August 5, 1929 – May 4, 2021
Gertrude Biskupski, also known as Goga to her children and Oma to her grandchildren, has died at home in Chesterville.
She was immensely active and always curious, still living independently in Ottawa and taking French and Spanish conversation at 90, playing Scrabble in German and travelling well into her 80s.
Born Gertrude Riegler in Vienna in 1929, Gertrude’s parents, in spite of their humble origins, made sure to instil a great love of art, culture and learning in her. She became the first in her family to pursue post-secondary education and joined a very hip new employer, Austrian Airlines, in the 1950s. This opened the doors to the world for her and she became an avid traveller: riding camels in Egypt, visiting bazaars in Turkey, and taking the first Boeing 707 flight from Vienna to New York City. She married Franz Thomas and had two children, Gabriele and Andreas.
In 1972 she made the monumental decision to remarry and emigrate to Canada with her children. Leaving behind her urban Viennese life for a windswept farm in the Eastern Townships was ultimately not a move that brought her happiness. She nevertheless allowed her artistic abilities to flourish through rug hooking, knitting, folk painting and gardening. She also worked hard on improving her high school French to integrate into Quebec society.
Even though she experienced painful homesickness and her relationship with her Canadian husband did not last, she remained in Canada, close to her children. She eventually settled in Ottawa with her third husband, enjoying city life and cultural events once again, and overwintering in Mexico for many years.
Not one to dwell on the past, Gertrude had a very modern, tolerant and open outlook on the world and supported her children’s and grandchildren’s decisions without judgment. She was a true lifelong learner and doggedly persevered figuring out her first PC in her 70s and iPad in her 80s. For more than twenty years she volunteered at the Ottawa Public Library.
As her mobility increasingly became a problem in the last years, she continued doing exercises and using her weights and stationary bike. In October of 2020, at the age of 91, she received the devastating diagnosis of ALS, an illness that has no cure. Her world was shrinking and she lost her ability to move, speak, swallow and ultimately breathe. Her mind, however, remained alert and up to a few days before her death, she still read and watched Austrian and Canadian news on her iPad and emailed friends and family.
Gertrude taught her children many things, such as having an open mind, being adventurous, and standing up for your rights and beliefs. She made her family feel loved and accepted and showed them the importance of expressing affection in a physical, touchy-feely way.
Gertrude will always be remembered by her children, Gabriele Thomas (Tony Glen) from Chesterville and Andreas Thomas (Rachel Freudenburg) from Somerville, Massachusetts, her grandchildren Miranda Glen (Geraint Jones), Tristan Glen (Avalon Moore), Franziska Glen and Alice Thomas (André Stevens-Rosa) and great-grandchildren Arlo and Rowan.
Her ashes will eventually make the journey to her beloved Vienna and to the family grave.
Donations to the Good Companions Senior Centre in Ottawa, the ALS Society of Canada or the Dundas County Hospice would be gratefully acknowledged by the family. If you are making your donation online or by cheque directly to the charity, please include the following note with your gift “please notify the family”. Online condolences may be made at marsdenmclaughlin.com.