'Walking Lady' mourned

Olga Purgavie with granddaughter Alexandra in an undated photo. - Contributed
Olga Purgavie with granddaughter Alexandra in an undated photo.
— image credit: Contributed

You may not have known her by name, but if you’ve lived or worked in Cloverdale for any length of time, you probably saw Olga Purgavie making her rounds. Perhaps you even shared a friendly “hello” and a quick chat as the outgoing grandmother strode past.

Purgavie was an avid walker who logged up to 10 kms a day as part of her fitness routine.

“She did it for years,” family friend Kevin Lunder recalled last week. “Every day, she was out. There are so many people that know her.”

Sadly, a devastating illness prevented her from continuing her wide-roaming walks in recent months, Lunder said.

She passed away from cancer on Jan. 31 at the age of 71.

Olga was a familiar face to many residents of Cloverdale.

Lunder described her as a friendly woman who loved talking to people.

“She was a real outgoing, happy lady,” Lunder said.

Née Stanyk, Olga Purgavie was born in Edmonton, and moved to Cloverdale as a child, attending Surrey Centre Elementary and later Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary.

After she married her husband, Archie, they moved to Newton where they raised their family. Olga worked as a purchasing agent for the Surrey School District for 35 years before retiring.

When their sons Greg and Glen were grown, the couple moved back to Cloverdale in 1990.

The pull of friendly Cloverdale proved irresistible to Glen, too. He and his wife moved here in 1991.

Back then, his mom would walk from her home on 180 Street near 60 Avenue all the way to Fitness Unlimited in Langley – perform her workout – and then walk all the way home again.

That rather punishing workout seemed remarkable for someone at her stage of life.

“She was, like, 58 years old?” laughs Glen.

She wasn’t particularly athletic when she was younger, but once her kids were grown, her interest in fitness blossomed into a passion.

Later, she focused on walking, which was “sort of her social life and fitness made her feel good.”

Almost daily, she’d strap on her fanny pack and hit the road, working her way down 180 Street to Highway 10, then west to the historic downtown, over to 168 Street or even as far as Cloverdale Athletic Park on 64 Avenue, and back home again.

She’d chat to acquaintances  along the way, taking care to check in with some of Cloverdale’s less fortunate residents.

“She would always stop to talk to them and ask them how they’re doing.”

With her warm smile and friendly attitude, she created a memorable impression, “strutting through the town like a soldier,” Glen says.

“I run into so many people. They ask, ‘Where is she? What happened? Everyone seems to know her as the ‘Walking Lady’.”

He describes his mom as extroverted, fun-loving and “always really, really positive, upbeat. She had a signature laugh that you would know from anywhere. She always liked to have a lot of fun.”

If she couldn’t get out for a walk for a few days, she’d be chomping at the bit to get outside.

To everyone’s concern, Olga started to slow down last summer.

That’s when she noticed she couldn’t walk as far. At first her symptoms were thought to be sciatica.

But then she nearly couldn’t walk at all. It was an aggressive form of lymphoma. The tumour had attacked her spine.

Olga was able to make it home for Christmas, spending a month with Archie, her husband of 53 years, before returning to hospital. A few days later, she passed away quietly in her sleep.

Family and friends will gather for a celebration of her life on Friday, Feb. 24, 1 p.m. at the Langley Golf and Conference Centre.

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