At 6:50 PM, on June 7, 2020, Leila passed away in her 87th year in her Waterloo, Ontario home in the company of her daughter Carol Duke, son Brian (and Alice) Duke, son Bob (and Gertie) Duke, and son Bill Duke (by phone, comforted by his wife Maggie). Leila was predeceased by her treasured husband of 42 years, William (“Bill”) Duke, by her parents, Vera and Aarne Pera, and by her brother Pentii Pera. ”Mema”/“Meme” leaves behind her adoring grandchildren, Kirstie Duke, Keith Duke, and Andrew (“Drew”) McMurtry, as well as several step-grandchildren, and best friend Sheila Nummelin. In a tiny blessing due to COVID, Leila was able to remain in her home during her illness and was comforted by a fully stocked freezer of traditional Finnish delights provided on her final birthday by her son Bob.
Leila’s parents immigrated to Canada from Finland. In 1939, the family returned to Finland
for a visit and were entangled in the Winter War. Aarne, still a Finnish citizen, was enlisted in the
Finnish Army to fight the Winter War, a conflict that began when the Soviet Union invaded Finland three months after the outbreak of WWII. It ended after only three-and-a-half months because the Finns outsmarted (and outskied) the Russians, which remains a source of national pride for Finns. Leila survived a harrowing separation from her parents during the Winter War, and the family returned to Canada when she was 15. She endured a rough ocean voyage on the Queen Mary that turned her off boat travel nearly forever. She settled in Toronto where she met her future husband Bill Duke at his brother’s wedding where they were both members of the bridal party. She forged a lifelong friendship with Harold Nummelin (that later also included his dear wife Sheila). This friendship began following visits to Harold’s family cottage on Lake Simcoe. The Nummelin and Pera families were best friends, and although the parents had dreams about the perfect Finnish coupling between their children, Harold and Leila had other ideas and each set eyes on Irish mates as their chosen partners.
Bill absolutely adored Leila and tried hard to give her what she wanted (as soon as he figured out what that was). To celebrate Leila’s 35th birthday, Bill planned a surprise party. As a ruse to get her out of the house for the party setup and guest arrival, Bill took her and the kids to visit Nanny and Grampa. After the visit, Bill was so intent on delivering the honored guest to her party that he refused to stop at Dairy Queen so that the birthday girl could enjoy a sundae. She never forgot that transgression and it became a running family joke in the Duke family.
Despite her miserable experience with ocean travel early on, boats became a recurring theme in Leila’s life, and she learned to get along with them. Her parents purchased a cottage on Little Harris Lake near Parry Sound, where the birch trees and plentiful lakes dotting the land reminded them of Finland. Leila and Bill visited the cottage during the summers when their children were in grade school. Left without a car while Bill returned to work in Toronto during the week, Leila would load her kids into the boat in the morning (with “pillows” safely secured), row to the store, drag the boat up the beach, purchase groceries, and then return to the cottage by noon, hungry and sweaty from the effort. Later in life, Leila again dismissed her trepidation to visit her son in-law’s cottage, also accessible only by boat (although witnesses say that she white-knuckled the trip!). In 2015, she shared a memorable river boat cruise in Europe with her granddaughter Kirstie to celebrate her graduation from university.
Leila had a knack for a great many things in life. Her cooking skills and appreciation of delicious food (including Finnish staples like pulla and rice pies) were passed down to her children. She was a gifted and self-taught seamstress who whipped up everyday clothes and fancier outfits for her children, and later on, elaborate costumes for her grandchildren. Her creations were described as being more beautiful than most store-bought garments.
A natural extrovert, Leila transitioned easily between places and had a personality that worked like a magnet to attract new friends of all ages and backgrounds no matter where she lived. At age 65, she left everything she knew in Toronto, moved to Waterloo, and became one of the first residents of Luther Village on the Park retirement community. She fell in love with the sunlight spilling in through the apartment’s large wrap-around windows. Her grandson referred to her condominium apartment as “the compartment” and the name stuck.
At Luther Village, she joined the Craft Group and the Cards and More group where she was able to showcase and flex her natural creativity. The dining table was the epicenter of her craft projects and always had to be cleared before any dining could actually occur. A talented crafter, Leila made exquisitely detailed greeting cards that were more like frame-worthy works-of-art than anything Hallmark could ever produce. She was best known for cards featuring delicately embroidered angels with white wings, a gold crown, and pastel-colored sequins; these were special cards given in sympathy to mark the loss of a loved one. She also incorporated pressed flowers into her card designs and intuitively understood which flowers were best suited for this purpose. Her handmade sock monkeys proved immensely popular at a charity auction and as a nod to his Meme, her grandson Drew intends to finish the remaining sock monkey that she didn’t have a chance to complete. Her daughter Carol will finish off the remaining greeting cards that await a finishing touch.
Dedicated to her family, Leila never forgot birthdays or special days. She always marked these occasions with a gift, a call, a visit, or a card. She acted as pet-sitter for all of her grand-animals and kept biscuits in her pocket “just in case” to treat her beloved dog friends. She enjoyed dining out and made a habit of going on regular outings to restaurants with her family and friends (especially Gayle Kraft, with whom she shared a birthday and Leslie Ormston, who passed just five days before Leila). The scrumptious Mother’s Day brunch feasts at Verses will now hold a special memory.
There’s a Finnish saying that goes, “ Luja tahto vie läpi harmaan kiven ”, which roughly translates to “A strong will takes you through the grey stone” or more commonly in English, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. After a lifetime of facing “grey stone” head on and accepting the challenges it presented, Leila can now rest. Her legacy will carry on in the chorus of angels she stitched, the fields of flowers she pressed, in the fond memories of laughter and love shared with those nearest to her heart, and in the sisu that she exemplified and then instilled in her children.
Cremation has already taken place through Tri-City Cremation Services. Leila will be laid to
rest beside her parents and brother at a date to be determined at Sylvan Acres Cemetery in
Waubamik (65 Hurdville Road, McDougal, Ontario).
Donations in her memory are accepted to the Humane Society or Grand River Hospital.