Liz Hawley, wife to John, mother to three adult sons and their wives, and nana to six adored little ones between the ages of nine months and three years, was entering what could have been the best stage of her life.
Instead, at the age of 60, she was taken tragically in an automobile accident on Niagara Stone Road last Wednesday, hit head-on by a young man who was, at press time, in critical condition.
To all who knew her, she was a loving, generous spirit, motivated by faith in all she did.
It was because of her faith, her love of God, that she was able to have such love for others, says John.
“She genuinely cared about people. She loved everybody. Even people who met her once were impacted. People weren’t sure what to do with her — she was so strong and loving.”
She was the matriarch of the family, says John, “and she encouraged all of us to be close to the Lord.”
Liz died suddenly, but she left without one unresolved issue with anybody, John says. If there were ever any issues, with the family or anyone else, she’d be sure they were resolved. “She was an amazing peace-maker, and a peace-seeker.”
The day after Liz died, he and the boys had a conversation about how they would go on, says John.
“I had Liz with me for 38 years, the best years of my life. The boys had the best mom they could have had. This was a tragic situation. But there will be no blame. We can’t let that be her legacy. We will focus on what we had, not what we might have had.”
He and the family have spent the last few days in Ridgeway, in the cottage on Lake Erie that Liz chose as a getaway for her and John, for the kids, and for the grandkids when they came along. They looked at photos, and shared stories and memories of Liz.
“Is this painful? It’s brutally painful,” says John.
But he is determined to focus on all the good they have shared. Their glass wasn’t just half full, it was overflowing, he says.
“I ask myself why she chose me, why she put up with me. I have no idea why. I lucked out, I guess. I’m blessed. I have to focus on that. It’s the right thing to do.”
Whatever John did or accomplished in business, she was there beside him, working with him. It was her idea to have the Wednesday Supper Market. When she suggested it, John says he asked her why people would want to come out to a bunch of food trucks. “And look at it. It was a great event. People loved it.”
Although as the developer of The Village subdivision, he was the face of so much that happened there, “she was part of everything I did. She was beside me every stop of the way,” he says.
For a time, she poured her creativity into the Refuge Antiques & Giftery, a store beside the Garrison House restaurant. She loved it, loved working with her friend Nancy Widdicombe, and loved the people who came into the store.
Nancy also speaks of that time with fondness, when she was working with her dear friend.
Liz, she says, “was larger than life. Working with Liz was such a blessing on so many levels. She created something new everyday.”
She just never stopped, says Nancy. “Watching her get excited, and explain her vision to me daily, was exhilarating.”
Liz “was the most talented, positive, loving and supportive person I’ve had the privilege to call my friend,” says Nancy.
“We had a silly friendship. We laughed so much everyday, working, watching her dance to really great songs in the store.”
Customers might have thought the pair “kinda crazy,” she adds. “But that’s what made us work. We were, and were proud of it. We had a beautiful crazy friendship based on love!”
John says he eventually had to ask Liz to give up the store, because he needed an office, but as the next stage of the development comes about, the village centre with more shops, Liz wanted to bring creative individuals together.
He still feels connected spiritually to her, feels her close to him, and as he continues the next stage, he says, she’ll be there with him. “I never imagined she wouldn’t be here to see through this next exciting stage with me. We have to finish it with excellence, and honour her. Everything we do will have a new meaning,” says John. “She had such an aura. She was so amazing.”
Liz was always good with a crowd, good at parties, always welcoming, “but she was really an introvert,” he says. The Ridgeway cottage was the place to relax, be together, “and come back recharged, ready to do what we needed to do.”
Adam, Liz and John’s oldest son, also speaks of the time away for all of them at the cottage, especially once the babies started arriving.
He says she was patient about grandchildren, never asked him when he and Brianne were going to have children, or even specifically said she wanted grandchildren. “But we knew she loved kids, and would want grandkids. One day she let it slip. I was 33, had been married a while, with no sign of a baby, and she said ‘you’re getting a little old, aren’t you?’ She was waiting. And once my parents bought the place in Ridgeway to escape to, she knew eventually grandchildren would be around. She designed a perfect place to be together, to make memories together. She created play spaces, spaces for the family to have fun, and chaos, and laughter. She loved it there.”
Adam also talks of her creativity. “It spilled into everything she did in life. One of her focuses was on the model homes. Everybody in The Village would come to see what she had done with them.”
John would suggest that “since the last one was such a hit, maybe you could use the same tiles, the same flooring.’ And she’d say, ‘maybe . . .’ And then everything would be completely different. She wanted to express her creativity.”
Another outlet for her creativity, combined with her love of helping others, was Jewellery for Justice. Liz found great joy in creating beautiful jewellery, but even more in investing in the lives of women in pain, women who were abused or exploited in the sex trade. But she didn’t just support them financially, says Adam, “she walked beside them as they came back into society. She was passionate about helping them, and became a mentor to many women, a lot of women who are devastated right now.”
She was also supportive of her three sons, says Adam, “in terms of who we were, what we enjoyed. She took an interest in each of us as individuals, whether it was sports or music, or anything that interested us. She wasn’t a huge fan of violence in sports, though. She’d watch us, but she didn’t like to see us get tackled.”
Adam says his parents, who were married for 37 years, “were closer now than they’ve ever been. They worked together. Everything they did, they did together. There was nothing they weren’t involved in together.”
As the family spent time in Ridgeway after her death, the memories were comforting, but what helped most was her strong faith and beliefs, says Adam.
“In the midst of tragedy, we were able to feel moments of peace, and find God. Her faith gave us that ability to come together as a family.”
Michelle Mercer, pastor of the Gateway Church in Virgil, knew Liz, John and the Hawley family through various church events and connections, and remembers Liz as someone who “gave others courage to take steps of faith to reach their dreams.”
For Liz, “her dreams would have been faith-based. God was calling her to make a difference,” and she did, through her work with other women, and her community. All the good she did to help others “were examples of her living out her faith, her sense of being led by the Holy Spirit in her actions and deeds.”
Faith, she says, will help John and the family to know they can carry on. “They will have hope eternal, hope that there is something more than the here and now, and that they will see each other again some day.”
John also comes back to the importance of faith to Liz, and to the family.
“I don’t know how we would have got through this otherwise. I can’t explain pain and suffering, or even death. Death sucks. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a God. We know our faith will help pull us through this.”
He goes quiet for a moment, and then recalls something else that is helping him.
“We were told she died instantly. Mercifully, she wouldn’t have had a chance to know what was coming. I’m so grateful for that, that she didn’t suffer.”
Yes, he was angry. “I was very angry at God, and I had to sort that out. God’s a big guy, he can take it. But I can’t live on that. I can’t let it eat me up. That would be a horrible legacy for Liz. Bitterness is no solution. I can’t allow us to go there,” says John.
It wouldn’t be Liz’s way, “and it wouldn’t bring her back.”
Liz leaves her husband John; her three brothers; her three sons and their wives, Adam and Brianne, Ransom and Whitney, and Jay and Samantha; and her six grandchildren, Ransom, Merritt, Easton, Callie, Malcolm, and Levi.