I have met several people who have been a gift in my life, allowing me to know that there is life after midlife and that I can continue to reinvent myself at any age. Let me tell you about one such person.
Her name was Wallie Laflamme from Calgary, Canada and she was a master at the game of reinvention.
Wallie faced every challenge with courage and optimism. Since allowance money was not available in Wallie’s family, as a young teenager she joined her sister and two brothers to form a band. They earned their own spending money playing at school dances and community halls. This was a big help to her family surviving the challenging 30’s. When the band broke up, Wallie discovered that she loved working on women’s hair and so her first career was born.
It was then that she moved to Calgary and found a job looking after two children for her room and board while taking a professional hairstyling course. After graduation it wasn’t long before her entrepreneurial spirit took hold and she had her own beauty salon, the Coiffure Bar. At a time when women were not in the mainstream of business, Wallie, from that very young age, thumbed her nose at the prejudices of the day and started to make her dreams come true. New techniques abounded and Wallie was on the cutting edge teaching new hair colors and permanent waves, without the use of electricity. (Now that’s a scary thought!)
On weekends you would find her demonstrating these new techniques at various hotels in Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Red Deer. Roux, the company, brought out the first shampoo rinse with color and she loved the product so much in fact, that she named her son after Mr. Roux. (Thank goodness it wasn’t Clairol or Revlon).
Wallie made a move to Edmonton and opened a salon where she also taught cold waving and then a revolutionary technique for bleaching hair to silver. This is where a John Powers of New York model asked Wallie to do the hairstyle and makeup for all her models. This expanded to doing the Juilliard modeling school too and Wallie wound up doing some modeling herself.
She met a dashing young man who was the very image of movie star Don Amache, instantly fell in love and in short order they got married on February 8th, 1950. After the pregnancy from hell, she gave birth to their only son and hoped for smooth sailing.
Again following her independent spirit they opened a new business in Peace River but unfortunately this was a bad investment that left them penniless and out of work.
As she proved countless times throughout her life nothing could keep her down for long, so with the help of wonderful friends she soon opened another beauty salon which began her challenge to balance career and motherhood. She eventually owned several beauty salons before becoming chronically ill. She was diagnosed with severe allergies caused by the chemical fumes and solutions she had been using.
After 25 years in a much loved career and at the start of midlife, at the age of 45, she reinvented herself to launch her second career by opening LaFlamme Fine Art Galleries in the Brentwood Mall.
Wallie looked upon this adventure as an opportunity to use the many artistic talents she had acquired along the way. To round out the gallery, Foch joined Wallie and opened a custom picture framing department. Roux, upon receiving his degree in Business Administration, joined the family business full time to fine-tune the bookkeeping system, upgrade the organization and expand to their second gallery downtown. Wallie has said many times that this was the happiest time of her life, working side by side with her husband and son. They made an awesome sales team and were a delight to watch in action at one man shows.
The gallery attracted top Canadian artists and she became very involved in the Calgary art scene which was booming along with the oil industry. She gave lectures on the « Art of Framing », instituted the use of color and triple mats and at night you would find her hanging paintings in someone’s home.
Wallie smashed through every glass ceiling by holding prestigious positions: President of the Brentwood Mall Merchant Association, President of the International Zonta Professional Business Women’s Club, and adjudicator for the Western Art Auction at the Calgary Stampede, just to name a few.
After a stroke, two heart attacks and a triple by-pass surgery she finally retired at age 65. She did continue with her volunteer work but never did sit back in a rocking chair. She walked three to five miles every day, did aerobic exercise and enjoyed having friends over for relaxing dinners. She loved watching Dr Robert Schuler’s « Hour of Power » on TV early Sunday morning and then going to attend services at her favorite Unity Church. Foch joined her in these activities as they turned their retirement into a long past due honeymoon. She then experienced her only failure in life – she failed retirement!
After attending a meeting where Dr Wentz, (founder of the Usana Health Science Corporation), described his vision of a healthy future for everyone, by using his cellular nutrition formula, she knew that her third career was about to take off.
Convinced that her remarkable health improvement was the direct result of these nutritional supplements, she became a walking poster child for good health. Beginning this new career at the age of 73, her example inspired many people to join her in a quest to « Live life to the fullest every day ». This quickly multiplied into her becoming a Usana Gold Director which was the culmination of a seven decade successful business career.
Wallie did live a full life in every respect: always striving to enrich herself spiritually and intellectually, loving her work, and adoring Foch, Roux and Kippy.
Wallie’s kindness, genuineness and depth of character continue to shine through to reach people everywhere who remember her for her sharing nature, no matter what the situation. Neither gender nor age was a factor that hindered her desire to be better, accomplish more, do the impossible or get to everything on her life’s To-Do list.
Wallie made a rare and noble contribution to everyone’s evolving spirit. She set an amazing example of a reinvented life at any age and for those of us who knew and loved her–she graced our lives.
Wally passed away peacefully with her loving family by her side Friday, October 24, 2008 at the age of 85.