A Life's Story
May 27, 2023
‘Everything she did was out of love’
Nancy Fleury’s oversized heart made a huge impact on her family, friends and on just about everyone in Teulon, her adopted home for more than 40 years
By: Jeff Hamilton
Nancy Fleury was many things to many people.
She was a curious daughter, a caring sister, a loving mother, an adoring grandma, a loyal friend and a community leader, just to name a few. More broadly, she was an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on and possessed a heart so big, her passion for others and caring nature seemed to know no bounds, extending to anybody and everybody around her.
“She lived her life full of love,” says granddaughter Brandy Fleury. “If it was cooking, the special ingredient was love. If it was doing something for the community, she did it because she loved to do it. If it was kicking our ass or giving us a hug, it was because she loved us. Everything she did was out of love.”
Fleury died at the age of 75 on Jan. 31, 2022.
One of Otto and Martha Friederici’s eight children and the youngest of four daughters, Fleury was born and grew up in a one-bedroom farmhouse just outside of Arborg. She would move to Winnipeg in the early 1960s where, years later, she would meet Eugene, the love of her life and husband of 57 years.
Together, they would raise two daughters, with Laurie Fleury and Cathy Thiessen born just 10 months apart. By the late ’70s, the family packed up and moved to Teulon, where Fleury became an active member of the small community, including spearheading many of its charitable efforts.
Fleury created the Teulon Christmas Cheer Board and Teulon Food Bank, which not only served the town but also the surrounding districts. For years, she ran things out of her own garage, which is still heated by a small wood stove, and would solicit support from local residents and businesses, even encouraging schools to help raise funds.
If there was ever a need for more baskets or one that needed topped up, it wasn’t uncommon for Fleury to use her own items and money to ensure everyone was looked after.
“I was the gopher and did all the jobs she didn’t want to do,” Eugene says with a chuckle. “She (ran both organizations) for about 20 years before she let it go and the town took over.”
In 2013, Fleury was the recipient of the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award (now named the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers), which is “given to people and groups whose voluntary contribution provide extraordinary help or care to their community.”
Cathy says her mother always stressed the importance of giving back, but noted there was a particular event in Teulon that motivated her to start such important initiatives.
The family didn’t have a lot of money growing up and, that summer, Fleury scraped to save up enough funds to buy her daughters school supplies. Before returning home from the store, they stopped off at the post office to get the mail.
When they returned to the car, the school supplies had been stolen.
“Instead of getting upset like 98 per cent of the population would, it dawned on her that there were others who struggled in the community,” Cathy says. “She was kind of like an unsung hero, but whenever you tried to praise her or give her any credit, she would say it was nothing.”
Fleury was fiercely independent, and while she didn’t claim to be a feminist, she certainly was, often preaching to the women in her life that they didn’t need a man in their lives to succeed. Fleury loved her family more than anything and was ferociously protective of those close to her.
Cathy recalls a time while in Winnipeg, around the age of seven or eight, when she and her sister Laurie set up a lemonade stand on the street corner. A group of older boys came by and roughed them up, stealing their money before retreating from the scene.
“Mom came flying out of the house and she chased those boys barefoot down the back lane,” Cathy said. “She eventually caught one and spanked him bare-arsed while his friends watched from a distance.”
Fleury also had a wicked sense of humour. Her go-to quote was “couldn’t give a rat’s arse,” which her family confirmed was most often the case. She loved laughing and always leaned on the positive.
Ellie Hodges was Fleury’s longest and closest friend. The two met when they were six and stayed close ever since.
Hodges says never once did they argue or share a harsh word. They were too busy laughing, something they would do for hours over the phone after Hodges moved to B.C. in her early 20s.
“She made everybody laugh and feel comfortable with her wit and quick responses to everything,” Hodges says from her Richmond home.
Beyond her volunteering efforts, Fleury held jobs as a hairdresser; modelled clothing for Mallabars, Eaton’s and The Bay; had a part-time gig as a carhop at A&W; and, at least for one summer, worked the midnight shift at the Old Dutch potato chips factory.
When Eugene, who was a professional semi-truck driver, suffered his third heart attack and was stripped of his class 1 licence, Fleury returned to her gruelling job as a potato grader at the Interlake Potato Farm, leaving after 22 years of service.
Debbie Kozyra first met Fleury as a child but it was when she became a young business owner in Teulon that their relationship grew into a cherished friendship.
Kozyra says Fleury was a major supporter of the local business community and an all-around good person. She notes Fleury and Eugene partnered with the local Métis Federation to put on a Canada Day celebration that would honour not only the Indigenous community but all cultures in town; the event has been running for more than 25 years.
“She’s an angel from above,” Kozyra says. “She was such a compassionate, full-of-life kind of person and she would do anything to help. For her, money wasn’t the important thing, it was the love and caring of others.”
Fleury loved deeply and unconditionally. She had a special bond with her grandchildren, creating a long-running joke among the family that she loved them more than her own kids, to which Fleury would respond: “that’s because I didn’t have to raise them!”
Granddaughter Nikki Thiessen says what she’ll miss most is her grandma’s unwavering support. Whether it was about a boyfriend, or problems at home or with school, Fleury made sure Nikki knew she had her full backing.
Fleury wrote letters and sent emails, often ending each one with the same signoff: “Love you forever.” If you needed to talk things out, there was always a seat on the deck and cans of beer in the fridge to fuel hours-long chats. Every phone call ended with “I love you,” and all visits began and ended with big hugs.
“She was just so easy to talk to and that’s what the community really grasped about her, was that she was one of them,” Nikki says. “She definitely made a point of letting us know how much we don’t need in the world to be happy.”
Fleury’s favourite season was spring. She loved gardening, spending hours upon hours tending to her award-worthy flower garden. She enjoyed camping, fishing and taking long drives with Eugene to see the countryside.
Fleury was an avid reader and an incredible cook; homemade perogies and pork buttons were among her top dishes. She documented her life in journals and wrote random notations in cookbooks about things going on in her life, little snippets that are now cherished by the family she leaves behind.
“Her legacy is from her kindness and compassion for other people, as well as her humour and love for everyone,” Eugene says. “I know that’s painting a picture of a perfect person, but to us, she was.”