Article about Nelly Furtado Grandmother

Devout "Vavo" lived for her family
Maria Furtado remembered as a loving, caring matriarch

A pillar of Victoria's close-knit Portuguese community and beloved matriarch of the Furtado family, Maria Paixao Costa Furtado was a devout Roman Catholic whose faith played as significant a role in her life as her devotion to her family.

"People were amazed by how loving and caring and patient she was, and how religious," said her daughter Isabel, one of seven children who survive Maria. "Her faith is unbelievable. The rosary was such a big part of her life."

Maria, who died on May 12 at age 95, also leaves 27 grandchildren, including Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Nelly Furtado, 36 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
"My mother lived for her family," her son Armando said. "As a mother she was the greatest."
Although Maria endured her share of hardships and sorrow, most recently when her son Manuel, founder of Victoria Landscaping Ltd., died last February at 62 of complications following surgery, she had a positive attitude.

"She was always there for you," Armando said. "She always had something positive to say, and lots of inner strength."

Her son's death put her fortitude to the test, said Manuel's daughter Karen Furtado Hughes, 31.
"My grandma was devastated. She'd say the rosary and pray for him every night," she said. "She had a picture of him and kissed it goodnight."

The Furtado family has fond memories of celebrating Maria's 95th birthday last Easter weekend at her home in Gordon Head, where she enjoyed sewing, cooking, baking and her favourite pastime: tending her vegetable and flower garden.

They were grateful their "Vavo" (grandma) was still here 15 years after being diagnosed with a weak heart.

"They had wanted to put a pacemaker in and she said no," Karen recalled. " 'If it's my time to go, it's my time to go.' "

Maria was born April 9, 1914, in Ponta Garca, a dairy farming community on Sao Miguel, the largest of nine islands in the Azores, Portugal. Her late husband Manuel was a merchant who leased farmland and sold goods that he grew in town.

Eight years after he was killed in a vehicle accident in the village, the widowed mother of eight moved to Canada, at age 53, with Armando and his sisters Isabel and Natalie to join his other siblings, who were already here.

Maria lived with family on Grant Street until she moved into her small home at McKenzie and Larchwood where she insisted on living independently, recently with assistance from her beloved nanny Ilda.

"She was left with eight of us in Portugal in the days of the dictatorship and that was not easy," Armando recalled.

"She kept us in line and even to the last day she spoke of how wonderful our father was. She was a very compassionate woman, ready to help anybody and greet anyone regardless of nationality or behaviour."

Karen remembers she was so used to seeing her Vavo wear her traditional widow's shawl that she was shocked when, at the age of 12, she noticed her grandma wasn't wearing it when they slept in the same bed during a visit to Portugal.

"I went, 'Vavo! I've never seen you without your shawl.' Whoa! A totally different lady," she said.

Although Maria kept in touch with old friends, she loved Canada and didn't care to go home much, her granddaughter said.

"She appreciated Canada so much and it was so beautiful to see that," Isabel adds. "She really adapted to this country."

Maria's home away from home was Our Lady of Fatima church, which her son Manuel helped build.

"Our roots there are very deep," says Isabel, recalling how Maria would always carry "gama" (chewing gum) in her purse.

"When she'd go to church the kids knew she'd have gum, so after the service everybody would come and greet my mom."

The matriarch's modest home is adorned with family photographs and furnishings collected over 40 years. "She was so content with what she has," Karen said. "It's because she had to work night and day."

Sunday nights at Vavo's, when sometimes dozens of sons, daughters, spouses and grandkids would converge for food and merriment, is one of the Maria Furtado traditions that will be missed most, family members said.

"I'd never leave without taking something home -- beans, potatoes or bread," Armando recalled. "It was a sign of her love."

Her refusal to pass judgment was one of her most endearing traits, her family said.
"She was never negative," Karen said. "She didn't have a bad bone in her body."

Armando praised his mother's ability to convey her emotions with gestures rather than words -- as in the way she expressed her sadness when he underwent a divorce and she couldn't see his children at Christmas.

"For two years the Christmas tree would not go up," he recalled softly. "She didn't have to speak. She just showed."

Her unconditional love, generosity and pride in her family hasn't been forgotten, he said.
He says it's telling that his niece, Nelly Furtado, would always visit her Vavo when she came to town.

"This is the girl with the world at her hands. She would come and sleep on her couch, just to spend some time with her."

He was also astonished by how close his 31-year-old son felt to her and how important she had been to him -- sentiments his son revealed after coming from Vancouver for her funeral.
It demonstrated the kind of relationship Maria had with her family.

"She was not a famous woman," Armando said. "But she was famous to us."

The Victoria Times Colonist: Click Here
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