Saanich resident Eoleia Zapshala — Pamela Anderson’s flamboyant Auntie Vie — died Saturday at 88, three days after she was admitted to Victoria General Hospital.
As late as Friday night, Zapshala was joking that it was too bad her elder sister Luatta wasn’t still around to see the “cute men in this hospital,” said her daughter, Eileen Zapshala. “She was a character up until the very end.”
One of her last actions was to request a banana on her hospital dinner tray to be taken home as a treat for her pet rabbit, Thumper.
“I have had so many tweets and Pam has been so sweet and supportive,” Eileen said.
“She and her family sent me beautiful flowers and such a beautiful sad note. So many of my cousins are so upset. She was really the matriarch of the family, the one that held it all together, the Auntie Mame.”
Anderson’s grandmother Rosie was Eoleia’s sister, but the actor and model just called her Auntie Vie. Anderson lived with Zapshala when she moved to Victoria years ago, Eileen said.
Anderson posted a photo and message on her Facebook and Twitter pages: “Rest in Peace my sweet, dear Great Auntie Vie. A beautiful example to all women — soft, sparkly and happy despite this cruel world — La Vie en Rose.”
Zapshala’s death, which Eileen believes was due to heart failure, came sooner than expected. She had been in severe pain due to spinal deterioration as a result of drugs used to combat rheumatoid disease.
Zapshala came into the spotlight as one of her niece’s most flamboyant cheerleaders on the television show Dancing With the Stars and as the subject of the biography/cookbook Auntie Vie: A Life of Pickles and Pearls, released in 2011.
“She was so much fun, vivacious, spunky and sassy and glamorous,” said Pickles author Cathy Converse. “She was just fantastic and will be greatly missed.”
Zapshala was born Nov. 6, 1924, the youngest child of 13 for Peter Friesen and Anna Schultz, Low German-speaking Mennonite farmers in North Battleford, Sask.
“We were like the Beverly Hillbillies, living out of a hay cart,” she told the Times Colonist in 2010. “Mother would tend chickens, cows, clean and even bake off that cart.”
Zapshala dropped out of school at 14 and took the train to Toronto to work in war-supply plants, moving back to Saskatchewan to help her mother after her father died. She saved up money working as a food inspector to head west and buy a house in Abbotsford.
At age 25, she married logger Len Zapshala and moved to Vancouver Island. Daughter Eileen was born in 1952. Len died in a blasting accident in 1976.
Zapshala took on a variety of jobs, working as a kindergarten aide and a building manager for Brown Brothers.
“Mom did everything — the electrical, plumbing, she even fixed the furnace,” her daughter said in 2010.
She was famous among her family for her warm hospitality and her love of sparkly clothes and dancing.
Anderson’s stories about her Auntie Vie inspired one of the world’s most-renowned milliners, Philip Treacy, to send the Saanich senior a custom-made hat.
On Saturday, condolences were beginning to be posted on Auntie Vie’s Facebook page.
Below a photo of her in Treacy’s hat are her own words of wisdom: “Remember, all life needs a little sparkle.”