Friday, 21 May 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 20 2021
Livia Mai Liis Kivisild, née Martna, passed away of natural causes on Sunday May 2, 2021 in Houston, Texas. She was born on October 22, 1927 in Tallinn, Estonia to her parents Hans and Emilie during the period of independence of the country between World War I and World War II. It was during her childhood in Tallinn that she forged her lifelong love and gift for languages – she spoke seven fluently – and excelled at the piano. During World War II, she fled to Finland on a fishing boat to escape the Soviet occupation, where she joined her sister Maret and her brother Jüri. The story of her life with her family in independent Estonia and her escape was chronicled by Livia in her memoir “The Lucky Child”. After completing high school at the École Française in Stockholm, she met and married Hans Robert Kivisild in 1947 and they went on to have four daughters – Maria, Ann, Julia, and Emma. She completed undergraduate work at the University of Stockholm in 1950 as a “Filosofie kandidat.”
The young family moved to Canada in 1950, arriving in Montreal on her birthday that year – a sign of good luck. In 1952, Livia received a pre-doctoral fellowship from the Humanities Research Council of Canada, with which she studied the evolution of the FinnoUgric languages including Estonian at Harvard University. She continued her studies with a Certificat International de Phonétique followed by her Doctorate in Comparative Linguistics, both at the University of Montreal in 1954 and 1956. After her postgraduate education, she became a member of Filiae Patriae – the oldest Estonian national women’s academic society.
After living in Vancouver for four years, the family lived in Taipei in the early 1960s when Hans worked with the United Nations to engineer flood control methods in Taiwan. Afterwards, they lived in Toronto for eleven years before finally settling in Calgary in 1973. In Calgary, Livia served as President of the Women’s League Calgary Philharmonic Society, which raised funds for musical scholarships. It was here in Calgary that her grandchildren came to spend time with her – tasting her legendary baking, playing card games, and traveling to Banff and Lake Louise.
After Estonia became independent again, she traveled back several times – volunteering in the newly-liberated country to teach English when needed and traveling to Otepää to help women learn to market their crafts for international distribution.
Throughout Livia’s life, she continued to work with languages teaching French and German, acting as the Principal of the Calgary German Language School, translating historical documents, and interpreting at legal proceedings. In addition to speaking and writing Estonian, English, French, German, Russian, Finnish, and Swedish, she studied and spoke the historic languages of Latin, Karelian, and Livonian. She served as President of the Southern Alberta Heritage Language Association (SAHLA). She was most proud of when she volunteered as an interpreter for seven languages at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games.
Livia’s kind manners and sharp wit will be missed by all who knew her, especially her grandchildren. She was pre-deceased by her husband and siblings. She is survived by her four daughters, eleven grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren in addition to two nieces and one nephew. Memorial services are pending. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the charity of your choice. Hans and Livia’s ashes will be spread at sea in the Gulf of Mexico, so they can travel together on the Gulf Stream back to Estonia.