Ljiljana Milica Casey

17-May-1945 - 04-Sep-2020

Obituary Overview

Ljiljana Milica Casey

It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of my wife, Lily Casey, from the consequences of Alzheimer’s disease. She passed away peacefully with me by her side at our home in Ottawa on September 4, 2020 at the age of 75. She is predeceased by her parents, Dusan and Jovanka Petrovic and her brother, Lazar Petrovic. She is survived by her sister-in-law, Jovanka Petrovic, and will be dearly missed by her long-time friend in Montenegro, Nena Djukic Savic and her family, as well as by my family in Miramichi, New Brunswick and across Canada and colleagues at Canadian diplomatic missions in Moscow, London, Bogota, San Francisco and Belgrade.

Lily lived her early life in Pancevo, where she went to Uros Predic High School, a renowned academic institution where she excelled in Serbian and English language studies and athletic pursuits in track and field and basketball. She continued English language studies at the University of Belgrade and pursued her basketball career with the Red Star team of Belgrade. As a teenager she spent as much time as she could on the Yugoslav coast, where she began her working career selling lemonade at a stand in Dubrovnik. This evolved into work in the tourism sector as a guide and consultant, first with Yugoslav companies and then in 1969 with the Wallace Arnold Company, which at that time was a large British tour operator on the Yugoslav coast. They deployed her to their Manchester and Leeds offices during the winter and she led British tour groups in Italy and in various spots on the Yugoslav coast in the summer. She abandoned her university studies to pursue her career in the travel industry but family obligations pulled her back to Pancevo in 1970.

Lily was hired in 1971 at the Canadian Embassy in Belgrade where she worked as an assistant in the Visa Section. That is where our paths crossed when I was posted there in 1973 as a Foreign Service Officer on my first foreign assignment. I literally ran into her on my first day in the office while she was carrying some immigration files. I didn’t know it at the time, but she later said that this was the moment when she pronounced me as “the one”. She had many suitors, including a popular singer who wrote one of his biggest hits, “Kaze me da si jos uvek sama” (“Tell me that you are still alone”) for her, a slow ballad with a beautiful melody. It took a while, but I remained “the one” and in 1976 we were married. My reward was an assignment to Immigration Headquarters in Ottawa.

Starting over again in a new country wasn’t easy for Lily but her customer relations and sales skills made her a natural for the travel industry and she worked her way up until she became the lead consultant with Oceanair, which at that time was one of the largest travel agencies in Ottawa. 

In 1980, I was assigned to the Canadian High Commission in London and once again Lily had to pull up roots and start over again in a new country. She walked into Mark Allen Travel, a leading agency in Mayfair which was a few blocks from my office in the High Commission, and convinced them she had what it takes to be a successful Travel Counsellor in England. They were what in Britain is called an up-market agency, dealing with the rich and famous. Soon her every-day clients were well-known actors and musicians. One day Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin sat down at her desk. She made arrangements for him at an exclusive resort in Spain and she asked who would accompany him. He replied that he was thinking that she might like to accompany him but I was still “the one” and she politely suggested he try to find another partner. Eventually our time in London, punctuated by invitations to the Diplomatic Ball at Buckingham Palace, where we happened to meet Princess Diana, and to the Queen’s Garden Parties, came to an end. 

I was assigned in 1984 to head the Immigration Section at the Canadian Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. Lily was forced to leave a job that she loved for a country with a new language and culture.  Again it wasn’t easy but she adapted as she always did. The first challenge was learning Spanish. She was soon speaking like a Bogota housewife and fighting for warmer clothes and better working conditions for the guards assigned to protect our house. She found regular work as an English language teacher for Spanish speaking employees at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). She didn't have formal training as a language teacher but she quickly figured it out and regularly had her contract renewed. Lily was happy in Bogota but my assignment there ended in 1987 when I was assigned to a position as Program Manager of the Immigration Section at the Canadian Consulate General in San Francisco.

Lily was glad to go to a country where she could work as a travel agent but finding a job was a challenge in a very competitive environment. She was eventually hired at a Thomas Cook Travel agency in downtown San Francisco. Of course, she had to start at the bottom and develop her own client base but that was something she had always been good at. One of her first clients was a man who wanted to go to Europe for a sex change operation. He knew where he wanted to go and had already done research on what it involved. She listened carefully and made all the arrangements required. A few months later she began to see a steady stream of clients interested in sex changes in Europe, all obviously word of mouth referrals from her first client, happy with the professional manner in which his requests had been handled. The referrals kept coming and she became an expert on sex change operations in Europe. Whether it was someone doing a sex change or a high-tech executive, she had a way of treating people with respect which kept them coming back.  In October, 1989 we survived the San Francisco earthquake, which caused extensive damage but, fortunately, few fatalities.

In 1990, I was offered the position of Immigration Program Manager at the Canadian Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, which I gladly accepted. It was Lily’s native country, a country I knew and loved and I still spoke the language. Neither of us knew that it was about to break up in a violent and destructive manner. Lily began looking in the private sector for a job and eventually hooked up with a group of journalists from all over Yugoslavia who were attempting to set up a television company which would be separate from the republic- controlled broadcasting companies which brought news and all other television content to Yugoslavs with a slant towards the republic where they were operating. It was called YUTEL and was headed by Goran Milic, who was the Walter Cronkite or Lloyd Robertson of Yugoslavia at that time. Lily became their Director of International Relations and often participated in visits of journalists and broadcasters to various parts of Yugoslavia.

All that came to an end in August of 1992 when Lily went into her office to find the staff beaten up and the office vandalized by hooligans who operated with impunity as long as they were attacking enemies of the state, that is, anyone who was saying anything the regime did not like. YUTEL was effectively driven out of Belgrade and retreated for a time to Sarajevo, but they never succeeded in becoming an independent broadcasting medium. 

Lily looked to her old employer, the Canadian Embassy, where an opening had come up for a chief of reception staff. It was several lines of authority removed from me so she was allowed to enter the competition. She was overqualified, having already worked at that level in the Embassy 20 years earlier. She won the competition and I was able to begin the transformation of our reception into a service that was able to deal with literally thousands of people every day, including many refugee applicants, treating all with dignity and respect, even if we were only able to accept for processing a tiny fraction of the applicants.

Lily was a skillful interviewer, having worked as an interpreter for some of our best interviewing officers in the early 1970s. So I was able to assign her to do the preliminary interviews of almost all of our independent category applicants, which left the Canadian officers free to handle the refugee interviews and complete the independent cases quickly after her initial screening.
From 1993 to  1995, our reception staff routinely dealt with over a thousand people every day, interacting with people respectfully, and with compassion and fairness. Our immigration waiting room was relatively small, able to accommodate only about thirty people so reception staff would have to work with the crowds lined up in front of the embassy every day to make sure that the right people got into the waiting room.  And they had to do this before people had gone through any embassy security screening. They worked through the heavy lineups, taking applications from people, giving out forms, taking cases that needed special assistance out of the lines and making sure that the most needy got taken care of. There is no formula for how you do this and no manual instruction, it just takes a high level of human judgement and experience, and this was what Lily brought to her immigration reception work. I am eternally grateful for this as she helped thousands of people who immigrated to Canada from the Belgrade office during this period. 

The Belgrade news magazine Vreme did an article dated 28 August, 1995 which described angry crowds of demonstrators in front of foreign Embassies in Belgrade in 1995. In front of the Canadian Embassy protesters did a surprising thing. They cheered and applauded. I think it was because our reception staff in the Embassy always treated people with dignity, respect and compassion. And it was all because of the way Lily taught them to treat people.

Our posting in Belgrade came to an end in October, 1995. Back to Ottawa for some well-deserved rest for both myself and Lily. Then back overseas to the Canadian Embassy in Moscow in 2000. New country, new people and a new language, which Lily very quickly adapted to. She did various temporary jobs with the Embassy, most notably organizing the Team Canada volunteers for Team Canada 2002 in Moscow, a group of over 100 people who assisted at the various Team Canada functions which were held in Moscow that year. Later she competed in a competition for a Non-Immigrant Interviewing Officer position which opened up in the Embassy, which she won as she had considerably more interviewing experience than the other applicants. She fit in well and became greatly loved by both Canadian and locally engaged staff.

In 2005, our posting in Moscow ended. We returned to Ottawa where Lily settled into a well-deserved retirement at our home on Echo Drive. Each summer we spent the months of July to October in Budva, Montenegro, where we had purchased a home and had made many friends. She enjoyed swimming in the Adriatic and played tennis with me several times a week until her early ‘70’s. She overcame breast cancer in 2014 and colorectal cancer in 2018. Her battle with Alzheimer’s began in 2018 and she remained with me in our home. At the time of her passing on September 4, 2020 she was still living quietly and peacefully in our home. She was mobile up to the end and enjoyed daily walks along Echo Drive with me up until her final days. Her passing was sudden and unexpected but it was also peaceful and painless and came before she had to suffer the debilitation of end-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

A private funeral service will be held at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Miramichi, New Brunswick at a later date. Donations in her name can be made to the Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County, the Alzheimer Society of Canada or the Ottawa Hospital Foundation - Cancer Research.

*Pursuant to maximum attendance regulations, please call the funeral home (613-235-6712) to pre-register your visit. Entry will be strictly limited to registered visitors attending at their confirmed time-frame only. A mask or face covering is required.*

Funeral Details

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    Kelly Funeral Home - Somerset Chapel

    Event Times:

    17-Sep-2020 2:00 PM - 6:00 PM

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Posted by KENNETH ZAIFMAN | 02-Nov-2020

Dear Brian I just read about Lily and the beautiful story you told about your life together. I am so sorry for your loss. Ken

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Posted by Sasa Fazlagic | 18-Oct-2020

Dear Mr. Casey, I was saddened by news of passing of your wife Ljiljana who based by your account was a remarkable women. Myself and my family extend our deepest condolences. I wish to thank you and Ljiljana for your humanitarian work in helping many families escape war torn Yugoslavia, through your work in Canadian Embassy in Belgrade in 1990s. I was 20 years old at the time. It brings tears to my eyes to remember how desperate we were. Our family was of mixed ethnic origin and not welcome anymore in the new nationalist based states that were result of break up of Yugoslavia. When we came for an interview to the Canadian Embassy in Belgrade we entered a truly unfamiliar world. We were treated with utmost respect, warmth and immediately felt hopeful again. I can still feel the excitement we felt. That day we had interview with yourself, you spoke in our language to our surprise. Then you spoke to me in English and you were the first English speaking person I spoke to. You went out of your way to ensure that additional paperwork would not require my brother and I to travel to Belgrade again and risk deportation to Bosnia. My brother Zlatan immigrated to Canada September 1995 and we joined him in December of that year. Canada became our wonderful home-we created our own families. Myself and my siblings enjoy professional careers as medical doctor, accountant, and engineer turned entrepreneur. 25 years later we mention you guys often and what that all meant for us. We are forever grateful to you and Ljiljana! Our sincere condolences and eternal gratitude. Sasa Fazlagic

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