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lives lived

Milli Gould.Derrick Van Der Kolk/Courtesy of family

Milli Gould Matriarch. Entrepreneur. Style icon. Chocolatier. Born April 14, 1933, in Hamilton; died Oct. 13, 2019, in Hamilton, of lung cancer; aged 86.

With a couple of words Milli Gould could have you in tears – sometimes in frustration, but often they were tears of emotion because of the deep-rooted compassion her words reflected. Milli could anticipate your difficulties and with a wrinkle of her nose and a gentle smile make everything a bit better. Her surprise deliveries of matzoh ball soup helped, too.

As a teenager growing up in Hamilton, Milli modelled and worked in local clothing stores. In 1953, she married Benny Mintz, who ran the popular Chicken Roost restaurant with his brother. But tragedy struck in June, 1957, when she lost both Benny and her infant daughter, Ferne Glory, in a house fire. Their two-year-old son, Mark, was safe, and Milli was pregnant with their son Ben at the time.

In 1961, while on vacation in Florida, Milli met her second husband, Allen Gould. Six weeks later, they married and Allen adopted Mark and Ben. It was his support that gave her the confidence to open her first boutique in Hamilton in 1964. Milli was strikingly beautiful, effortlessly elegant and became a style icon for her many clients. Staff revered Milli, too: Each had a unique and often complicated relationship with her, sometimes fraught with tension but always solid in respect, admiration and affection. No one could close a sale like Milli. She once left a black-tie gala without her gorgeous chiffon evening coat. When reminded about it, she nonchalantly said, “I sold it.”

After a long day at work, Milli would come home and spend hours in her chocolate kitchen. A safe haven built on the lower level of her home in Hamilton, it was there that she would mould her love into creations almost too beautiful to eat. Her spun-sugar cakes were legendary and a regular fixture on her family’s and clients’ holiday tables. She also showed her love by sending a handwritten card, a delivery of favourite flowers or perfume and special dinners.

Milli was a fiercely protective and loving matriarch. No barriers and no hurdles were too high to fix issues for the friends and family she loved. She could be maddening in her determination and it’s true that she didn’t have much of a filter, but she always spoke from the heart and nine times out of 10, you had to admit she had a point.

In 2004, while still operating the store in Hamilton with her family, another boutique opened in Toronto. Both are still thriving and a retrospective of her work recently appeared at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

Many looked to Milli as a second mother, a confidante and a guiding force, and she was supportive of her community. She donated extensively to causes primarily relating to women, children and education.

I long to hear Milli say “What’s doing?” and to hear her (often unsolicited) opinion about what I could be doing differently. There is a deeply felt sense of absence in her stores, but both Milli’s family and her retail family are committed to upholding her legacy. That often maddening way she had of hanging up the phone without saying goodbye was perhaps her way of saying she would always be with us.

Heather Winslade is Milli’s daughter-in-law.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide