Remembering Vera Soudkova

May 15, 1924 – January 4, 2022 

Written By Debby Drew

On January 4th of this year, just as we were doing our final CC Putzpauze, Vera Soudkova died.  Vera was very important to LPC in the late 1960’s and I would like to take a moment to remember her.  Vera and her husband Dušan were both doctors living and working in Brno, Czechoslovakia with their three sons Štěpán, Dušan and Ivan.  They were dissatisfied with the oppression of life in the USSR and wanted to expand opportunities for their children.  They had a colleague in Canada name Carl Robinow (who happened to be my mother’s cousin) and they asked him about possible international camp opportunities for children.  Carl put them in touch with LPC and Vera along with young Dušan and Ivan went to camp in Gargnäs Sweden in 1967.  This is what Dan Streit wrote about that summer: 

“Wow, Vera made it to 97!  I’m not surprised, particularly as she made it through her first camp, Gargnäs ’67, with a male staff consisting of Alain, Thomas Calice, Stephen Allberry, me (all 17-18) and old co-director Jack Bierschenk (20).  The shenanigans were as you might expect from that bunch, but Vera smiled and continued to get done the things that had to get done, and her quiet, responsible demeanor (in stark contrast to the boy counsellors…) had a huge, soothing effect on the camp.  She immediately became Natalie’s right hand (sorry, Jack) and best friend (the two « ancient » 40 year-olds…).  She was sufficiently inspired by what Natalie was doing to commit herself to finding sites for LPC.”

The following year, Vera helped organize our first camp in Czechoslovakia which Rob Streit and I directed.  I had the rare opportunity to spend 3 weeks with Vera and her family before the camp started.  She arranged for me to observe open heart surgery in her hospital, taught me a little Czech and introduced me to living with a family with a blind member (their son Štěpán).  I also joined them on their weekly Sunday family hikes. By the end of the three weeks, they presented me with a certificate of adoption as their daughter, Debinka Drewova. In retrospect, I can see that those three weeks had a significant influence on the rest of my life.   

Rob Streit had similar thoughts about Vera and wrote, “I met Věra for the first time in 1968, during the Prague Spring. I was to co-direct an international children’s camp in Slovakia that would not have existed but for Vera’s extraordinary initiative, determination and guidance. The experience changed my life, and I have Věra to thank for that. In our conversations she was always fully engaged, with a wonderful mixture of warmth and seriousness. For a person with such a vast range of knowledge and interests Věra spoke and acted with remarkable humility. She cared deeply about people and showed that care both personally and in her professional life. She was lovely to watch with her family. I’m so grateful to have known Věra.”

In 1968, the wave of liberalization that had started in Czechoslovakia ended abruptly with the invasion of Russian troops.  Vera and Dušan decided to it was time to get out and they left their home for good.  Carl Robinow helped get them established in Kingston Ontario where they lived out their lives.  Dušan and Ivan continued to go to camp for several years, and Vera found a site on the Hudson Bay for our first and only Canadian camp called Moose Factory.  

I visited Vera a few times in Kingston, and she once surprised me by showing up at an LPC Inc. board meeting in Rhode Island. We always picked up right where we left off with a strong and loving connection. Vera was a friend, mother, sister, and mentor – always supportive and loving, always an inspiration. I am saddened by her death and at the same time extremely grateful for her life and her presence in my life and for her contribution to LPC.  Here is the obituary that was written about her life: 

SOUDEK, Vera, M.D., D. P. H. – 97, Kingston, passed away on January 4, 2022, at Kingston General Hospital following a brief illness. Born on May 15, 1924, in Brno, Czechoslovakia, she was a daughter of the late Alois Pištěcký and Ludmila Pištěcká (née Cahová). She is survived by her sons Dušan Soudek, Halifax, and Ivan Soudek, Kingston; her grandchildren Martin Soudek, Ottawa, and Lucy Soudek (Ted Moffatt), Kingston; her great grandson Simon Moffatt, Kingston; special family friend Jane Somerville, Kingston; and other relatives in the Czech Republic and in Canada. 

She was predeceased by her husband of 65 years, Dušan Eduard Soudek; by her sister Lidmila Pištěcká; by her two infant brothers; and by her eldest son Štěpán Soudek. She grew up in Bratislava, Slovakia, where her civil engineer father designed highway bridges. In 1942 the family was repatriated back to her home town of Brno, where she studied nursing. It was during compulsory labour, known as Totaleinsatz, in a vaccine research and production facility where she met her future husband, Dušan Sr. As all Czech-language universities were closed during the Nazi occupation, she didn’t start her study of medicine until after Liberation in 1945. She graduated from Masaryk University in 1949, eventually qualifying in pediatrics and serving as a staff pediatrician at the University Children’s Hospital in Brno.

In 1968, after the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks, she and her husband took their family, which by now included three sons, to Canada, eventually settling in Kingston. She held several staff positions at the Queen’s University Department of Pediatrics before switching to public health, obtaining a Diploma in Public Health at the University of Toronto in 1972. Subsequently she was based in Brockville, serving as the Medical Officer of Health at the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit. Her final position, before retirement in 1986, was as the Medical Officer of Health for the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Health Unit.

She had eclectic interests and boundless energy. Over the years her household included at least one dog, the occasional cat, and, for a while, a horse. She thoroughly enjoyed her bountiful garden and the tranquil cottage on Fifth Depot Lake, where she kept bees. Her volunteer work included lichen identification at the Fowler Herbarium at Queen’s University and eradication of invasive plants at the Lemoine Point Conservation Area, among many others. Her travels ranged widely, from rafting Northern rivers to hiking in the Andes. She organized two international children’s camps, in Slovakia and in Moose Factory, Ontario. She had a talent for languages, polishing her French and her Spanish until her final years.

Following a series of strokes, she moved to Kingston’s Providence Manor, where she lived the last nine years of her life. Her body has been cremated and a celebration of her life, and that of her late husband, will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations in Vera’s memory may be made to a charity of your choice. Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting: www.gftompkinscentral.ca We are grateful for the excellent care provided by the staff of Providence Manor and by her physicians.