Legacy is a big word, says Rebecca Saylor, one of Vi Mills’ 12 grandchildren, and it can have many meanings, but there is no doubt about the legacy Vi left for her family and the community, which became her extended family.
“The ripple effect” her life had in the community, says her granddaughter, “is extraordinary.”
Vi died Feb. 28 at the Greater Niagara Hospital, surrounded by her family, at the age of 85. The Town Hall flag was at half staff to recognize her passing, and led by Coun. Gary Burroughs, town councillors have already discussed how to best recognize her contributions to the community at the Memorial Park pool, although no decision has been made.
“The messages from around the world, spanning a timeframe of well over 50 years, representing mom’s work in the Scouting movement, the local swimming pool, and her faith community, has been literally overwhelming,” says her son, Rick Mills.
She was the mother of four, grandmother of 12 and great-grandmother to another 12, but generations of youngsters in the community were also her children, whom she touched through her dedication to the Scouting movement, and at Memorial Pool, as a swimming and lifesaving instructor and pool manager.
In 1969, she was the Chamber of Commerce’s first female Citizen of the Year, mostly for her involvement in Scouting. Her son Rick laughs about the old Niagara Advance article she had held onto all these years, that refers to her as Mrs. Douglas Mills, a housewife. He says his mom was thrilled with that award.
Vi taught swimming until 2014, when she turned 80, says Rick, estimating there must be more than 1,000 kids who grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake knowing how to swim, how to be safe in the water, and how to keep others safe, thanks to Vi Mills.
“We always asked when she would retire. I think she had her 80s in the crosshairs. Her love of teaching kept her going.”
She rescued and presided over rescues, saved lives, “and wore many mantles,” says Rick, as “manager, matriarch, mom, a model of dedication and giving of herself to the well-being of others.”
Her warm smile and the hugs she was so quick to offer are legendary, he adds.
“I’ve had people say to me that’s what they’ll miss most, her hugs.”
Her faith and her church were also important to her, and that too was a lesson she passed on to her children and grandchildren, says Rick.
Saylor describes the great family memories shared at Vi’s Castlereigh home, where Vi had grown up, and which Vi and her husband Doug bought from her mother to raise their family.
They also cared for foster kids in that small home, which continued to be the heart of celebrations and holidays as the family grew.
“Grandma opened her house and always made it a home for all of us,” says Saylor, who gave the eulogy at her grandmother’s funeral.
Rick remembers his childhood with fondness, and his mother with overwhelming love for all she did for her family.
“For all she did for others, never did I ever feel I was put on the back burner. I never lacked attention or affection. Her love for her children was everything, was in all she did, for her own children and so many others. Her love was unconditional, for all children.”
Rick related a story at her funeral about a fire chief who told him not only did he learn swimming from Vi, she taught him CPR and life-saving skills, which in part led to his decision to become a firefighter. The fire chief told Rick he’s performed CPR on hundreds, maybe thousands of people, and he might not have chosen his career without Vi’s influence.
“Yet she was so humble. She just took on whatever task was at hand and did it. If she could see this now, she’d be happy, but she would have said, ‘what’s the big deal?’”
Predeceased by her husband Doug (1997), she was the loving mother of Doug (Dawn), Jim, Rick (Cathy) and Kim (Harry Saylor). Cherished grandmother of Jeremy, Bobby, Joshua, Aaron, Joshua, Lindsay, Rachel, Rebecca, Caleb, Joel, Alexander and Demaris; great-grandmother of 12; dear sister of David Taylor (Jean) and sister-in-law of Jim Mills (Ethel) and Grace Mills; and predeceased by her sister Jacqueline Sentineal.