||Kitchener, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada
|Rockway Restaurant |
- Waterloo Region Record
There is a lasting image Val Bock has of her mother Hettie Hughes.
The senior is eagerly leaving her front row seat to join performer Mandy Pantinkin on stage, singing along to a song she didn't know and dancing a few steps to a rhythm she wasn't familiar with.
That was quintessential Hettie, fearless, full of fun and not at all concerned about what anyone else thought.
The woman most famous as the owner of Rockway Restaurant rarely took time off, but when she did, she knew how to have a good time.
"You couldn't keep her down," said Val, who lived with her mother for the past four decades, in a Kitchener house shared with Val's husband, Doug and their three children. It was one big happy family, possibly because Hettie was never one to hang around the house anyway.
Most often Hettie was at Rockway, doing everything from cooking to cleaning to serving.
"She wasn't afraid of hard work," said Val. "She liked what she was doing. She liked the people who came into the restaurant."
In fact, in 2008 when she sold the restaurant at age 85, a celebration of Hettie's career netted five note books filled with well wishes from patrons.
Trudy Weir had been a patron since her teen years. After two children worked in the restaurant, she became a friend. In a written tribute, Trudy recalled that "Hettie was a special lady. She was witty, super intelligent, kind and compassionate. She had a fun sense of humour and was dedicated to Rockway Restaurant, her family, her friends and the community."
To have achieved such success was remarkable, considering Hettie's beginnings as a teenager trying to survive the Second World War in London, England. During the London Blitz, when her father was away long haul trucking, the family's house was bombed and Hettie, the eldest, took it upon herself to find the family a new place to live, leaving a note for her father attached to the front door of what remained of the family home. Everyone in the family, including three younger siblings, had survived.
Hettie was used to taking charge, as a member of the Air Raid Precautions, an organization which distributed gas masks and air raid shelters as well as ensuring the blackout was maintained.
Like most teenage girls, Hettie didn't get much past elementary school. After she married and had Val and Raymond, Hettie's life took an unexpected turn. Raymond fell ill and doctors suggested the family leave the dampness of England for a healthier climate. Luckily, an aunt in Owen Sound offered sponsorship and so, in 1947, they emigrated.
Hettie quickly immersed herself in her new home, living above a laundry where she also worked as well as scrubbing floors, anything to support her family.
Hettie and her husband had a baby in Canada, Chris, but the marriage was starting to crumble. When her husband found a job in Kitchener, the family followed in 1959, but the marriage broke up, her husband became estranged from the family and Hettie was on her own.
In Kitchener, Hettie worked as a bookkeeper at a warehouse. When the owner sold the business, he referred her to work for Sid Stone, owner of Rockway Restaurant on King Street and the nearby Old Castle Inn. When Sid was ready to sell both locations in 1979, Hettie chose Rockway rather than the Castle so she didn't have to deal with liquor licences and late nights.
Rockway became the Hughes' family business with Chris as cook and manager, Val as bookkeeper. Val's husband and her three grandchildren also worked there.
Chris recalled working with her mother, how she would start the day with jokes and stories over morning coffee and how she loved Good Fridays, the busiest day of the year.
"She worked more like a 40-year-old and not her actual age," recalled Chris. "She took pride in everything she did and served."
Son Raymond wasn't a restaurant staffer but his mother did sponsor his vintage-modified racing car hobby and the Kitchener living room barely has an inch of space not filled with trophies, apparently only a portion of the entire collection.
"Mom was always so proud of them," said Val. "We always went (to the races) every Saturday night and we always took neighbourhood kids."
In 1998, the vintage car club presented Hettie with an award for her outstanding contribution.
Hettie also belonged to the Zonta Club of Kitchener-Waterloo and the Sales and Ad Club. In 2003, she received a City of Kitchener award of distinction in business.
Though Hettie refused to spend money on herself or take much vacation there was always time to for musical theatre or Coronation Street. Then there was her odd passion for all things tennis. Val said if there was a match on TV, no one dared interrupt. And, if her idol Andre Agassi was playing, well she was in heaven. An autographed photo of the tennis star graces the living room, a treasured memory derived after a drive to Cincinnati, Ohio to watch Agassi play a single game.
At 83, Hettie finally used a bit of her hard earned money and travelled to England, Paris, and then visited the Caribbean two years later.
The woman who had worked so hard to raise her family alone, who had made such a name for herself as a businesswoman, succumbed to cancer a year ago.
Trudy said "to this day, we have a copy of a Rockway menu posted in our home, in memory of a special person … everyone who met her was blessed by knowing someone so special."
||Hettie Hughes |
|Eby ID Number
||16 Jul 2019 |
|Business - Rockway Restaurant - 1979 - Kitchener, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada
- Hettie Hughes was one in a million