This was a piece that’s just been published in the Spring 2015 edition of Hope magazine; a publication of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women. I don’t believe they have an online circulation, as it was distributed through the Edmonton Journal. But here is a story I wrote of an incredible lady, our former Lt Governor, among many other things. Enjoy!
by Lani Lupul: as published in Hope magazine, by Venture Publishing
A wife, a mother, professional gardener, author, businesswoman, farmer, Chancellor, and in her final years, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Lois brought a grace and warmth to each role. That grace and warmth now live on in the legacy of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women.
Born in rural Buchanan, Saskatchewan on January 30, 1929, Lois Elsa Veregin was twin to brother Ray, and older sister to brother, Lorne. Their father was a cattle buyer and their mother a housewife who had an avid interest in gardening. Lois grew up with a feverish intrigue for music, books and learning, and had a natural gift for speaking. At one particular Sunday morning church service in her early teens, the senior minister was delayed and the congregation sat fidgeting in their seats as they waited. Lois took note of the crowd’s need for leadership and rose to the pulpit. She shared a little about Jesus here and there, though she wasn’t religious, and inspired her fellow parishioners. There was just something about young Lois, even from an early age, that set people at ease.
It was a time when Saskatchewan had no universal health care. Lois’ aunt, her mother’s twin sister, nearly died of a burst appendix, and she never forgot that moment and how important it is to have health care for all.
At 19 years old, Lois’ family moved to Edmonton for more opportunity in the cattle business, and Lois worked towards her Grade 10 level in piano from the Royal Conservatory of Music. But it was really when she met Ted Hole in her early 20s that the future Mrs. Lois Hole really began to blossom.
In her book, I’ll Never Marry a Farmer, Lois credited her parents for giving her the good sense to know when the right man came along.
“Ted turned out to be a pretty handsome guy – I thought he looked like Charlton Heston. I could tell right away how sincere he was. He spoke with such passion that I found myself being caught up in the romantic notion of marrying a handsome farmer – despite my childhood vow,” she wrote.
Ted and Lois married in 1952 and bought 200 acres east of St. Albert. Ted had an insatiable love for the earth, but with little concrete knowledge of how to actually run a farm, they had some lean and educational first few years. They tried everything from pigs, chickens, turkeys and cattle, with mixed success. When nothing seemed to work and the bank account looked grim, they’d wander over to Lois’ folks’ house for supper.
Not bound by convention, or stressed by any ideals of how things had to be done, Ted and Lois were able to experiment and navigate farm life. As their family grew, so did their garden. Jim and Bill were born in 1955 and 1956, and became young students under their parents’ tutelage. From learning to debate around the kitchen table with visitors and mastering how to grow colorful marigolds, the Holes cultivated open minds in their family.
The future changed for the Holes when one hot summer day some passersby stopped to admire their cucumbers. The visitors offered to purchase some of their garden produce, and Ted and Lois realized they might just have something good going.
“She was always prepared to take on new challenges,” Jim says. “Her and Dad said they didn’t know a lot about ‘this business of growing vegetables’, so they didn’t have any preconceived ideas, and that gave them a lot of freedom to try new things. They were unencumbered by some of the so-called conventional wisdom of growing.”
The Holes decided to start a market garden at their farm, selling produce under the trees by the garden. Incorporated in 1979 as Hole’s Greenhouse and Gardens Ltd, the market garden eventually took over their barn. Learning and experimentation was always part of the business and family life at the Hole house. So was fun. Lois could transform from a farming housewife to a citified woman when she and Ted set out to the opera or a movie.
“She didn’t worry about material stuff,” Jim says, “but when she did get dressed up, she looked like a million bucks.”
Lois served several terms as trustee on the Sturgeon School Division. Her natural way with the public caught politicians’ eyes on more than once, but despite their urgings Lois was never interested in running for office.
In 1991, as urban development expanded to their property fence line, the Holes decided it was time to leave farming and focus on just one thing – building the garden market in town. They opened up a retail greenhouse and garden centre in St. Albert – Hole’s Greenhouse – that has since grown into one of the largest retail greenhouse operations in Western Canada. Albertans know it as the Enjoy Centre, which opened in 2011.
With her vast knowledge of gardening, Lois became a regular guest columnist on CBC radio, the Globe and Mail, the Edmonton Sun and the Edmonton Journal. She began to write, and her first book, Lois Hole’s Vegetable Favourites, was published in 1993, soon followed by five more books in “Favourites” series. This series now has sold more than a million copies and continues to be among the top-selling gardening books in Canada.
“Lois Hole” became a household name among Albertans, and even Canadians. With her warmth in her public speeches, she’d make people feel like they were in her living room as she weaved in stories of family and gardening. In 1998, Lois became Chancellor at the University of Alberta – widening her influence once again.
The role of Chancellor would eventually open the door to her final post, as Lieutenant Governor in February 2000; she was the second woman in Alberta’s history to carry this honour. The Government of Alberta was rebuilding in the aftermath of economic uncertainties of the 1990s. Lois saw it as an opportunity to again lend her voice to change, and if need be add some humour.
She was first and foremost a people person,” Jim says. “That was her thing. She had an incredible ability to relate to anybody. I have yet to see anybody that could match that.”
Even as lieutenant governor, Lois made it a priority to get home to the farm and join her boys at lunchtime. With three family houses on the property, the Holes would gather, in tradition, around Lois’ kitchen table – something that was always very precious to her.
“She was still worried, in the back of her mind, that we wouldn’t feed ourselves,” chuckles Jim.
Unfortunately, during her term in office, Ted died of cancer in 2003. Lois herself had already been diagnosed with abdominal cancer, and began treatment that same year. Any opportunity she had, Lois still spoke of her passion for education and health care.
Sandy Kereliuk was Lois’s private secretary for the last year of her life as lieutenant governor. “Those passions came out in most everything she did,” Kereliuk says.
When Sandy first began working with Lois, she noticed the way she never said no to anyone and with her busy schedule, that didn’t seem right. Her initial goal was to help Lois to learn ‘no’, graciously. One such instance was when Sandy was running to meet Lois at the greenhouse, and there she came upon Lois clad in green galoshes and her heavy work coat, looking like one of the workers. As Lois and Kereliuk walked by a payphone, the customer using it immediately recognized Lois and hailed her, asking if she’d speak to the woman’s sister – a big fan – on the phone. Lois obliged happily, speaking to the stranger at length while Kereliuk waited.
In various meetings, even with declining health, it was Lois’ way with people – her listening ear and how that left them feeling heard and seen – that Sandy eventually realized she was the one who had been ‘taught’.
“That’s was when I realized that I wasn’t going to teach her anything. Rather than me teaching her the importance of saying no, she taught me the importance of saying yes. She was extremely kind, compassionate and caring. She was also an extremely strong woman, even when she was going through the illness and death of her husband. There were only two times I ever saw tears in her eyes.”
One of those times was when Dale Sheard, chair of A Campaign About Caring, showed up with two other board members to discuss the future extension of the Royal Alex Hospital.
“We decided that we would rather give it the name Lois Hole Hospital for Women because people in the community would respond better to that,” Dale says. “We thought we could raise more money excellence in health care by having her name attached to the hospital. Also, we wanted to create an image for the hospital right off the bat. We knew of Lois Hole’s reputation and we knew if we could apply that image to the new women’s hospital that would be incredible support for the hospital and the patients.”
The campaign team felt it important to tell Lois first hand of their desire to name the hospital wing in her honour. When the moment came to ask Lois’ permission, she was already in hospital due to her cancer. The team gathered in her hospital room in August 2004, everyone in the room, including Lois, was moved to tears. She said yes right away.
In Dale’s memory, Lois responded with, “If any hospital had asked me to do this it would’ve been an honour. But the Royal Alex was where I had my babies, where my husband went, and where I’ve been treated. I’m just so thrilled to do this. I can’t wait to get home and tell my boys about this!”
Due to her declining health the team moved the formal announcement to November. Lois insisted on exuding strength once again on behalf of Alberta, and rose to the podium to make her speech – a speech of hope.
“So my hope is that when people come to this new hospital and see my name, they’re going to have a little extra hope – that real, uplifting hope – that things will turn out OK.”
Isabelle Burgess, caretaker for every admission Lois had in the hospital says, “She was an exceptional one-of-a-kind lady. She treated everybody exactly the same from the housekeeper to the CEO of the hospital. It made no difference to Lois where you went in life or what kind of person you were. She was certainly called the Queen of Hugs for a reason. I definitely felt honoured that I had come into her life at that time when she needed the support.”
Lois was well-known by all in the hospital, as she insisted on giving everyone a hug as she passed through the halls.
As she lay in her hospital bed in those final days, Lois looked out her window towards the future Lois Hole Hospital for Women. As friends and family came, all she could say in her humble manner was, “Did you know they’re going to build a hospital out there and put my name on it? Isn’t that unbelievable?”
Whether it was her bright marigolds and juicy tomatoes, her husband and sons, the guests who ate and debated around her kitchen table, or every parent she eased with her personal campaign for education – Lois Hole was invested in life to the very end.
(Photos taken from Google images)