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lives lived

Tadeusz Lewcio.Courtesy of family

Tadeusz Lewcio: Husband. Dziadek. House painter. Bon vivant. Born Jan. 8, 1950, in Duszniki-Zdroj, Poland; died Oct. 4, 2020, in St. Albert, Alta., of a heart attack; aged 70.

In Polish culture, a person’s given name is used only for formalities: a birth certificate, a wedding, a funeral. Otherwise, a name is uttered only in endearing diminutives. Tadeusz was always Tadek (Ted) to his friends. He was Tadziu (Teddy) to his wife. How jarring it was at the funeral to hear prayers for Tadeusz, when we were, in fact, mourning the loss of our beloved Tadziu.

Tadek and his older sister enjoyed a comfortable life in 1950s and 1960s Poland. They grew up in a resort town famous for its mineral waters and Chopin festivals, and they were the first generation in their family to receive a full education and never toil in a field.

Anna Ciechanowska spotted Tadek at a student party in the 1970s. He was leaning against a wall, somewhat shy and subdued in the crowd, and a mutual friend made the introductions. From that moment on, they were inseparable and married in 1975. A son, Michael, was born a couple of years later.

Eager to do right by his growing family, Tadek opened a small retail store in Duszniki Zdroj: Galanteria Skorzana i Pasmanteria (Leather Goods & Haberdashery). He had an entrepreneurial streak and his business did well, selling household items at a time when shortages were commonplace. Most retailers closed on weekends, but Tadek would say, “I’ll go in for just a few hours and open up the shop. In case anyone needs anything.”

He was also honest. Once a tourist accidentally left behind an envelope with no identification and a very large sum of cash. Two days later a panicked woman came by the Haberdashery as she retraced her route. She was immensely relieved when Tadek produced the envelope with not a single bill missing. She returned the next day with a (much-appreciated) bottle of cognac to thank him.

By the 1970s and 1980s, as the initial promise behind the Iron Curtain continued fading, the couple embarked on their second act.

Somehow Tadek secured a single visitor’s visa to visit his sister in Edmonton in 1988. The highlight of his stay was a visit to the Calgary Winter Olympics. Soon after returning to Poland, the family made their way to a refugee camp in Germany. Sponsored by Tadek’s sister, they arrived in Canada in November, 1989.

Tadek worked hard in Canada, putting in long hours as a house painter – a job that did not use his full skills as an entrepreneur, but allowed him to buy a comfortable house and build a good life in Canada.

And he shared that good life – when on vacation in other countries he brought new shirts and household essentials to give to groundskeepers and other resort employees who wouldn’t typically receive tips from the guests. Once, when a bartender admired his sandals, Tadek slipped them off his feet and handed them over on the spot.

Tadek doted on his wife and he revelled in the company of friends. He adored his two grandchildren, Jedi and Sadie, and he spent as much time with them as he could. Retiring just five years ago, Tadek took Wilco, his son’s whippet, for much-needed long, daily walks. Tadek also enjoyed sitting in his favourite chair by the window and surveying traffic infractions. Maybe too much time: Anna would often chide him, “Rusz sie,” get moving!

Tadek was just getting ready for his third act – watching his grandchildren grow up, waiting for his wife to join him in retirement, more travelling, more dinner parties and more walks with Wilco. And maybe, let’s be honest, more lounging in his favourite chair.

Seventy years was not nearly enough.

Susan Vukadinovic is Tadek’s niece.

To submit a Lives Lived: lives@globeandmail.com

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

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