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"NIH" 2003 Obituary


NIHMEY o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-09-26 published
By John NIHMEY Friday, September 26, 2003 - Page A28
Mother, entrepreneur. Born July 15, 1914, in Ottawa. Died September 4 in Ottawa of natural causes, aged 89.
She was born Lily MONSOUR, the first child of Lebanese immigrants. Her father peddled, an occupation shared by Lebanese and Jewish immigrants trying hard to make a living in a new land. An opportunity to open a store in Mattawa arose and the family moved; nine-year-old Lily stayed behind with the great-uncle and aunt who had sponsored her parents into Canada. She helped in their downtown business, translated letters from Lebanon, and attended school. The decision, made out of family obligation, gave Lily an early taste of responsibility. She missed her parents and siblings desperately. When her sister, Mary, moved to Ottawa to attend school, Lily was overjoyed. Her happiness turned to devastation, though, when Mary collapsed at her desk and died at the age of 16.
Lily graduated from a business college and worked for a short time in the federal government. She met Philip NIHMEY, a Lebanese immigrant who had experienced his share of hard knocks, including the death of both parents before his 15th birthday. Philip fell madly for Lily, who at 28 thought her eligible years were numbered. They married and started a family; in seven years it would grow to five sons.
In 1956, Phil and Lily opened one of Ottawa's first diners, Phil's Restaurant. Graced with chrome stools, tube lighting, and jukeboxes, it was a smash success. The family moved to a two-storey house in the suburbs. The achievement for Phil, who once shined shoes for a living, and Lily, who had worked hard to give her husband the confidence to succeed, was enormous.
Five years later, Phil died of a stroke at the age of 51. Lily picked herself up to keep the business going and support her five sons, now ranging in age from 9 to 15. She sold their "dream" house and bought one closer to the business. She smiled behind the counter 14 hours a day, then cried over the tea her sons would prepare for her each night. As the neighbourhood became tough, Lily became tougher, teaching her "boys" right from wrong, educating us through her toil, and guiding us away from the trouble we witnessed every day. As for faith, she always said, "I don't have time to go to church but God is on my side. But you boys have to go." And we did.
Lily found solace in her work and treated her customers with equal justice. She doled out uneven quantities of home-cooked food for the same price; it depended on how much you could eat. She chastised grown men for not finishing their meals, shamed neglectful mothers into taking responsibility, and ordered dropouts back to school. She once told a motorcyclist to go home and shave, that he was too good-looking to cover his face.
Lily retired in 1976. Her children remained close throughout her senior years, taking her on trips and congregating at her home for Sunday dinner. When she turned 75, we hosted a surprise party with 100 guests. It was a grand occasion, highlighted by her granddaughter singing her favourite song, The Wind Beneath My Wings. A few years later, we took her on a cruise to Hawaii, the one place she had always wanted to go.
A prominent European hotelier once told me that my mother was what class was all about. In his circle, he said, everyone equated their own or others' class by manners and material goods. He said my mother embodied characteristics to which these people could only aspire: contentment with her life, pride in her family, and modesty in her accomplishments.
Our mother never quite had the sense of self-worth that this man attributed to her. Perhaps resulting from the loss of her childhood years, Lily never thought she had class, nor beauty. While we argued this with her, we also knew that these attributes were unimportant to her.
John is Lily's son.

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