Liz Hawley was creative, caring and compassionate.
She was a community builder in Niagara-on-the-Lake, having unofficially helped with projects like Voices of Freedom Park and Landscape of Nations in Queenston.
The 60-year-old mother of three sons – Adam, Ransom and Jay – and grandmother of six was killed in a head-on collision on Niagara Stone Road last Wednesday. Niagara Regional Police said a 32-year-old NOTL resident lost control of his vehicle and veered into her lane. Police have not identified the second driver, but friends have confirmed that it was Aubrey Blake Clements.
Her husband John said they met at a party hosted by a mutual friend. He said he couldn’t take his eyes off her all night, even though at that time he’d decided not to date anyone for a year to focus on playing squash.
He remembers Liz dancing around on crutches, with pins in her leg. She had been in a car crash earlier in the year.
“She was in a white leather miniskirt,” John said. “She was up dancing on the floor. I forgot about my decisions not to be interested in anybody for a year and I made my way over.”
He said he spent the night talking with a friend, but looking at Liz, “trying not to be obvious.”
At the end of the night, he offered to drive her and a friend home. “She told me basically to piss off,” he joked. “Anyway, I wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
He said when he dropped her off, the two spent the night talking — arguing — until early in the morning.
That night he asked her if she’d like to go out the next day. She said yes and “that was the beginning, right there, of the best 38 years of my life.”
Her son Adam says he can barely begin to scratch the surface of the person his mother was — an interior designer, business owner and poet among many other talents. He described her as a creative person, who fiercely loved her family.
More recently, she put her creative skills toward making her own jewelry.
“She really sort of dove into it, just recently was hitting her stride. A couple stores on Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake were taking it and a couple stores in Ridgeway. So she loved to create jewelry. She loved to read and write. She was just more and more getting into writing poetry. And she loved to be with my dad and travel as well.”
“She loved to create,” Adam said.
For several years, Liz Hawley owned Refuge Antiques & Giftery, a store beside the Garrison House restaurant.
“It was just an avenue for her creativity and all the finds that she would pick up along the way, whether it be furniture, great pens … all sorts of different types of things, clothing, scarves. She always had a knack for finding hidden gems or finding things where people wouldn't necessarily always look, so the store was just a place for her to collect all that and other people to enjoy it.”
“I'm never going to do it all justice,” Adam said.
Another of her passions was helping women who were escaping abuse or addiction, so she combined that with her jewelry and started a business called Jewellery for Justice.
“A lot of the proceeds from sales and income from that business were going to support organizations like Rising Angels, which deals with women who are trafficked, human trafficking and in the sex trade. When they come out of it, they need help to come back in society and get on their own two feet. So that was a huge theme in her life, helping women who have been victims that way.”
“She had personal friends who she mentored and would talk with daily, who were either coming out of abuse or addiction or both.”
Adam said even though she was a busy woman, his mother always put family first, whether it was arranging their summer home on Lake Erie so that all of her grandchildren would have a place to enjoy, or going out to her sons' sports games when they were young.
She also took her faith very seriously, Adam said. “She really tried to tangibly show people love all the time.”
She was the kind of mother you could go to for anything, which Adam often did, especially for fashion advice.
“She just had such a good sense of style and fashion that I would rarely make a decision, whether it be furniture in my house, or a suit for an important event or anything like that, that I wouldn't ask her about, because I just really appreciated it,” he said.
“You know, even the way she dressed was really out there but it always worked and she was unique.”
Liz moved to Niagara with her husband in 1991, after John had been working more and more in the region.
She said she’d move on one condition — they had to live in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“She had come here as a kid with her mom to experience Queen Street and the town,” Adam said.
Since then, the couple built The Village community, with Liz staging all of the show homes.
“Her and my dad were incredibly close,” Adam said. “(They) did everything together.”
He says his parents met in 1983 and it was “love at first sight.”
“They were married within the year,” he said.
Throughout their time in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Liz and John Hawley were both involved in the community in a number of ways — owning various businesses and developing The Village community.
Liz was responsible for designing the interiors of the model homes over the years, Adam said, and always had new ideas.
“She never wanted to do the same thing twice,” he said.
“This is a funny anecdote … every model home that was new, we'd try to tell my mom 'You know, it's always a lot of work, why don't you just use a lot of the same colours and themes and tile? You know we can do the same thing in this model. You don't have to reinvent the wheel.' And she would say 'Yes, yes. OK,' but then she could never do it. Everything, every model was unique. It was a different piece of land, it was a different floor plan. She never felt right doing the same thing.”
He noted she was strong-willed, especially when she knew she was right.
“We always knew that the end product would be great, even though sometimes my dad and I would question the process. We'd see a tile isolated not in the house and the tile would look a little bit too funky and we'd say, 'I don't know if that tile's going to work and my mom would always just say, 'You just have to wait.' And when we saw the product, of course, it always all came together and was really well-received.”
“She stood her ground when she knew what she was doing,” Adam said.
When Adam was young, he remembers his mom always being there for sports games — except for rugby.
“She loved coming to our events or sports, when I say our, I mean my brothers and I. I think all of us played rugby at one point, which she was not a huge fan of because she didn't really like seeing us get tackled,” he recalled.
“There was one rugby game that I was playing in where a father of a friend and another player started yelling out, 'Take him out at the knees!' And that was kind of it I think for rugby for my mom. She had a tough time watching that but everything else she was always supportive in coming to — whatever events or sports we were involved in. The violence wasn't always her thing, though.”
Aside from family and developing a community, Liz and John were also involved in numerous charitable projects.
In recent years, they were actively involved with the Landscape of Nations in Queenston and the Voices of Freedom Park on Regent Street in Old Town.
“My mom was a huge part of that as well,” Adam said. “I don't know if she was ever officially listed as being part of the committee on either of those. But she and my dad worked on those together. And they were extremely proud of those achievements.”
Some of Adam's fondest memories of his mom are times at the cottage with all of the grandkids.
“Times on Lake Erie on the beach, and recently with six grandchildren causing chaos and the laughter and fun that all the little kids brought. I think those are certainly strong right now,” he said.
“There's so much (that made her happy), but the differences in the personalities of all the grandkids and how they interacted would always make her laugh.”
And it wasn't just the grandkids, she had three brothers and lots of nieces and nephews, and she always tried to keep the family close, Adam said.
“And it shows, because we do have a close family extended that way as well.”
While Liz and John were often busy with their many different projects or new ventures, Adam said in the last year the couple had taking more time off to “enjoy each other and see new places of the world.”