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Obituary

EFFIE VON HELMOLT (published on October 04, 2008)



EFFIE VON HELMOLT 1917-2008 Born Under a Lucky Star Born Effie Marie Morton in rural Manitoba in 1917, she would live a life that allowed her to follow her dreams, fulfill her potential, entertain, travel, and help other creative lights find their way. From country life, her father's growing ambition took the family to Winnipeg where J.L. became ever more successful. He eventually built a large home in the new suburb of Tuxedo, bordering the park, where Effie and her two sisters, Jean and Betty, were raised by her smart, independent-minded mother. Encouraged to achieve by both parents, Effie excelled at the piano, swimming, diving and figure skating from an early age. As teenagers, the girls would tour Europe and visit relatives in Scotland. Fresh from the University of Manitoba with a degree in Home Economics, Effie cut her teeth on the clothing industry at her father's clothing factory, where she discovered her flair for design. Off to New York City and the Pratt Institute to study Costume Design, she met her match in a tall, dark and roguishly charming engineering student. A native New Yorker, Von's movie star looks and joie de vivre would guarantee that life for Effie would never be dull. They married in 1942 and daughter Vonnie was born a couple of years later. When Von returned to Winnipeg from his stint in the Pacific theatre during The Second World War with the US Marine Corps, they set up house on Victoria Crescent. There they hosted legendary parties, most notably the annual Boxing Day Open House, and survived two devastating floods. Bill was born in 1947, followed by Jennith, and to everyone's great surprise, Kenneth, ten years later. She was her children's greatest fan, constantly assuring them of their intelligence and beauty, and thrilling to their accomplishments. As a role model she was an early pioneer in demonstrating that women could, indeed do it all. No matter whether she was teaching full time, working on creating costumes, designing and sewing trend-setting dresses for herself and her daughters; regardless, the entire family sat down every evening to a formal full-course dinner cooked by Effie. And of course there was a dinner party at least twice a month. Good table manners and interesting conversation were expected. Summers, the entire Morton clan converged at their remote lodge on idyllic Red Deer Lake, frolicking in the clear emerald waters while the tots splashed on the sandy beach. All overseen and organized by Effie, of course. Though an accomplished cook and baker, Effie was never temperamentally inclined to domesticity. She maintained an active social and professional life, chairing the Junior League, skating in pairs dancing, and burning up the floor at the Winnipeg Winter Club dances with Von, a spectacular ballroom dancer. Concurrently, she was designing and personally making the costumes for the fledgling Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Rainbow Stage productions, as well as working with the young John Hirsh to create the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Later, she would serve on the boards of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, among others. A glamorous figure on opening nights, the tall, striking, now-blond Effie once created a mini-scandal when she wore a gold lame hot pant outfit to a WSO gala. At 50, she began a new career, going back to University to get her Master's degree in Education. She subsequently taught in the Theatre Department at Tec Voc for many years. Her passion for the subject and supportive involvement with her students set many a troubled and disadvantaged adolescent on the path to a successful career in theatre, film, television and the arts. Retiring, the fun began. Fulfilling yet another dream, she and Von traveled around the world, visiting South America, Asia, the South Pacific, Africa and South Africa, making life-long friends in the process. In 1991, Von and Effie settled in Victoria, and a new group of friends quickly gathered around them, beginning another round of parties and entertaining. Fundraising for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, she organized and hosted a gala tea and fashion show, and supervised the production and design of the gallery's art calendar. After Von's death in 2003, Effie spent her last years in the gracious and caring environment of the Kiwanis Pavillion, surrounded by beautiful gardens, where, after a long and lucky life, she passed away peacefully on September 29, 2008 with her daughters by her side. Her beauty, and her unwavering optimism and enthusiasm for life will be remembered by everyone who met her, especially her lucky family Vonnie (Alan), Bill (Penny) Jennith (Jim), Ken (Christine) her grandchildren, Lainie and Jolyn, MacKenzie and Chloe, and her great- grandchildren Morgan, Ripley, Sage and Lino. In lieu of flowers, donations to The Kiwanis Pavilion, 3034 Cedar Hill Road, Victoria, BC V8T 3J3 would be appreciated. To sign the guest book, go to remembering.ca


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