LIONEL "LEO" CLARKE
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LIONEL "LEO" CLARKE
July 6, 1928 - November 5, 2020
Leo Clarke, our loving, funny, talented and ever-kind Dad, died of Covid-19 on November 5, 2020. We are grateful for the care, kindness of the nurses, doctors and aids who worked hard to keep him with us and then stayed to keep him company at the end.
He leaves to mourn, his four children Alison (Roger York), Jennifer (Don Presant, granddaughter Catherine), Paul (Kathleen née Slobodian, grandsons Charlie and Daniel), Eric (Marica, née Mostert), nephew Rod Frisken (Leslie Walsh). Also mourning his loss are his dear friends Irene Baldwin, Larry Rowland, Martha Wood of Vancouver and many more friends and family.
He was born Lionel Charles Clarke, in Winnipeg, July 6, 1928 to Amy and Charlie Clarke, of Valour Road (formerly Pine Street), nephew and namesake of Leo Clarke VC, (one of the three Pine Street boys to earn the Victoria Cross in WW1). Leo was married to the love of his life, Jean (née Murray) for almost 60 years (July 3, 1953), and during those years, massed four kids, 3 dogs, a couple of hamsters, and a collection of turtles and goldfish and many beloved friends.
Dad was protective of his younger brothers Richard and George, and when George began having seizures, Dad would rush home from school to help his mother and grandmother (Nan) hold and comfort him. When his parents made the very difficult decision to send George in 1954, to live at what is now the Manitoba Developmental Centre, Dad made sure the whole family would remain close, making regular visits to M.D.C. until George’s death in 2012. Dad served on the M.D.C. accreditation board and was an important member of the family group, always ready to devote time to the people taking great care of his little brother. Dad and a few times the family, enjoyed going to the West coast to catch with up Richard and his family.
Leo had to leave Isaac Brock School after Grade 9 at 14 years to help support the family during the Depression years. In those early years he did many things to earn money; from manning the huge toboggan slides at Polo Park with his best friend Mike McCulloch, to working at a dairy in St. Boniface (until he misheard a cue and opened a huge vat of cream onto the mezzanine before the containers were put underneath thus flooding a large portion of the main floor- including the manager’s office. That was one of Dad’s favourite stories – he never liked cottage cheese either after that experience!)
His work ethic he learned from his Dad, Charlie Clarke, his life model and hero. Leo worked his way up from office boy in Eaton’s to children’s shoes, where across the aisle, he fell in love with a beautiful red-head, Jean Murray, who worked in the children’s wear. Lots of laughs and good times were shared with the friends from Eatons.
While at Eatons, he was asked to organize their riding club. He was a natural for the job being already an experienced rider. At sixteen, he had cashed in his $75 war bond and bought a horse he call ‘Shorty’. They shared many an adventure. He rode for many stable owners out Cambridge way and Brookside, recalling long walks to the barns on cold nights to huddle with ‘Shorty’. The friendships made in those years have lasted to the present day. His passion for horses and their innate intuitive senses worked wonders with his young brother George’s mobility and well-being and in his retirement years Dad would use what he learned with his brother supporting kids for more than 16 years by being their ‘side-walker’ with the Manitoba Riding for Disabled.
Mom and Dad bought their first home on Strathmillan Street in St. James in 1955 in time to get settled before their first daughter arrived. She learned to walk around a hefty while stone in the yet undeveloped back yard. That stone would become ‘Alison’s Stone’ and at my Mom’s insistence and with love, Dad moved that weighty rock every move they made. It sits now in Alison’s backyard. Our Dad had a compassionate love for his family.
After Eaton’s, Dad started working in 1961 for Federated Co-op in Winnipeg, moving his young family to Saskatoon via CN Rail (car and all) on a very cold night in January of 1964. His responsibilities included drafting, designing and opening Co-op stores across Western Canada. His Saskatoon years also included being invited to teach business management to international students at the Western Co-op College. He accepted a challenge to move to Regina in 1968 to revitalize the Sherwood Co-op Department Store. They were difficult business years but he honed his skills in retail store planning, management and personnel management during a recession that hit Regina hard. He was well respected for his fairness in difficult situations and so pleased when in later years; he would meet people who remembered those days with him and thanking him for being there for them.
Returning to Winnipeg in the fall of 1971, to be with his and Mom’s parents, he managed the Gambles Department Stores at Grant Park and Northgate. He loved telling stories of the big potluck dinners the women in the North End would put on as he had little experience with piles of perogies and kubasa! We remember the 70s style green suit and gold tie in particular. He was always a snappy dresser! He had a love for shoes, which he shined meticulously. Later he worked to re-establish Big 4 Sales on Main Street, moving on after that to operating and later training operators of Mac Convenience stores in St. Vital.
Mom surprised him on his 50th birthday with a flight lesson at St. Andrew’s Airport. A dream he had tucked away since the war years. He took to the air as if he had been born a pilot, acing his exams, flying local search and rescue missions and navigating over the Rockies, maneuvering through a cloud funnel at almost Mach speed to Penticton. He always kept a cool head in emergencies.
Mom and Dad remodeled their 1913 St. Vital home, turning the basement into a rumpus room for his teenage kids – drums, stereo, piano, and the works. Cutting 200 2x3 studs with a jigsaw to frame the basement, solving the tangle of knob and tube wiring and getting zapped repeatedly. Pigeons in the eaves had to find somewhere else to live and gamely gowned in black garbage bags, Dad ventured out into the worm laden forest in the backyard and sprayed until covered in green and tent caterpillars, he returned rather green himself to the house to be showered off. We thought him so brave and he was!
Mom and Dad decided to sell their Nichol Avenue home after we moved on. They headed into cottage life north of Victoria Beach where Dad had spent many childhood summers. They bought a plot of uncleared land and a cottage package and set out to create a home away from home. Every year they worked on building something, an addition, a work shed, a garden, another addition, a veranda- the work was never done and Dad loved nothing more than planning and building and puttering around the place. Mom would say, “I need more cupboards Leo”, and Dad would build them to her specifications. And, being the first residents in this little enclave north of Traverse Bay, they welcomed and made lasting friendships with everyone who moved into the community. Mom would put on the coffee and make popcorn and Dad would sit out in the veranda and spin his tales to everyone’s delight.
It was a really difficult decision to sell their cottage but Mom’s health was more important, so their apartment balcony became their outdoor space and remained Dad’s favourite coffee spot after Mom’s death in 2013. He would sit out and watch the folks coming and going from St. Vital Centre, the endless streams of cars on Bishop Grandin and more enjoyable, the planes coming into the city, gaging their type, their altitude, and all the elements he knew so well. He loved to watch the eagles and hawks return to their annual nests in the trees and powerlines as well. His other retirement passion included building cages for the Wildlife Haven Rehab out Hwy 75. Countless hours and thought went into the building of natural wood cages, easing the injured wildlife into structures not dissimilar to their natural habitat.
Dad had a deep faith, nurtured from the start at St. Patrick’s Anglican Church through to various United Churches. He served on church boards and enjoyed immensely helping with staging and artwork for choir shows at St. Vital United. Being among a core of Dad-leaders for Cubs and Scouts, he loved the canoe trips, had a natural ability to not only paddle but to model and to absorb the landscape we traveled through, even torrential rains and 102 degree sunshine all on one of our trips. Paul remembers spending a Sunday late fall afternoon tromping in rubber boots through the bush and light snow, having a fire just to have a fire but also to dry out. He taught his boys how to straighten bent nails and build a tree fort because ‘shop’ was always allowed as long as we put the tools away. We learned ‘old school’ – learn by doing. He modeled how wonderful camping could be and taught us all the skills we still use today. Our family spent many many summers before the cottage, before the trailers, tenting throughout the Prairies, Madge Lake, (Duck Mountain Prov. Pk) and Grand Beach being our most visited. Dad and Jennifer built ‘Clarke’s Caboose’, a handy compartmentalized trailer that housed all the Clarke camping gear, clothes and food. Of course, Dad had to put his comic stamp on it by painting windows on it with railway men looking out. Looking back, we remember ducking down in our seats when we pulled into gas stations.
He was a talented artist all his life; loving oils, acrylics, exquisite Indian ink, and comic sketches, which earned him recognition at various art shows at Victoria Beach and at the Charleswood Community Centre. These past few years, saw Dad having his ‘Tims’ in the Food Court at St. Vital Centre, always with pen in hand, sketching cartoon caricatures, often finding curious on-lookers young and old, enjoying his work in progress. Years ago, he meticulously drew tiny characters doing crazy things and hung this sketch in the ‘biffy’ at the lake. He would in good humour, sketch himself, and it is those drawings that endeared him to the Home Care workers who cared for him at home and then just this past month, endeared him to the hospital staff. Eric, wrapped in a gun and holster from Christmas, was asked, “How fast can you draw?” threw his left hand into the air and did a mad sketch of something! Nothing remotely connected to guns at all. Eric instinctively knew how to draw, how like Dad, saw how things worked, how to fix things.
Stories. There were so many stories and he was a wonderful storyteller. He loved sharing them over suppers with family or over lunch with friends at the Sals or one the phone with friends. He loved the Sals and he loved going to the Family Restaurant on Fermor, and then it was usually the Jolly Mug or Smitty’s with his son and grandson on Saturdays. He loved grocery shopping, often bringing home more than Mom’s list and usually a can of corned beef. Right up until a few months ago, you would see him pushing a cart around the Co-op at St. Vital Centre, knowing exactly what he wanted, double-checking his list, throwing in a can of corned beef.
Dad was a Grandpa to Charlie, Daniel and Catherine and took deep pride in talking about them; so proud of who they were growing up to be- Charlie with his skills at metal work, cooking and love of animals, Daniel wanting to hear Grandpa’s stories, calling him regularly from Vancouver, checking on him, Catherine, the artist, the horse-rider, following in her Grandpa’s footsteps.
And the dogs: Dad’s dog ‘Kim’, his companion as a boy, Alison and Roger’s ‘Penny’, Dad’s companion at the lake especially the summer of 2003, ‘Geordie’ these past 11 years, Paul and Kathleen’s ‘Mickey’, and ‘Chester’, all loved by Dad as much as we love(d) them.
These past almost eight years without Mom have been difficult but he endured the challenges like he always did, with perseverance, courage, humour and many cups of coffee on the balcony: keeping the apartment in spic and span order, driving his car around Winnipeg, entertaining kids at the tables in the Food Court with comic drawings, meeting old friends and ensuring he kept abreast of the news. We were in Dad’s ‘bubble’ these past 9 months, able to visit, to care for him along with his devoted Home Care workers, Mike, Leonardo and nurse David. Dad was kept from being isolated like so many other seniors. He remained connected to each one of us. That will not change. We are all so proud of him, his strength and all he accomplished and never tired of his story telling, wishing we could have taped every one. Thanks Dad.
Leo was laid to rest, next to his beloved wife, in St. Vital Cemetery on Thursday, November 12, 2020. His family kindly requests that all of his friends and relatives take a few minutes to honour his memory by watching the photo-biography above. Please, also consider sharing your own photos and/or sharing your own memories and stories using the comment section on this page.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions made to the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre in Île-des-Chênes, Manitoba, are sincerely appreciated by the family.