Realist, strategist, artist, non-conformist, friend and family to many. Born May 11, 1928, in Matheson, Ont.; died July 27, 2013, in Kitchener, Ont., of a brain tumour, aged 85.
Vera Evelyn Leavoy was a remarkable woman clearly ahead of her time. Those of us fortunate to have been part of her life were drawn to her kindness and charisma, her curiosity about people, her sharp wit and enormous zest for life.
Born in Matheson, Ont., Vera was one of two daughters of Edward Raymond Leavoy and Bertha (Dobbs). She grew up in Kirkland Lake in northeastern Ontario, then as an adventurous 18-year-old made her way to southern Ontario, where she set out to become her own woman.
While exploring her new surroundings “down south,” she developed something atypical for a woman of the 1950s: career aspirations. And Vera had what it took: the energy and confidence to make an immediate impression, and the gift of knowing who she was – determined, independent and unconventional.
Her hard work, intelligence and mind for numbers took her from administrative roles at Weston Bakeries of Kitchener to senior positions with the University of Waterloo. Vera was the university’s first research grants officer, and retired as its first international programs officer. A natural leader, her managerial and technical skills led her to opportunities with the Canadian International Development Agency and projects in Ethiopia, Nigeria and an 18-month placement in Brazil.
International work suited Vera because it meant she could make an impact, experience adventures and, above all, nurture her interest in people and other cultures. She always returned to Canada with more fascinating stories for her repertoire, and more long-lasting, long-distance friendships. International colleagues joined the stream of friends who would congregate in her artsy living room. (A few Brazilian grad students may have forgiven but will never forget the day she made them cross-country ski in the Waterloo countryside.)
Vera displayed an unusually high appetite for risk, whether at the office or in her real-estate ventures. She loved to renovate an old house, then fill it with antiques and her own artwork, created in oils or stained glass.
A beautiful woman, gracefully tall and with perfect posture, Vera was always tastefully dressed and ready to take on the world. She didn’t cook but loved to entertain; just being in her circle of friends fed us. At work she handled the intellectual sparring with professors with ease, an impressive feat for someone without a university degree to wave around. Her bridge game was as mean as her poker game.
Vera was loved and respected by her friends, the friends she turned into family and the children of friends who called her their second mom. She would take these honorary kids antiquing in the Waterloo area, or sneak them into a Cat Stevens concert, then deliver them safely back to their first moms and invite herself for dinner before zooming off again in her red MGB convertible, Chanel kerchief blowing in the wind. We’ll never know if she was oblivious to the rubbernecking.
Susan Fischer and Ingrid Hann are friends of Vera’s.