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Remembering the Queen of Downtown
Gina Caputo’s sisters know that, when they start to pack up their sisters things, they will find confetti somewhere.
And, despite their sadness at losing their sister last month, they know that discovery will make them laugh.
“Gina always decorated her gifts,” said sister Anna Harrison, “and, one Christmas, she bought those clackers — remember those — filled with confetti.”
The plot, sister Rosie Kirschner said, was for the kids to take the clackers home before they tried them out, ensuring both houses would be confetti-blasted and Gina could chuckle when her sisters called her on it.
They beat her to the punch, though, realizing the mischief afoot and giving the kids the clackers during the annual Christmas party at Gina’s house, telling them to “run through the house clacking them,” Anna said.
Gina still laughed and declared her delight in owning a vacuum cleaner.
It’s those kinds of moments that are helping Anna, the longtime co-owner of Genesis Fashion and Beauty, deal with her sudden death — unexpected only in that, having been in hospital for four months, Gina’s doctors had made plans to release her on Feb. 25, but she died on Feb. 21, just days after her 56th birthday.
The family — Gina is also survived by father Alfredo, brother Peter, in-laws and five nieces and nephews — knew her funeral would be big, but were overwhelmed when about 60 people were left standing on the sidewalk outside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church.
But, they agreed, they really weren’t all that surprised, knowing how involved their big sister had always been in the landscape that is Kamloops.
It was more than the 27 years at Genesis. There was her work in the original Downtown Business Association, the years she spent with the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce, the Business and Professional Women’s Club, the Can-Ital Ladies Society and so many other groups and events.
“She had the gift of organization,” Anna said, noting Gina was busy planning something with her Rotary Club while in hospital with a tracheotomy tube in her throat.
Gina was six when her family moved from their hometown in Italy to Canada, heading directly to Kamloops because Alfredo’s brother and sister had already moved there.
She started school two months later, unable to speak English.
“But, we just learned it,” Anna said.
“We were thrown into the culture once we came here and we just learned it.”
Gina started out in another hair-dressing salon downtown before deciding to open her own and soon found herself with a loyal clientele that, in recent years, was starting to encompass three generations of families.
Anna knows they’ll all want to talk about her sister in coming weeks, after she returns to the Victoria Street salon.
“It will warm my heart to know that those people were there for her and will be there for us.”
Family was key, be it Gina’s blood relatives or that extended family of clients, business associates and friends, Rosie said.
She loved being called the Queen of Downtown — and lived up to part of the billing, Anna said.
“We’d be out shopping and, at the end of the day, I realized I was carrying all her bags,” Anna said with a laugh. “It just happened that way.”
Shopping was a key component of her relationship with Lori Nelson, who met Gina the second day the Nelsons moved to Kamloops and who talked with her almost every day, including long conversations over lunches and on Sunday evenings.
“She was my sounding board, my shopping buddy, and this is going to be hard,” Lori said.
They would share clothes and, when they tired of what was hanging in the closet, swap with each other.
“She was the queen, definitely — assertive, very take charge and a perfectionist. We both are,” Lori said.
“And, she was passionate about everything in her life — travel, family, fashion, her humanitarian work, everything.”
Holidays and festive events were invariably held at Gina’s house, Rosie said, replete with decorations, food and fun.
And, occasionally, some strange requests.
“One Christmas, she said it was going to be a formal Christmas and we were all to wear our long gowns and tiaras,” Anna said.
“So we did — but the next year, we told her it was going to be a pyjamas Christmas and we all wore our pyjamas.”