Vilma “Queenie” Kalayjian was born in Damascus, Syria on November 25, 1939 to Vehanoush and Levon Boyadjian. As a young child, her family sailed to Nicosia, Cyprus and established roots on the charming island Vilma proudly called home.
Ever the imaginative and adventurous youngster, she loved climbing the Troodos Mountains barefoot where she’d pick cherries and playfully drape the stems over her ears like dangling earrings. Vilma loved her kind-hearted grandmother, Elizabeth Mangoian, who taught her all about unconditional love and how to appreciate simple things like bread tossed in warm milk, fresh from the farm.
As a schoolgirl, Vilma resided in a Catholic French boarding school in Nicosia where she helped the nuns with breakfast service. Due to her sharp and inquisitive mind, Vilma eventually mastered 5 languages: Armenian, Greek, English, French and Turkish.
In early adulthood, Vilma was an NCR machine operator in the Royal Air Force, and she was very proud that she was part of a pioneering computer company, the first to commercialize cash registers.
In 1963, with the generous sponsorship of her Uncle Harry Mangoian, Vilma crossed the vast ocean, started her next adventure and immigrated to Canada. There, she met her husband, Antreas “Andy” Kalayjian at a Church dance and fell in love with him and his green eyes. That fateful night, Andy bought her three raffle tickets, but Vilma confessed that she had no luck in such things. Andy predicted that her luck was about to change. True to his word, Vilma won not one raffle prize but two in a row! And of course, the biggest prize gain that evening was the meeting of two polar opposites whose unwavering love and commitment would result in a 54-year marriage.
In 1967, Vilma and Andy welcomed a blue-eyed blond they named Arminé after Andy’s mother, Armenouhi Kalayjian. Not 21 months later, they had a second daughter, this time a green-eyed brunette they called Kariné, a name Vilma fell in love with after seeing it in a magazine.
Vilma was the vacation planner, great with directions and maps, a smart consumer and the one tasked with cleaning fish caught by her husband during summer trips to North Carolina and Florida.
Vilma was an avid squash player, a stylish dresser, a designated driver to shuttle kids to basketball practices, violin lessons, brownies, Scottish country dancing and more.
She was the first to volunteer, whether it was to organize picnics for the Armenian Women’s Auxiliary Committee or stand in the immigration line for hours to help secure visas for visiting Armenians she barely knew.
Vilma had an adventurous spirit, whisking Kariné to Algonquin Park and Tobermory, pitching tents and hiking trails to embrace their shared love of nature. Always a rebel, Vilma disregarded warnings of storing food at the campsite and tossed a banana peel outside the tent, which later attracted a curious but thankfully friendly black bear as they slept!
Some of the best family memories include trips to Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Mexico. When Vilma returned to Cyprus with her two daughters, she ran into her favourite nun and teacher, Sister Winifred at her former school. Delighted by the reunion, Vilma picked up the startled elderly nun and twirled her around like a whirling Dervish. Vilma was unabashedly genuine, vivacious and funny.
Vilma had a zest for life that never waned, not even when Multiple Sclerosis struck in 1990. Whether it was nightly walks with her husband or watching the changing fall leaves from her wheelchair in her later years, Vilma was equally content. She had a smile that lit the room and drew people to her. She appreciated the simple things in life, and she gave whole-heartedly, expecting nothing in return.
In 1991, she witnessed the happy union of Arminé to a kind and devoted husband and son-in-law, Rooben Assatory. Sharing a love of cooking and baking with her mom, Arminé continues not only this legacy of finessing delicious recipes but also in cracking people up with her hilarious sense of humour.
When Vilma became a grandmother in 1995 with the birth of her first grandchild, Andrew, she loved him so fiercely. She shared in many first moments such as taking him for his first photo with Santa and taking him for his first vaccination. Andrew named her “Gaga” and three years later, Gaga welcomed her second grandson, Arthur.
Quiet and stoic, Arthur would hold a special place in Gaga’s heart, being the first person to help her with trips to/from the hospital with his strong and gentle manner.
When Lily was born in 2003, Gaga finally had a granddaughter to spoil, and she was so proud that Lily inherited her strength, her smarts and her beautiful genes!
In 2009, on the luckiest day of the Chinese calendar, 09/09/09, Vilma and Andy were blessed with a fourth grandchild. Isabella Marwood was joyfully welcome, another apple in her grandmother’s eye and a kindred spirit, according to Vilma.
Over the years, as her MS progressed, Vilma never complained. She learned to adapt to her decreased mobility and considered herself “the healthiest person alive” so that when people asked her how she was feeling, without fail, she’d always declare, “Fantastic!” And with her positive attitude and excellent blood-work, she wasn’t so far off the mark.
Andy and Vilma made the most of their life together while times were good. They took a helicopter ride over a volcano in Hawaii, marveled at the glaciers on their Alaskan cruise and watched monkeys drink Coca-cola from glass bottles in the jungles of Colombia. Vilma’s insatiable appetite to travel would later be enjoyed by watching Rick Steves’ European getaways on TV, and Vilma would say what a wonderful trip she just enjoyed from the comfort of her home.
In 2015, Vilma moved to the Mackenzie Health Long Term Care Facility. Enthusiastically participating in all recreational activities and outings from art classes to Bingo, she had a warm smile and positive energy that endeared herself to everyone she met. She was up to date on everything from politics to pop culture and embraced all religions and races, attending mass in the hospital cafeteria’s makeshift chapel every Friday. She was more spiritual than religious but exemplified true Christian values at her core, always taking the high road and leading by example.
With daily visits by her devoted husband and thanks to some excellent health care professionals, Vilma happily resided there for four years. A survivor with a fighting and indomitable spirit, she defied the odds and overcame increasing health challenges over the years.
On October 11, 2019, with her loving family surrounding her in room 572 of her home away from home, Vilma passed peacefully after a near 30-year battle with MS. But Vilma died as she lived her life, selflessly and gracefully.
A loving wife, mother, grandmother and friend, Vilma touched the lives of so many people and left an indelible impression. Vilma is finally resting in a place worthy of her pure and radiant soul. She will be sorely missed but her light will continue to shine for all those who were honoured to have known her.
“Thank you for coming. And thank you for going.”