November 2, 1923 – May 24, 2022
In Loving Memory ~
Lillian DeBeck’s life ended much more peacefully than it had started – she was born in the Caucasus during the Russian civil war. She told people she was born in a revolution and prided herself on being a disrupter throughout her life.
She constantly quoted her father: “rules are made by man, not man made for rules”, and rarely encountered a rule she did not think worth breaking.
Her parents Vasily Kazimirovich and Masha Holmin met in the US as labour union activists, returning to Russia after the revolution. It was not the socialist democracy they had hoped for, and it took several years to get passports to leave again in 1927 with their two small daughters, Claudia and Elizaveta (“Lilka”, later Lillian).
After a year working in Saskatchewan for the CPR in return for their passage, they acquired a farm near Armstrong, BC where Lillian grew up and where she was always happiest. She loved the North Okanagan, for the sunshine and heat, the big skies, and the fresh produce.
Lillian got a bursary to attend Vancouver Normal School and began teaching at age 19 on Gabriola Island. She taught for several years in one-room schools before attending UBC in 1949-50.
While in Armstrong for Christmas, she was invited to a party at Kalamalka Lake. The host, Paddy Mackie, asked his friend Howard DeBeck to pick her up, since he lived in town and had a car. The two hit it off and started dating when they returned to UBC.
When they married in November 1950, Lillian was teaching in Mill Bay, and Howard was in his first engineering job on the Island. Because neither could get holidays they drove to Vernon to marry on the Remembrance Day weekend. Paddy always took credit for their marriage and their three children.
They settled in Kamloops, where Howard began his career with the provincial Water Rights Branch which he would later lead. Lillian continued to teach until required to quit when she had her first child. The family moved to Victoria in 1961 and Lillian returned to substitute teaching, which she continued until after Howard’s retirement.
She especially enjoyed substituting after Howard retired as she could go out to teach and come home to a dinner prepared for her.
She had a lively mind and wide-ranging intellectual interests and was a lifelong reader. She returned to university part-time in the 1960s to study history, and her library has sizable collections on BC, Canadian, Russian and European history, biographies (particularly of women), Canadian literature, and religion.
She especially liked shopping at Munro’s remainder tables and finding interesting books at little free libraries. She also enjoyed auction sales and thrift shopping. She extensively researched family history, of the DeBeck family as well as her own Holmin and Ostropol (Paule) families.
Lillian loved to travel, and though Howard did not, he encouraged her to travel without him and she enjoyed many solo trips. Her first big adventure was a month in Europe in 1966 (on $5 a day!), when it was very unusual for a married woman to travel alone, leaving three children at home with her husband.
She returned to Russia twice, once with Howard and again to take a UVic Russian course in Leningrad. In later years she enjoyed travelling with her daughter and during the last pre-COVID year (when she turned 96) they went to Mexico twice and the Okanagan with Ron, as well as several jaunts to Parksville and Vancouver.
She was a long-time member of Victoria Engineers’ Wives, and continued to enjoy monthly lunches with friends from the group until the pandemic interruption. She did little formal volunteer work but was constantly finding personal ways to help people, and random encounters became lifelong friendships.
She would hire immigrant women to help her with housework and work alongside them, helping them to improve their English and often developing friendships with them and their families. An encounter with a young family on a Croatian ferry in 1988 led to Howard and Lillian helping to arrange the Juras family’s immigration to Victoria after the civil war, and they became a part of the extended family. She kept a supply of cookies and chocolates to give away to lifeguards, service providers, and visitors.
Lillian was predeceased by Howard in 2005, and by many relatives and long-time friends over recent years.
She is survived by her daughter Paula, sons Howard (Ruth) and Ronald, grandchildren Jennifer, Scott and Ross, as well as goddaughter Nora Daniel and adopted granddaughter Carmen Zana Carbajal and nieces and nephew Mary Ann Chubb, Carolyn and John Kubecka, and Kathie Carroll.
Her final illness was very short, although her health and strength had been declining for some time. She was able to remain at home with family support until her last few days.
A celebration of her life will be held at a later time.
Donations in her name are suggested to the Knowledge Network.Obituary
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