FAREWELL TO LEON NOEL DEEFHOLTS
A TRIBUTE TO HIS MEMORY
Life’s journey brings both pain and joy. Encountering loss within a family circle is particularly emotional experience. However, I believe that, although Leon, as a husband or a father is no longer physically present amongst us, he lives on…embedded in our family’s memories and psyche. The following includes excerpts from his memorial service, a few photographs taken at the funeral parlour, and the headstone in Valley View Cemetery in Surrey which marks the spot where his ashes have been interred.
Leon passed away peacefully on August 20 th in Surrey - a suburb that he had called home since 1977, when he, his wife Margaret, and their two children, Glenn and Susan, moved here from Bombay, India.
Born in Calcutta in 1929, the second son in a family of six children, Leon completed his education in a private boarding school, Goethals Memorial in Kurseong (near Darjeeling). His career with Gladstone Lyall & Co., a venerable old British firm in Calcutta, spanned more than two decades, during which time he worked in their offices in Chittagong (now in Bangla Desh) and Calcutta, before being transferred to Madras and Bombay as Manager of these regional branch offices.
On immigrating to Canada, he was very well-known and highly respected in the specialty glass and mirror business. His services as a technical estimator and sales associate, were so valued that at one point in his career when he decided on principle to part company with an employer who had been less than scrupulous in his dealings with customers, he was immediately contacted by three other companies in the same field, and who offered him lucrative employment. The last glass company he worked with pressed him to stay on with them beyond the usual retirement age of 65, but he eventually decided to step down three years later.
That didn’t mean retirement in the usual sense of the word. He continued to play an active role as a volunteer, helping senior citizens with their tax returns every year, and tutoring students in an adult literacy program run by Douglas College in New Westminster.
He was, for several years, part of a group of keen hikers aged 60 to 85 who sallied forth from New Westminster’s Century House every Saturday morning, rain or shine (or even snow!) to take on some challenging courses. Even up to the last days of his life, Leon continued to walk every morning through Robson Ravine which he loved, and didn’t flinch at climbing the steep hill along 104 th Avenue.
Leon loved watching re-runs of old movies on TV, and would often phone Margaret to alert her about the fact that Casablanca was on or that musicals such as South Pacific or Brigadoon were upcoming. His all-time favourite show was “My Fair Lady”.
Boxing and tennis were favourite sports. Boxing was part of his school curriculum in India, and he liked watching championship fights on TV. He followed tennis matches avidly through the years, particularly the grand slam tournaments.
Leon often reminisced about his life in Anglo-India, prior to Independence in 1947. Tales of how he, his older brother Colin and his Dad would go out on “shikari” to shoot partridge, quail or wild duck. He would also recount the thrill of riding along the railway track on a trolley, while his father inspected the physical condition of ballast and rails etc.. Then there were stories about Christmas celebrations and dances at the Railway Institute in small towns in northern India.
Although he wasn’t an extrovert, Leon’s companions and friends at the apartment block where he lived remember him with warmth as a quiet man who enjoyed reading and quoting from his favourite poets, such as Kipling and Byron, or who shared and chuckled over Oscar Wilde’s witticisms.
“He never ran anyone down,” one of them observed. “He was so proud of his kids,” said another.
Both comments are true. Leon always said, “If you can’t say something good about someone, then it’s better to say nothing at all.”
And yes, he was also enormously proud of his children.
Christopher, his son by a previous marriage, who is here with us this afternoon, was dear to his Dad’s heart. And when Chris and his wife Diane presented Leon with twin grand-daughters, Emilia and Megan, he was just thrilled! Their photographs, year by year, were on display in his living room.
A trip back to Britain this year with the idea of seeing Christopher, Diane and the girls, had been planned for months, and ironically enough, today, September 10 th was the day he and Margaret were booked to fly out of Vancouver to Gatwick.
Leon reveled in the achievements of both Glenn and Susan - their brilliant academic records, their talents at tennis and music, and their literary and intellectual abilities.
A big highlight of the recent past has been welcoming Tom, Susan’s husband, into the family fold, when they were married in July 2002. Leon was a pleased and very proud Dad as he led his daughter down the aisle that summer in Ontario.
Many members of Leon’s family aren’t here today - his eldest sister Joan, and younger sister Peggy, and numerous nephews and nieces in Britain. Also the families of his beloved older brother Colin who died ten years ago in Australia, Colin’s wife Eva, Leon’s younger brother Keith, his wife Doreen and his family, and his sister Pam, her husband, Tony and their children who live in New Zealand. Nonetheless they are all here with us in spirit.