Celebrating Canada: The Resilient Spirit of Peggy Lordly

“Look up—not down.” These words, deceptively simple, resonate deeply as Peggy reflects on how often today’s youth are absorbed by their phones, missing the splendour of the world around them.

Peggy, at 85, lives alone in Vancouver and holds a special place within the Tuktu community—as both a friend and an occasional client, she champions the joy and richness of life lived fully aware. My encounter with her came about during an anthropology internship with Tuktu (www.tuktu.ca), when CEO Rustam Sengupta tasked me with gathering insights from seniors to bridge generational gaps through storytelling. This mission brought me to Peggy’s doorstep on a bright June day.

Old black and white photograph of Peggy Lordly dancing.

As her door swung open, I was greeted by the lively echo of her voice over the intercom, inviting me into her sunlit, plant-filled living room adorned with art and personal touches that spoke volumes of her vibrant existence. She motioned me towards the “queen’s chair,” settling herself on a sofa beneath a large print of Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom. Her stylish, short haircut and the spirited choice of attire and sneakers painted a picture of someone who embraced life with zest and flair. Our conversation began with open-ended questions but quickly evolved into a reflection of her life’s resilience—a narrative relatable across generations. As we delved deeper, it became clear that her experiences, while uniquely hers, offered universal lessons. Through this article, I endeavour to weave together our extensive dialogue and subsequent correspondences into a concise biography, capturing the essence of a woman who teaches us to look up and truly see.

From Ballet to Bouquets

Peggy Lordly was born in Moncton, New Brunswick, in 1939—the year the Second World War broke out. She grew up in Moncton with her parents and sister. She remembers being four years old, with planes flying overhead and blackout curtains draping their windows. Despite the war, Peggy maintains that she grew up in a wonderful era.

Peggy’s stories certainly convinced me that she enjoyed a delightful childhood. During summers at their cottage, she spent hours at Parlee Beach, listening to music on the jukebox and eating ice cream. In 1957, when televisions were a novelty in her home, Peggy recalls her mother calling her to watch Elvis dance. To protect the sensibilities of young viewers, Elvis was only shown from the waist up, his gyrating hips deemed too provocative. Beyond the beach, young Peggy Lordly was drawn to several artistic pursuits. Starting at just over the age of three, she began dancing ballet, playing the violin, piano, and singing. Her path to singing was challenging; she was mocked at school for speaking through her nose due to a partial cleft palate. Facing bullying, her mother taught her how to speak without nasality, and over time, not only did Peggy’s speech improve, but she also began singing at school and in the church choir. From assisting her in overcoming school struggles to sewing ballet costumes, Peggy’s mother was her steadfast source of support.

However, things soon changed. At 18, Peggy auditioned for Celia Franca, founder of the National Ballet of Canada, and was accepted. Unfortunately, her parents did not allow her to pursue dancing. Realising life was not perfect, Peggy’s dreams were crushed, but her spirit remained unbroken. She attended business college and secured a job in Moncton before transferring to Toronto and eventually moving to the west coast. After nearly four decades of employment, Peggy was laid off in the 90s during corporate downsizing. To make ends meet, she started a cleaning service, despite having no prior experience. From age 56 to 71, she worked as a cleaner, gaining a reputation for reliability and sometimes even turning down job offers. At night, she made dried flower bouquets and knitted dishcloths to sell at festive bazaars. Reflecting on her career, Peggy mused about the possibility of owning her own company had she started earlier, in her 30s. Throughout her varied challenges, Peggy’s resilience and indomitable spirit shine as a testament to her ability to adapt and thrive against all odds.

Navigating Stormy Seas in Pursuit of Happiness

Peggy’s personal journey has been marked by significant challenges, yet her resilience and courage have consistently shone through. Initially married to the father of her children, she faced a difficult separation. Despite this, Peggy’s spirit remained undeterred. She sought refuge and a fresh start back in New Brunswick with her parents, where she met her second husband, Dr. Rich. Their shared love of sailing brought them moments of joy, navigating the serene waters to Prince Edward Island, a cherished escape during the better times of their marriage.

Though her second marriage eventually faced challenges, Peggy’s resilience never wavered. Even when confronted with obstacles, she found strength in her independence and continued to cultivate a fulfilling life. Her connection with her children and grandchildren remains strong, with their achievements bringing her immense pride and joy.

Today, Peggy’s life is a testament to her enduring spirit. She fills her days tending to her beautiful garden and swimming, activities that reflect her love for life and nature. Despite the challenges of aging and the loneliness it can sometimes bring, Peggy is profoundly grateful for the journey and the lessons learned along the way. Her story is one of overcoming adversity with grace and continuing to find peace and happiness in the simple pleasures of life.

Art, Adversity, and Aging Beautifully

Peggy tells me she has arthritis from the neck down, and her fingers and knees are quite affected. Despite the arthritis, Peggy continues to knit. Over the years, she estimates she has knitted over two hundred scarves and toques for the homeless. She is currently working on a scarf with a basket weave pattern. On Peggy’s table, there is a bright yellow bouquet of flowers that she received from a woman she had helped financially. She bakes and gives most of it away to a senior home and others that she knows. She has also spent nearly twenty years volunteering at Van Dusen Gardens and 16 years at the South Granville Seniors Centre. Throughout her life, Peggy has given back to the community in all the ways she can.

Current photograph of Peggy Lordly on her couch in her living room.

While getting ready to leave, Peggy tells me that despite her arthritis, her knees are not doing terribly, and years after stopping ballet, her legs are still quite nice. I can’t help but agree; she’s remarkably agile and sprightly. Peggy packs some homemade chocolate chip cookies for me and others at the office.

Although she said she has none to give, Peggy does offer some advice. Peggy told me, “If you have a sense of humour, that will help you get through this life. You can tell funny stories and you can laugh at yourself. Magic.”

She asks people to take a step back: look up, not down.

Don’t let technology always keep you on the run.

Stop to smell the flowers.

Don’t lose the art of conversation; talk to people face-to-face.

Stop. Breathe. Reflect.

Right before I left, she showed off the tattoo of James Dean on her forearm that I had immediately noticed when I had walked in. For anyone wondering how their tattoos will look when they get older, I can tell you it will look just fine. At least Peggy Lordly’s certainly does.

 

 

Yasmin Das is an undergraduate anthropology student at the University of British Columbia. She loves people and their stories and is currently working with seniors at Tuktu Care Inc. – Canada’s first on-demand care platform. Tuktu provides seniors, people with special needs and their family members with companions for non-medical support. Check them out at www.tuktu.ca.