Tireless worker, ardent conversationalist, avid skier, family man. Born Aug. 11, 1933, in Salzburg, Austria; died Aug. 13, 2013, in Oakville, Ont., of metastatic bladder cancer, aged 80.
Erich Neumayer worked hard from a young age. The only child of Elisabeth Neumayer and Hans Steiner, he grew up in bucolic surroundings. His family were dairy farmers in the mountainous region of Pinzgau, Austria, so alpine nature was part of their daily life. In winter they carried their skis up the mountains.
At 22, Erich immigrated to Canada with little English and no contacts. He’d apprenticed to be a flour miller in Austria and Switzerland but couldn’t find work in this trade in Canada. Undeterred, he found a job at Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto delivering groceries to stores throughout Southern Ontario. At 24, he met and married Marie-Anne Moller, a German immigrant. They had three children, Norman, Linda and Susie.
Erich left home for work at the crack of dawn, usually returning late in the evening (sometimes even later because of snowstorms or truck breakdowns). But he never complained about the long hours. The work suited him as he enjoyed chatting with the owners and staff in small-town grocery stores. He reluctantly retired at 70.
On the weekends, Erich did DIY projects. He finished three basements and the interior of one cottage, built a deck and enclosed porch, and fixed anything right down to a broken lawn sprinkler. His Saturday evenings were reserved for watching the Toronto Maple Leafs. During intermissions he’d often race down to the basement and start hammering.
He never spent money on himself but, at 45, he happened upon a pair of skis on sale for $0.99 at a local sports store. He couldn’t resist the price. They were wood, more than 2 metres long and red and white (the colours of the Austrian flag). He bought himself two pairs and outfitted the rest of the family with regular fibreglass skis. The Ontario hills were small, but Erich happily schussed down them. He enjoyed chatting with other skiers as much as skiing. He eventually broke one of his wooden skis going over a jump, but luckily he had that reserve pair. He was frugal and lived life simply, but he didn’t lack vigour.
Erich was never happier than during visits to Austria. He once brought a tiny evergreen back to Canada, tucked in the inside pocket of his sports coat for the entire flight and through customs. After making sure it adapted to Canadian soil, he gave it as a gift to his only Austrian relative here, a dairy farmer in rural Ontario.
Erich was both physically strong and strong-minded. Despite the toll of nearly two years of living with cancer, he stayed at home for as long as he could, working in the garden and around the house to leave things in good shape. When he needed palliative care four days before his death, hospice staff offered him a wheelchair upon seeing his condition. Instead, he shook everyone’s hand and walked down the long hallway to his room with pride and dignity.
His children have all worked hard in their professions (engineer, architect and lawyer), are frugal, handy DIYers and enjoy skiing and snowboarding.
Susie MacMillan is Erich’s daughter.