Naomi Patricia LaCroix – Life Story

Naomi Patricia Kutsukaki Tanaka LaCroix was born in Vancouver on St Patrick’s day, March 17th 1938.  She was the eldest child ofKimi and Ken Kutsukaki.

Seven years later, her sister Aimee was born; Brother Ron followed in 1950 after Kimi had remarried Kich Tanaka.

The extended family lived together in a hotel her uncle owned in Japantown.  But in 1941 when Naomi was 3, her family, and all Japanese-Canadians living on the west coast, were ordered by the Canadian government to leave their homes under the cloak of theWar Measures Act.  The family hotel, and all of their possessions save for one bag of personal items, was appropriated by the government and Naomi’s family was shipped to Lemon Creek in the interior of BC.

The country where she was born had rejected her.  In fact, it was years after the end of WW 2 that Japanese Canadians were released from confinement and, in spite of promises to the contrary, their property was never returned to them.  Many years later, in the mid-1980’s she served on the committee that succeeded in getting the conservative government to issue an apology and a small, token payment for all the confiscated property.

After the war, more rejection followed when her birth father left the family and never acknowledged his daughter again.  Patti later had her surname legally changed to Tanaka because Kimi’s second husband, Kich was the closest thing to a father she had ever known.

The family had always called her Naomi but when she started high school in Vancouver she decided to go by Patti.  In the last 10 or 15 years she returned to preferring Naomi, hence the Naomi/Patti name confusion that has always perplexed her friends and family.

When she was 15 years old, her mother decided she couldn’t give the attention needed and sent Naomi to live with her great aunt and uncle in Montreal.  The Kosakas; Mama and Papa, as she called them, were very kind to her and she loved them dearly.  She also formed warm relationships with her cousins Sheila, Massy and Miyeko Kosaka who were like older sisters to her.

It was there, in Montreal, that she learned a smattering of french and developed a liking for Jazz music.  After graduating from high school she was accepted to Nurse training at St. Joseph’s hospital in Victoria but had to wait until she was 18 to begin, so she returned to Burns Lake, BC to work in a local hotel with her mother and new step-father, Kich.

 

During the three-year course of training she made life-long friends with her fellow students. Her best friend was Judy Lum, a tough talking, no BS half-Indian, half-Chinese fellow student.  They called themselves The Dragon Ladies and were a collective force to be reckoned with. After Judy married, Patti went to help her for the birth of each of her three daughters and while they were both raising their girls, Judy’s house in Picton was a common weekend retreat from Toronto for the LaCroix’s.

When Judy left to be an outpost nurse they saw each other less often. Patti felt a huge accomplishment when in 1983 she visited Judy in BC and together they climbed a 9-hour hike to the top of Fisher’s Peak at 9540’ elevation. After Patti’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer this past June, Judy insisted on coming from BC to nurse Patti non-stop through her final months, saying “She would have done it for me”.  So true! Judy and Patti have, for 50 years, been to each other the deepest and best kind of life-long friends, and words can never properly express the enormous gift Judy gave to Patti and indeed, to the entire family with her presence and constant help for almost two months.

During Patti’s final year of nurse training in 1960, she went on a date with a euphonium player from the navy band.  They went to hear some jazz at the Scene Club where a boy singer named Pat LaCroix was performing.

Pat couldn’t take his eyes off Patti and during the break went over to say hello to the Euphonium player, who he knew, and to get an introduction to the beautiful Asian girl.  As it turned out boy singer trumped boy Euphonium player and thus began a love affair that flourished for the next 58 years.

While Patti was finishing her last year of nursing training, Pat left to spend 10 months bumming around Europe, singing for his supper and writing impassioned letters to his love in Victoria, praying that she would wait for him – which, to his great good fortune, she did.

When Pat returned, he and Patti were reunited and the folk group, The Halifax 3 came into being. But the music business is a traveling business, and while Pat spent the next three years gigging in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, New York and points south, Patti worked in hospitals in the same cities and waiting tables in coffee houses in Greenwich Village, so they could be together.

One day, during a tour stop in Niagara Falls, Pat and Patti decided to get married.  They knocked on the door of a local church at around 11:00 in the morning and stated their desire to be wed. The preacher said he would need time to prepare and told them to come back at 1:00.  There were five people at that wedding: Patti, Pat, the preacher, Denny Doherty who stood up for Pat, and the church organist who was the only person available to serve as Patti’s witness.  A couple of cocktails later and the deed was done. Their one and only wedding present was a souvenir spoon of Niagara Falls offered by the lady organist.  Through the generosity of the hotel manager for the hotel where they were playing, they spent that night, April 6, 1962, in the bridal Suite of the Fallsway Hotel.

After three years touring, the Beatles had pretty well put an end to the folk music era and Pat and Patti decided to get off the road. They spent the money from the success of the Halifax Three on a brand new, lemon-colored Austin Healey Sprite and drove across Canada to Vancouver as a honeymoon trip, and so Pat could meet Patti’s mother, Kimi, stepfather, Kich, sister Aimee and brotherRon.  Then they headed back to Toronto to make a home there.  Patti got a job as an operating room nurse at the Wellesley Hospitaland Pat went to work in a shoe store, while also teaching himself photography.

Before long Patti became pregnant with Lisa and ultimately left her job at the Wellesley.  At the time they lived in Thorncliffe Park in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with a panoramic view…of the parking lot. Pat had to do some serious hustling to bring in enough to pay the expenses without Patti’s nursing income. So it was shoe store all week, photographing weddings, strippers and barmitzvahs on the weekend; and door to door baby pictures in the evening.

Meanwhile, Patti was doing her best to adjust to having a newborn and the fact that five months later she was pregnant again.  After Dana was born and amidst trips to the park, swimming lessons and being a mother, Patti began to suffer from the clinical depression which she fought for many years until the advent of the great medications that came along in the eighties. Still she spent those early years putting her own needs aside to care for her girls.

Patti’s business instincts started to bloom and with two kids still in diapers, her longtime appreciation for the power of real-estate began. Pat and Patti’s first house was a 1000 square ft saltbox bungalow in Scarborough which was purchased in 1968 for $15,000 with the aid of three mortgages.

Then in 1970, the women’s liberation movement reminded Patti that she’d always wanted more than life as mother and wife. Naomi’s mother Kimi and new husband Ken Shimada moved into the tiny basement apartment, the kids went to school and Patti returned to work to manage Pat’s growing photography business.  In spite of the prevailing cultural expectations regarding the role of women, and her own doubts about being a good enough mother, she managed it all.  She would drop the girls at school, work until it was time to get them from the babysitter and then come home to do the second shift of dinner and household management.

Around the same time, Patti decided it was time to trade up, so the family moved into a 3-story century-old house on Haig Avenue. Theirs was the only swimming pool in the neighborhood and everyone was welcome so 15 Haig Avenue became the place for many summer evenings and weekends of swimming, bbz’ing and friends.

As Lisa and Dana got older, gatherings became multi-generational and anyone around in those days will remember the parties filled with music and fun.  Patti was the consummate host, spending hours preparing food and ensuring that everyone felt welcome.  In spite of being the most introverted member of the family, and being at superficial glance somewhat behind the scenes, Patti was truly at the center of those golden days as the provider of acceptance, honest conversation and deep connection.

During the years Pat and Patti were raising the girls, they were thrilled to have a wonderful extended family in Toronto. Many happy memories were made with Bill and Sheila LaCroix’s family, Tom and Sheila Matsui’s family and with Patti’s Aunt Sumi and husband Ed, who were a constant supportive presence in their lives.  In 1972, brother Ron moved from Vancouver to join the business as an assistant, and later an associate photographer.  Ron met Bonnie and the birth of their daughter, Leiko, in 1984 gave Naomi a niece, making the family that much richer.

Another enormous satisfaction in Naomi’s life was being reunited with Aimee’s daughter Cathy in 1993.  She was thrilled to embrace Cathy as a central member of the family and getting to know Cathy and see her marry Mark and raise Matthew and Ryan was a source of great happiness for Naomi.  In recent years Naomi was happy to be reconnected to cousins from the Kutsukake clan.

Time passed and the photography business thrived as a result of Pat and Patti’s synergistic partnership. Patti discovered she had great business instincts and loved learning about finances, real estate and investing. After several years of renting studio space Patti decided it would be prudent to invest in a building.  Pat wasn’t sure this was such a great idea but they both knew that business know-how was not his forte and luckily he was smart enough to realize he’d better follow Patti’s lead.  Hence the purchase of 25 Brant Street.

Pat was fond of saying that if it hadn’t been for Patti he would be living in a one room walk up with a bare light bulb and an army cot, and he might be right! She allowed Pat to do what he did best and to focus 100% on his photography; When he won a lifetime achievement award in 2008 he wisely, and accurately, insisted that the honor was not his alone but rather shared equally with Patti.

Anyone who was around during The Brant Group days likely remembers Patti holding court in her small office.  In addition to propping, casting, managing all of the logistics and finances, engaging contractors and associate photographers —as well as every other detail the business needed— she always had time for others.  Friends, relatives and business associates would drop by the studio and sit on the other side of Patti’s desk for input on a problem, business advice, a request for help, or just a friendly conversation or a few laughs.

Patti watched with pride as Dana and Lisa grew into remarkable women. Dana followed her path as a musician, singer and composer and in 1995 married a drummer named Jakob who was born in Denmark and shares Patti’s love of real estate.

Meanwhile Lisa’s film and tv career took her to California where she met and married a tech entrepreneur named Joe in 1998.  Their kids, Kaizen and Soleil, were an enormous source of joy for Patti, who has always been “Mimi” to them.

Patti always said the fact that her girls chose to marry sons-in-law she loved was enough to “warm a mother’s heart”.

In her last days, Patti was not afraid of death; Her only regret was that she had so much more she wanted to do and experience.  She especially wanted to see her grandson, Kaizen graduate from college and her beautiful granddaughter Soleil grow into the remarkable woman that she knew she would.

Despite the challenges she faced, Patti never held onto resentment against people or circumstances, and in spite of a sometimes tough-as-nails external persona, she was a loving, positive person who was always ready to give someone in need, a hand up. If a friend or relative was hospitalized she would be there to advocate for them. When Kimi and Ken grew older and more frail, she was their main caregiver.  And after they passed, she looked after her stepfather Ken’s cousin, Mosey who was no relation to her but who was quite aged and needed help.

In addition to donating to many charities over the years she also went out of her way for friends.  After caring for Glen and Joan Sartyat the end of their lives, in order to honour Glenn, who was the executive producer of the Fifth Estate, she established an annual endowment, The Glenn Sarty Memorial fund, which goes to the most promising student in the Ryerson faculty of Communication & Design.  When musician and recording-engineer Phil Sheridan became ill and needed help, Patti organized a fund-raising concert to help him through his final days.

A life-long lover of jazz and a supporter of local musicians, a few years ago Patti envisioned celebrating the multitude of world-class musicians in Toronto and set out to produce a book of portraits by Pat called Toronto Jazz Treasures, the profits from which she imagined going to help musicians in need down the road.  According to Pat, he protested, saying that it sounded like an awful lot of work. But Patti insisted that local musicians be duly recognized and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  The book was her baby and while she didn’t get to see it in print she did witness the completion of it.

Patti and Pat always consider themselves to be among the most blessed people on the planet. They were born under the same lucky star, Pat just 6 hours before Patti. They celebrated their 21st birthdays together and every birthday thereafter.

They always said, even during the final weeks, that until Naomi’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer they couldn't have had more luck or a better life— good health (including a triumphant battle with breast cancer in the early ‘90s), wonderful daughters, great sons in law, beautiful grandchildren, business success and financial comfort and their own great love and work partnership which lasted for more than five decades.

And over the years, Patti enjoyed the love and camaraderie of so many lifelong friends, many of whom are here with us today. In the past few months she demonstrated enormous, unfailing courage and not a single word of self pity or anger; In form true to the way she lived her entire life, even as she was suffering with her illness she expressed concern for others.  There are too many dear friends to mention each by name. But in her last hours Patti wanted to be sure that we made it known how grateful she was for every note, email, visit and phone call she received.

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson 1867-1900