Laila Julia Wilkinson (nee Niemi) died April 16, 2021, at the hospital in North Bay after a sudden illness. Born on Valentine’s Day in 1944, she was a sweetheart.
A Wawa girl, she made education of vulnerable children her life’s work. Her own family was not well off and it was only with the help of friends that she was able to attend a teacher-training course. She first taught in the mining town of Manitouwadge in Northern Ontario, and at the same time carried on learning, course by course to earn a B.Ed degree. With her strong interest in special education, she moved to the psychiatric hospital school in Thunder Bay, later becoming vice-principal there.
In 1976 she married and moved to the village of Carcross in the Yukon. After three years as principal of its small school, she and her growing family made the long trek to Toronto where she earned her M. Ed degree. Still very much concerned with helping those students who were most vulnerable and faced the greatest difficulties, she took a post as special education teacher at the elementary school in Burks Falls.
After more time honing her abilities, she began passing on her knowledge to others as Co-ordinator of Student Services for the East Parry Sound School Board and then the Near North District School Board. Lastly, she became an Education Officer with the Ministry of Education in its North Bay office, a posting which took her all over Ontario.
Her family was just as important to her as her career: daughter Tammi, son Madjy (John), and grandson Evan are all shocked and saddened at their sudden loss. Tammi says she’ll miss her mum’s loud laugh (and even louder sneezes) along with her thoughtful guidance. Madjy says no one could have had a finer advocate and example of trying no matter your personal circumstances to be the best you can.
Evan describes his grandma as truly caring, as she would do almost anything to help people enjoy a better life. She never gave up on people, he says. He cites examples of how practical that help could be with her making muffins every week for The Gathering Place, and going out to buy back-to-school supplies and winter clothes and boots (in their favourite colours) for kids at the Nipissing Transition House.
Laila is survived by Henry, her loving husband of 45 years, and by her sister Marilyn. She is predeceased by her sisters Karen and Linda, brother Kaarlo, and parents Kaarlo and Saara Julia (nee Tammi) Niemi. She will also be greatly missed by niece Kaarina Stiff and by nephew Trevor Scott.
At Laila’s own wish there will be no visitation or funeral. Instead there will be a celebration of her life. Because of Covid, it will be limited to close family only. If desired, donations may go to women’s and/or children’s charities.