Coping with Grief
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The family of Nancy would like her friends and family members to know of her passing in the early hours of Sept 17th, 2023. Born in Seattle to parents Ted and Kay Lee, she was the middle child between big sister Katie and little brother Art. After high school and college in California, she headed north for a life of adventure, first in Oregon, then Whidbey Island, then finally into the wilds of west coast Canada, fishing for prawns in Loughborough Inlet, part of a scattered community of people living off the grid before there was a grid. A life of boats and floats - both plane and house, growing food and raising pigs and chickens a long way from her previous life. She sold prawns to John Wayne on his yacht one time, had a baby named Amy, then eventually migrated towards the relative civilization of the Comox Valley.
Along the way she built a domed house on McCauley Rd., and started a plant business, supplying the Old House Restaurant, and opening a plant store called Jeepers Creepers. Around that time her future husband Andy showed up in her life. They knew each other peripherally and shared a love of music. While dropping off a screen-printed glass panel with a rose that Nancy suggested bringing to the shop - she never did sell it, it may have been a set-up - they made a date to go see Sue and the Shoes at a Valentines dance in 1984, and things progressed from there. (In 1997 they got married on Feb 14 in Barra de Navidad, Mexico.)
She headed to Vancouver, where Andy had moved his company. She got a job at Norman Wade Reprographics, where she worked with the city’s architects making blueprints, and xerox copies for future art stars at Emily Carr. Meanwhile MacDougall Screen Printing in Yaletown was growing, right next to Expo. When they added a production plant in Langley, Nancy took over as office manager and ran the Vancouver office.
She dealt with a range of clients from advertising agencies to artists, Science World exhibits to signage for Chevron stations across BC and Alberta: always meticulous, always the pro, a calming influence when dealing with weekly deadlines and screaming customers with emergencies. Together with Andy, they built the company up, created a solid family relationship, including Andy’s daughter Naomi, then returned to the Comox Valley in 1990 in order to afford a house and escape Vancouver. The 15th St house in Courtenay is where she first showed signs of obsessive-compulsive home improvement syndrome, as well as developing her considerable chops as a gardener.
Nancy built out the old house, with every renovation and change a bit bigger, a bit more ambitious, until the house and gardens were nothing short of amazing. A custom print studio got built, then a fire in 2004 in the old garage saw a major rebuild take place. Nancy got to design a woodworking studio to hold some of her favourite tools (belt sander was always #1) and a new frame shop to go along with the art printing operation.
Somewhere in there, she placed first in the Ladies Nail Driving Championship on July 1st at Lewis Park in Courtenay, and she also won a ‘Rat Chuck’ contest at Grahams Tavern in Glacier Washington.
Nancy had developed an interest in Spanish in high school and started on a series of adventures in Mexico with the Mexican people. Her language skills and friendly personality allowed for some interesting trips to smaller villages and non-touristy situations, renting cars and ‘turning left’ to see what was at the end of a road. One of her proudest moments came when a high-pressure condo sales manager, who couldn’t believe we had no place lined up for the next night, declared, “You sound like a couple of teenagers!” as he kicked us out. She took it as a compliment, along with the free bottle of tequila.
When she first returned to the Valley, Nancy got a seasonal job at Mt. Washington as a switchboard operator - they had one phone line to start - and over more than 10 years worked her way up to Season Pass Co-ordinator. Summers off allowed her to plant and build, transforming a rundown house and yard into a verdant green paradise with resident frog population and dozens of bird species, deer, and even Naomi’s 4H sheep Pearl. She developed a side business of picture framing, and also perfected ‘Klip Printing’ for long time client Kost Clip Mfg. Over 10 years of production, she was responsible for printing literally millions of coupon holders found in grocery stores across Canada. She also became a proud Canadian citizen, able to discuss the previous night’s hockey games with the mechanics on the early bus up the mountain, or vote in elections, which she took seriously.
Grandkids arrived, first Josh in 2000, and then Camiyah in 2007. These two became central to her life, and the same passion she showed in renovating and gardening, she put into being Gramma. Blessed with a brilliant and inquisitive mind, she imparted in Josh and Camiyah her deep love for languages, wordplay, puzzles, and the beauty of the natural world. They are eternally grateful for the lessons learnt at her knee, and fondly remember the countless hours she spent teaching them horticulture and botany, discussing Green counterculture, and watching Jeopardy! together. In 2008, she and Andy left the Courtenay house behind, and moved south to Royston, where they tackled a hundred-year-old heritage home with a wide-open yard, the perfect canvas for her next living work of art. The grandkids had rooms, there was a print shop and framing studio in the basement, and the back deck that overlooked Comox Bay became a gathering place for family and friends. A few memorable ‘Leefests’ took place, with American family members enjoying the Royston house. She gained the nickname ‘The Plant Whisperer’ from good neighbours Jim and Mardy, because she could grow anything.
Once Josh left for university, and Andy moved the print shop to out of the house, the big old 3 story house, plus the plants and greenhouse and never-ending battle with the blackberries, and the construction of the fortress of solitude next door, sent the message that this was not the forever house, where the two geezer teen-agers could grow old…It was time to downsize, and time to think about how and where to relocate in Royston, a community she loved. Nancy always admired ‘the Pink Stucco House’ an overgrown cottage on Marine Drive. An old timer lived in it, you could barely see it from the road, but Nancy approached him to let him know if he wanted to sell it in the future, she would be interested in talking. Eventually, he had to go into care, and his family reached out. A deal was done, the highway house got ready for sale, and she embarked on her most ambitious excessive compulsive home reno yet in 2019, first deconstructing the old home, saving the beautiful wood and some antiques and things that had been left behind. She designed a modest efficient home that took in the unparalleled view of the waterfront and matched the vibe of the neighbourhood. The trim was all reclaimed wood from the original house. Nancy and Andy moved in March 2020, just after everything shut down for Covid. They were sleeping on the floor, but the dream of a beach house in Royston with her friends down the street was accomplished.
The last few years, Nancy had a blank slate of front yard to plant. With all the cuttings and transplants collected through the years, plus some specially chosen shrubs and trees, she set about building a beautiful garden that would attract birds and bees, give joy every time a person would look at it, and not require a lawn mower. There was room for the kids, a house to decorate with art and plants and resurrected furniture, and a lifetime more of projects to work on. She was close to her best friends Tandra, Burkey and Mo.
Unfortunately, life had other plans. Nancy was diagnosed with pancreas cancer Christmas Eve 2021 but with the help of some incredible doctors, nurses, and technicians (we can’t express our gratitude enough for the angels who go to work every day in our medical system) she got in a summer of planting, a 2nd Christmas and another summer she never expected. This spring a family of crows decide to make a nest in the front tree, and we watched and learned as they tended the nest and eggs. The picture is of one of the fledglings who went for a dip in the pond, then landed on Nancy’s arm in the garden. It was a magic moment, in a magic life.
In memory of Nancy, be kind, laugh a little, love a lot.
In lieu of flowers, please plant some.
A celebration of life will be announced in the future. On behalf of the family, thanks to all who have reached out and helped during this time.