1944-2010 | Launa May Lunn - Macleans.ca
 

1944-2010 | Launa May Lunn

She had a passion for history, especially her own family’s, and recently decided to return to the simpler life she loved as a child


 

Illustration by Team Macho

Launa May Mathias was born on May 10, 1944, in Middleton, N.S., to Florence “Flora” Roberts, a farm girl from Long Point, N.B., and John Mathias, a Welsh naval officer who was stationed in Halifax during the Second World War. John moved the family to Wales after the war, but promised to sail them home soon. He never did.

So, missing her family, Flora split from John, took two of their three children—Launa and Robert—and boarded a ship in 1950 that was headed to Halifax. (Their third child, Anne, stayed in Wales.) In Halifax, she met another naval officer, William Brade, and remarried. The family spent summers at their 1917 farmhouse in Long Point. There was no electricity or running water, but there were plenty of blueberries to pick and cousins to paddle with in their rowboat. Launa loved life on the farm.

After finishing high school, she moved to Oshawa, Ont., to study graphic design. After graduation, she moved back to Halifax where she was literally swept off her feet at the Fleet Club by Kenny Preston, a swift-footed naval officer. They married in 1961 and adopted a baby boy, Michael, from Launa’s cousin in Saint John, N.B., who was unable to care for him. The couple pooled their resources with Launa’s mother and bought a house in Halifax. They lived upstairs and rented out the first floor.

It was the first of several rental units that the family would acquire. By 1964, they had earned enough money to buy a 23-room manor, the biggest house in Waverley, N.S., just north of Halifax. Flora and Launa started a printing company in the servants’ quarters and hired Kenny to do the manual work. But business was slow, so Launa took a second job as office manager of a vinyl siding company. She spent her spare time researching family history. Her cousin, Gail Roberts, recalls being dragged to the archives in Fredericton. There, Launa discovered her family was part Acadian.

One day, Launa told her cousin Gail that she was in love with “a country gentleman” at work. Graham Lunn, who was married with three kids when they met, divorced his wife in 1973 to marry Launa, who left Kenny the same year. Launa and Graham married on June 21, 1974. Graham took over some of the printing work and maintenance of the apartments. He helped raise Michael, and the Lunns soon adopted two more children, Amber and Anthony. And their home acted as an emergency foster care shelter. “You were never quite sure who would be there when you arrived,” says Gail. There was also plenty of room in the house for Graham’s children—Bryan, Michelle and Crystal—who would visit on weekends.

In 1977, Graham and Launa sewed maple leafs on their backpacks and spent six months travelling the world. They visited Lenin’s grave, the Great Wall of China and the pyramids of Egypt. Back in Canada, Launa told her son Bryan how thrilled she was to see the historical sites she had read about. When Bryan and Michael enrolled at St. Mary’s University in 1980, Launa enrolled, too. It was a good thing she learned a new skill. After the part of the manor that housed the printing business burned down in 1982, she found work as a supply history teacher. Graham worked as a hospital caretaker.

Many years, on the children’s last day of school, Graham and Launa would pick them up in a big orange school bus. The family criss-crossed the continent. Spurred on by Launa’s passion for history, they stopped at museums and graveyards. “Vacation was like school for us,” recalls Amber, with their mother providing the lessons.

In 2004, Graham retired from the hospital to work solely on the income properties. Launa retired too and focused on teaching her grandchildren their family history. For Remembrance Day in 2008, she and Flora brought Amber’s son Roger to Ypres, Belgium, to visit the grave of a great-uncle killed in the First World War.

Last Thanksgiving, Launa told the family that she, Graham and Flora were moving to the family farm.
She wanted to enjoy the peace and simplicity she had enjoyed as a child. While they recently installed a flush toilet, new floors and a propane refrigerator, there was no immediate plan to install electricity, says Bryan: “They liked not having a phone, not having another house in sight, using the kerosene lanterns [for light].” In the early hours of July 17, a fire broke out in the kitchen. The house didn’t have smoke detectors. Graham, 69, Launa, 66, and Flora, 83, were sleeping when the fire started. All three perished.


 

1944-2010 | Launa May Lunn

  1. Wow.What an amazing and interesting woman.I would like to have known her,and I feel like in some way I do.

  2. Launa May was my aunt, and was truly the most unique woman I ever knew. Extremely intelligent, full of family folklore, always ready for a laugh, and devoted to those she loved, she was one in a million. She and Graham perished while attempting to rescue my grandmother from the burning house, and it was no surprize to anyone that her last act was one of courage and famillial devotion.

  3. A nice life summary.

    Snuffed out by stupidity. No electricity, so flammables (like the kerosene lantern) must have been present throughout the home WITH NO SMOKE DETECTORS. There is, sadly, no better way to define "a tragic and unnecessary loss."

  4. Can't say I am impressed with the woman.Split your children forever so you can have it your own way?No fire insurance on the house with the printing press?Drops the husband because she finally found someone better?Lives in a house without fire/smoke detectors? Is this women deserving of an article in Macleans? Certainly not! There are a lot of better and more interesting people in Canada!

    • Actually, there was insurance on the house, and nowhere in the article did it state that there was not. Furthermore, Launa most certainly did not split up her children – the very thought would have been abhorent to her.
      I have no idea how you would define a person worthy of an article in Macleans, but if dying heroically in order to save another's life does not figure in your estimation, I cannot help but wonder what does. The firefighters who fought the blaze all attended her funeral – not because they knew her, but because they knew that she'd died trying to save her bedridden mother. They, apparently, share my opinion that she was more than deserving.

  5. Launa and Graham were great people. I should know. There were times when I was a child and needed a place to call home and a family. They opened their home and made me part of their family. I hold their memories close to my heart. Launa once said to me " family are those that are familiar to you". Now I have lost that part of my family. It hurts.

    Tony Nixon
    Edmonton Canada

    • Launa and Graham are thought of often and their memory will live on in our hearts.

      SNM
      Halifax, NS

  6. Launa May was my cousin, she was generous and beautiful. She loved people in general, but she especially loved her family. She was totally devoted to her husband Graham who had suffered a massive stroke less than a year before this tragedy, thanks to her loving care he was almost back to normal at the time of his death. This was not her first experience with a stroke victim, several years prior her mother, my aunt Flora, had suffered strokes during a surgical procedure to repair damage to her heart. Launa May would not allow her to be put in a nursing home even though she needed total care. She brought her mother home and lovingly cared for her, Aunt Flo wanted for nothing and wherever Launa May and the family went She went too. She needed the same care that you would give to a baby, but my cousin was not deterred by that. If you could look through Launas pictures, you would see a picture of Aunt Flo in her wheelchair at the grave of her brother Ernie who was killed in action in France. How easy do you think it would have been to take a woman with that type of impairment on a journey like that?
    Launa May loved the place where she died, it gave her comfort and peace. It was the home where her mother had been born and spent her childhood, she loved it too, and can be seen in pictures sitting in her wheel chair on the little deck they had built, looking across the fields at scenery that she had seen in her childhood years.
    No doubt Launa May and Graham could have escaped the blaze that night but she would not leave her mother alone, so is she deserving of this article? She is as deserving as anyone would be who would put another persons well being and safety ahead of their own, even if it meant it could cost her her life.
    There is much more to Launa Mays story than could be told in this short article, but I want to thank you for writing it. Launa May, Graham and Aunt Flo will be greatly missed, they were not perfect, just ordinary Canadians, who lived, loved, and sadly, died in such a tragic way.

  7. Launa May Lunn was an educator to those who knew her. She was a strong woman who cared for everyone she came in contact with. She loved her family and friends and would do anything to help them out. She will be greatly missed by those who knew her.
    As to Lutz's comments that she split her children up…….maybe next time you decide to badmouth someone, you should get your facts straight. It is because of her I know who my brother is.

    Mom, dad and nan will always be in my heart and my memories. They will be greatly missed.

  8. I spent a lot of time at that place in Waverley (my mom and Launa were good friends). Sometimes, I would sneak away and explore the house; it seemed so strange with all its rooms and stairs and that printing room housing what seemed like mechanical and ancient equipment.

    I remember playing war games with Michael and Bryan, swimming, fishing, hugs from Launa and feeling welcome.

  9. I spent a lot of time at that place in Waverley (my mom and Launa were good friends). Sometimes, I would sneak away and explore the house; it seemed so strange with all its rooms and stairs and that printing room housing what seemed like mechanical and ancient equipment.

    I remember playing war games with Michael and Bryan, swimming, fishing, hugs from Launa and feeling welcome.