December 8, 2019
If you are of a certain age and have lived in the East Kootenays in the 80’s-90’s, you might remember a great highway 3 drive-in restaurant in Fernie. Libby’s. Libby’s was that rare species – now almost extinct – of community ‘mom and dad’ hang-out. It had a crazy decor defined by a variety of taxidermy, a fire pit, drive-in bays, flags flying, cheap coffee and sublime pizza. It was a Fernie place to be for locals, skiers, truckers and tourists. It provided the first job to many kids in town and supported some crusty old service sector pros too. It had characters like Rudy – he of the corpuscular demeanor whose steady aim yielded many of the stuffed bears and wolverines adorning the interior – who fancied himself the macho boss-man of the place – or like Lucy, who flipped burgers and abused servers with equal passion. But most of all it had Libby: the blonde engine and soul of the place. Always smoking, sorting things and people out, telling jokes with a devastating Czech accent, delivering pizzas, being ‘about town’. Everybody knew her. She knew everybody. But this vivacious, gregarious local entrepreneur had by then already lived a life of substance. She was an emigrant, a survivor, a fighter – just starting again then. And she would go on to another life in Riondel soon and then the West Coast.
And now, Libby Podhora – dancer, model, crane operator, great friend, mother, political activist, traveller, business woman, humorist, compassionate life partner, animal lover, loving grandma, and passionate lover of driving furiously…has died. She suffered from dementia for years and her passing in Victoria on December 8 was, at the end, a liberation. Let’s remember her and understand her for the great soul she was some years ago.
Libby was born in Czech ‘Sudettenland’ and her early childhood took place during wartime occupation. Her mom was a Czech patriot who conducted a kind of ‘grass-roots passive resistance’ to German rule. She did not survive the war. She is yet another victim of that cruel time, losing her life almost the very hour that her husband came back from war service. Libby suffered, she moved for work, she struggled through the communist oppression of the early fifties, married unsuccessfully and became a single mother. Living in near-poverty with her son, she persevered, found a new life, re-married and had another (less good-looking) son. She never did go to university as she wanted – she made sacrifices. But things got better. She took a chance to help humanize her country and help usher out communist dictatorship through social activism. Her efforts in this struggle made it impossible to remain in Czechoslovakia once the Soviets invaded in ’68. She, the boys and Rudy escaped to Canada with no money and no possessions. Red Deer first, then Fernie and Libby’s. Ultimately, she retired to support her husband Rudy through his illness in Riondel. Rudy died. Libby grew ill. And now, our beloved mother has died too.
Her life is an inspiration. She survived family tragedies, social oppression, political persecution, gender bias, financial difficulties, petty betrayals, poverty of means as well as poverty of romantic love, separation from friends. She not only survived but she did it in style. She loved people (especially her little escapee family), she loved animals (all creatures with the possible exception of frogs and mosquitos), she loved nature, she loved cheesy tunes and she loved her cars. She was funny, a bit loopy, steadfast, inquisitive, tolerant and compassionate. We miss her terribly.
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