Mary “Erica” Leach (nee Willis)

Mary "Erica" Leach (nee Willis)

MARY “ERICA” LEACH (nee Willis)

Passed away at her beloved home on October 11, 2011 at 94 years of age. Erica, born to “Willi” and Gracie Willis on March 23, 1917 in Kelowna, lived an adventurous life filled with travel, art, literature and good friends. Her early years were spent attending school in the Kelowna Mission, often making her way there on horseback. Right up until her death, Erica loved telling stories about her childhood, when lights were so rare in West Kelowna that she and her dear friend Becky could send smoke signals to each other from hill tops and could skate each winter on the lake. Erica and her family ran an orchard beyond what is now Cedar Creek Park and Erica recalled tough times during the Depression when her father grew cucumbers amidst the fruit trees so they could painstakingly harvest the seeds and sell them. Married at 18, Erica left Kelowna with her first husband,

Ulrich Minion, and settled back East. It was during this time that Erica met renowned Canadian artist F.H. Varley and modelled for him for numerous paintings, most notably “The Unknown Woman.” Erica and Ulrich divorced and Erica

returned to Kelowna where she met James “Jim” Leach, whom she married. Jim and Erica subsequently moved to Oshawa, Ontario to be near Jim’s daughter, Karen.

Together, Jim and Erica built a home there and lived for many years. In the 1960’s Erica and Jim returned to

Kelowna and lovingly hand-built their home, “Combewood”, a beautiful place with many stone walls, beautiful rock paths and a spectacular rock fireplace. Each stone was chosen from the property or surrounding hills. They filled their home with books, art and Kingsmill pottery and later, Erica would cultivate an extensive garden that she adored. Erica and Jim left their home for a good part of the 1970s to sail across the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific with Jim’s daughter

Karen and future son-in-law, Arthur. They especially loved Greece and spent months there. Years later at the age of eighty, Erica returned with her granddaughters to her

favourite parts of Greece, thrilled that the walking trails through the oregano-scented hills she had tread so many years before were unchanged. Erica doted on the horses she pastured across the road from her lakeshore home and loved nothing more than riding up into the hills, picnicking at one of her many favourite spots and dining on her

homemade “riding cake” with a smoky billycan of tea. She rode until she was in her late seventies and after that chose to walk instead, always with her dog, Belle, by her side. In her eighties, Erica lost her home in the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park Fire. Devastated but not defeated, Erica was able to rebuild a replica of “Combewood” with a copy of the plans of the original home. While so much was lost in the fire, Erica was delighted when much of her garden survived and then thrived, calling her garden the “Phoenix rising from the ashes.” In her last years, Erica lived a quiet life in her home with her family, content to read, walk, and spend hours watching her beloved lake. She took great joy in

welcoming 4 great-grandchildren into her life and loved reading to them and listening to them “chatter like little birds.” Erica will be remembered for her dignity,

graciousness, wisdom and devotion to her friends and loved ones. She was a fabulous chef and her diverse recipes are one of the many things that will keep our memory of her

vivid. Erica was pre-deceased by her husband Jim, parents Herald Arthur “Willi” Willis and local artist Gracie Willis,

sister Pat and son-in-law Arthur. Erica is survived by her daughter Karen, granddaughters Sarah (Colin) and Arianna (Woody) and her great-grand children. A plaque will be placed with her parents at St. Andrews Anglican Church

Cemetery in the Lower Mission. A private gathering for

family and friends will be held at a later date. In lieu of

flowers memorial contributions in Erica’s name may be made to the BCSPCA, 3785 Casorso Road Kelowna BC V1W 4M7, or the Kelowna Gospel Mission, PO Box 22087 Capri PO Kelowna BC V1Y 9N9. Messages of condolence may be forwarded to the family c/o

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