Co-workers remember woman killed at Sixth and Sixth

Gemma Snowball's enthusiastic personality snowballed across the Royal City Centre Safeway right from the day she was interviewed for a job six months ago.

Deli manager Sue Lawson said "she was like a bottle of champagne, full of bubbles, and she would just explode."

When Snowball began training she met Gemma Kuol, who was preparing to work as a pharmacist's assistant, and another employee named Tammy.

"Another Gemma. OK, that's cool," Kuol recalled Snowball saying. "You're Gemma Cool and I am Gemma The Best and you're Tammy Awesome. We will be the best working trio of (Safeway store No.) 48."

Koul brought her daughters to work one day and soon Snowball had them laughing and talking. One daughter said to Koul, "She was so nice. I wish she was my sister." Snowball said, "OK, I'll be your big sister."

Stockers, cashiers, produce workers and managers were all infected by Snowball's upbeat personality.

Even baker Claude Elezam, who works on the other side of the store from the deli, was affected because Snowball would come over at the beginning of a shift and ask, "You got my bread for me?"

"She was a bright light," says Elezam choking back a lump in his throat. "It was sincere and with love."

"She knew everybody and everybody knew her," echoes Lawson.

Just last weekend, Koul told the 25-year-old Snowball she should take the bus home at night instead of walking.

"Listen to me, now I'm your mother," said Koul.

She had lots of 'mothers' at Safeway. Lawson was her deli department mom, telling Snowball to make sure she wore light-coloured clothing while walking at night.

One customer told Snowball she didn't have anyone to eat her meals with, and she said, "I'll come over and have dinner with you. And I'll bring a bottle of wine."

"But I don't drink," replied the customer.

"You will," Snowball said, smiling.

The male customers particularly liked her. Lawson recalls a man declining an offer of help. But a few seconds later, Snowball showed up asking, "Can I help you?" and he quickly changed his mind.

Snowball, with her Aussie accent, loved to go on the store's public address system to promote items at the deli.

"We sold 350 chickens in three days with her on the PA," says Lawson.

Snowball had visited Canada and fallen in love with the country, and about 18 months ago she moved here. She worked for a time at Dublin Castle Pub and the White Spot in Royal City Centre. Former patrons and staff from those establishments would drop by to visit her at Safeway.

Snowball was a snowboarder and rollerblader in her spare time, with a strong spirit of adventure. Last summer she went by herself to the Calgary Stampede where she bought a cowboy hat and boots. She had plans to reapply for her work visa so she could stay.

Shauneen Webb was working with Snowball last Monday evening. While Webb wasn't off until midnight, Snowball's shift ended at 10 p.m. Snowball, says Webb, was charged up when she left because she had the next day off.

About 15 minutes after saying goodbye to Snowball, Webb heard sirens rushing by and then a little while later the police came into the store with the devastating news Snowball had been hit by a vehicle making an illegal left turn while she was crossing Sixth Avenue at Sixth Street.

She was wearing a light-coloured jacket and crossing the intersection to catch a bus.

Lawson got a phone call at 6 a.m. Tuesday and headed straight for Royal Columbian Hospital where Snowball was on life support.

"The hospital was so good to us. They let us all go in and say goodbye to her," says Lawson. "I fixed her hair. I put a pink rock in her hand with an angel."

Snowball's mother, Margaret, flew from Perth to be with her daughter when they took her off life support on Wednesday.

Elezam thought somebody was pulling a cruel joke when the store's staff was informed.

"I was sick to my stomach when I heard the news," says Elezam. "It wasn't the same coming through the doors."

It's been difficult for the staff to hold back the tears.

"I want you to know waterproof makeup doesn't work," says Lawson. "She's a great loss to Safeway. She's a great loss to everybody who knew Gemma. I've worked here for 28 years and I have never felt the impact we have felt since Tuesday morning. [Fellow employees] have died before, but this impact on us is just incredible."

Lawson's grief is tinged with a touch of anger. On Thursday afternoon she went to the intersection to pay her respects and watched as five drivers make illegal left turns in the space of 25 minutes.

Lawson says they've learned that 13 people received transplants of organs from Snowball. The employees want to meet some of the recipients.

Says Koul, "We would love to meet the person who got her heart."

A candlelight vigil for Snowball was held at Sixth and Sixth on Friday evening. A memorial for her will be held at the bandshell in Queen's Park on Tuesday starting at 2 p.m. The family also plans to have dinner that evening at the Dublin Castle at 7 p.m.

In addition, a trust account has been established at the Westminster Savings branch at Sixth and Sixth—Snowball Trust Account No. 449214601. The customer service and deli departments at Safeway are also accepting donations. Donations will also be taken at the memorial.

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