back to Toronto to join her sisters and became a legal secretary for Nathan Phillips, who later became mayor of the city.
In 1952, she met and married Woodburn Gibson, an accountant, and they settled in the suburb of Etobicoke to raise two children, Shelagh and Scott. Eileen built a large flower garden which she tended with pride and joy; her backyard was her refuge and nothing would come between her and her plants. A squirrel trap awaited any four-legged interlopers, which were caught and released at a park far from her home.
She and Woody were avid hockey fans. Her five grandchildren loved to hear about how they went to Leaf games as season ticket holders before the NHL expansion. Her passion for sports grew when the Blue Jays came to town. She became a fervent fan and would stay up late to catch all the games on the team’s West Coast swings.
Woody passed away in 1981 and a few years later she moved to a nearby townhouse complex – taking her squirrel trap to her new garden. A faithful Christian, Eileen filled her life by being active and helping others. She was a gift-shop volunteer at Etobicoke General Hospital for more than 30 years. She knitted clothing for the needy, and made quilts for charity sales at her church, St. Giles Kingsway Presbyterian. She regularly shared her banana chocolate-chip muffins and other baked treats with friends and family.
Eileen was made from pure pioneer stock. At 90, she was still living on her own and regularly drove her 13-year-old Corolla to the town of Georgetown just to buy her favourite marmalade. She did have one mishap, breaking her wrist in her daughter’s garden, which Eileen had planted at age 88. She complained only because the injury interfered with the routine of her busy days, which included doing her crossword puzzle, baking, and tuning in to the CBC while quilting or sewing.
She was a remarkable lady who, despite a failing heart in later years, adored her hobbies, loved her family and was a role model for young and old alike.
David Rowney is Eileen’s son-in-law.