Residents help Shannon Tweed-Simmons locate her father’s grave

Tara Bradbury
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Having spent more than 30 years as supervisor of Mount Pleasant Cemetery in St. John’s, Lester Stoyles has participated in the burials of thousands and thousands of people. Still, his memory is incredible — to the point where you can tell him a name, and he can tell you where to find their gravesite.

Stoyles was present when Shannon Tweed-Simmons’ father, Donald Keith Tweed, was buried at Mount Pleasant in 1981, and although the model/actress was yet to become world-famous, and he didn’t know the Tweed family personally, he remembers the service.

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Saturday, when Stoyles’ wife read a story in The Telegram about Tweed-Simmons looking to find her dad’s grave, Stoyles, who has been retired for the past 10 years, didn’t need to consult cemetery maps or records.

“She read the story on the computer and she said, ‘Lester, look — Shannon Tweed can’t find her father’s grave. I said, What do you mean, she can’t find it?”

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Tweed-Simmons, wife of KISS member Gene Simmons, was in St. John’s last week with her daughter, Sophie, and sister Sara and family, accompanying the band while it played two shows at Mile One Centre. While Simmons left to continue touring, Tweed-Simmons and the others did some sightseeing, including visiting Markland, where she was born. They also visited the Anglican cemetery in St. John’s, looking for Tweed’s grave, and were disappointed when they couldn’t find it. Tweed died of a heart attack in St. John’s in March 1981, at age 50.

“I had been back (to Newfoundland) since he died and hadn’t wanted to see it by myself,” Tweed-Simmons said of the gravesite. “It was nice to have my sister with me and she wanted to go, so I said, OK, I’ll go with you. We couldn’t find it. We were looking through records, like, now what?”

After the story was published in last weekend’s paper, The Telegram received close to 100 emails and phone calls from residents, providing snippets of information they had about Tweed, providing advice on how to search for his burial details, or offering to visit cemeteries to help look. One of those phone calls came from Stoyles and his wife who knew exactly where Tweed was buried.

Tweed’s grave was marked with a wooden cross after his burial, Stoyles said, but a headstone was never erected — something that happens quite often.

The gravesite has been in perpetual care by the cemetery.

“Sometimes it’s the money, or sometimes people will leave it for a while, then they might forget,” he explained.

Tweed was oiginally from Saskatchewan and a former member of the Air Force who moved to this province in the early 1950s with his wife to work on a mink ranch a friend was establishing. After studying everything he could about mink, he opened his own ranch in Whitbourne a couple of years later. His business was successful and he did well for his family — which grew to include seven children — until late 1966, when he was in a car accident. The driver, his friend, was killed; Tweed was seriously injured and spent 13 months in a coma. After that, he spent 10 years in hospital, recovering from a brain injury, depression and other issues.

His wife tried to manage the ranch as best as she could, Tweed-Simmons said, but wasn’t successful, and it caused some bitterness between the couple. They eventually separated, and Tweed-Simmons and her siblings moved to Saskatoon with their mother.

“They never spoke, I guess, after that,” Tweed-Simmons said of her parents. "I don’t know if they were formally divorced or not.

“My mom — and this is a bone of contention, to this day — didn’t really promote us staying in contact with him because maybe she was so angry at him. I thought it was horrible, by the way. I’ve always had a mixed bag of feelings about what my mom did and for what reason, and I know it must have been horrifying to have seven children by yourself. When I was of a mind and I was old enough, I went (to Newfoundland to visit him). I was old enough to remember him and I kept thinking about him.”

Tweed-Simmons and her older sister, Kim, kept in contact with their father, and Tweed-Simmons remembers him as a fun-loving, hard-working guy. On a few occasions, Kim flew him to Saskatoon for a visit. Other times, Tweed-Simmons saved her waitressing tips and drove to Newfoundland.

A profile of Tweed and his mink ranch was published in “Decks Awash” magazine about a year before he died.

“My daughter, Shannon Tweed, is a successful model in Toronto,” he was quoted as saying. “Her picture will be on  the December cover of En Route magazine. Who knows, maybe she can model some of our coats.”

While Tweed didn’t live long enough to see Tweed-Simmons’ infamous Playboy spread — which later earned her the Playmate of the Year title in 1982 — he knew she was going to do it, she said.

“I remember telling him I was going to pose for Playboy and he did say, ‘Do whatever you can, whenever you can, because look at me; you never know what could happen. Don’t pass up an opportunity or say you’re going to do something later. Just do everything you want to do and don’t worry about what everyone thinks about it.”

Tweed-Simmons, 24 at the time, came to St. John’s for her dad’s funeral but said she was so distraught, she couldn’t remember where it took place. She wasn’t aware the grave never had a headstone.

Until this week, Tweed’s grave was unmarked and hidden tightly between two other grave plots. Now, Stoyles has had it marked, once again, with a hand-labeled wooden cross. It won’t be there for long, since Tweed-Simmons and her siblings have already began choosing a headstone.

“Everybody thought everybody else was going to do the headstone, and everyone probably assumed my mom would do it, but she never did,” she said. “Now, I’m going to order a headstone and then we’ll visit it when we come and have somebody tend to it and give it some respect.”

She said she’s grateful to local residents who tried to help her family find the gravesite.

“It’s the sweetest thing ever that people wanted to help,” she said. “It’s very nice, but it’s very typical of Newfoundlanders, and I wouldn’t have expected anything less.”



Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Air Force

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Markland, Saskatoon Saskatchewan Whitbourne Toronto

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Recent comments

  • steve
    August 18, 2013 - 09:13

    I would expect nothing less of NLers.It is a nice endind to this womans story to be able to know where her father rest.I spent a lot of time in Whitbourne in the 80s and know they are good people.Again hats off to our great people in NL.

  • Charlene Piche
    August 17, 2013 - 08:13

    I'm so happy for Shannon. That's wonderful how someone would help her out in this way. I've being doing research on my family for 25yrs, in particular the Vodovec and Rankin side of my family and I haven't had a lot of luck until 3 days ago, when I found 1 piece of Vodovec info. Now I'm hoping that I can find even further info. on this. It's perplexing how a family name could get so lost.

  • Morgan
    August 14, 2013 - 06:21

    Great results and hopefully will leave nice memories for the family. She is a Newfoundlander and is always welcome home!

  • shirley
    August 13, 2013 - 20:51

    shannon and family it is with much love i send to you on finding your dad's grave thanks to mr. Stoyles for helping you! god bless u all. shirley dooley

  • mildred
    August 13, 2013 - 19:17

    The caretakers at the graveyard are very good there. I am happy that you found your dad's grave.

  • Tracey O'Keefe
    August 13, 2013 - 15:24

    I was so pleased to see this article, as I have carried a "story" about Shannon Tweed's dad since my early teenage years. My family was very close to L.K., a health professional who worked at the Confederation Building with Shannon's dad in prior to his death. My recollection of the story was that Mr. Tweed worked in the mail room and would proudly speak of his "beautiful daughters" to staff at the Confederation Building as he delivered mail. It was my understanding he had the heart attack at work, and L.K., a former doctor, performed CPR on Shannon's father. L.K. told me he attended Mr. Tweed's funeral, and met the beautiful daughters he spoke of so fondly. So glad you found your father's final resting place, and L.K., said many kind words about your dad. :)

  • Elaine
    August 13, 2013 - 14:17

    I am very happy that someone came forward to provide Ms. Tweed-Simmons and her family where her dad was buried. I'm certain that many people who visit the cemetery will think not only of her father but also of the family that he had left behind. Being separated from ones biological parent leaves a void in ones heart, so now there is closure for when Ms. Tweed-Simmons and family visits again her father's grave. You never know the heartache one feels until you walk in someone else's shoes. Shannon, your dad would be very proud of you! Best of luc!k

  • Adaline Boone
    August 13, 2013 - 13:42

    It looks like God has been with you guys all your life....MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL........

  • Theresa
    August 13, 2013 - 11:34

    Very happy that you found your Dad's grave sight.. I have a hard tie going to see my dad's also...

  • dan
    August 13, 2013 - 10:07

    Well done fellow NL'rs we often forget that we ARE indeed a helpful people who help those around us when help is needed. Shannon may you and your family have the peace you seek now that you have found your father's resting place, we all know he is very proud of you and your siblings.

  • Sara
    August 13, 2013 - 09:52

    A great and heartfelt thanks to Mr Stoyles, Tara Bradbury and all of Nfld's wonderful people . You have made us very happy :)

  • Laura Barron
    August 13, 2013 - 09:17

    Lovely story. Well done!

  • Paul
    August 13, 2013 - 09:13

    Nothing worse than going to a graveyard and finding any graves not properly marked. I am glad she found her fathers resting place.

  • Gerard
    August 13, 2013 - 09:07

    So happy to hear the same Shannon, we certainly had no problem in lending a hand. Look forward to seeing you back.

  • all nfld lab proud of Mrs. Tweed-Simmons and her sister Sara
    August 13, 2013 - 09:03

    the TV program; i have seen shows the close connection of Gene, Shannon and their children and family; extended and in laws; they seem to be very grounded people; and i think the family closeness is grounded in Shannons Nfld/Lab roots; like her Dad said; "dont worry about what everyone thinks"; you can see that Gene is grounded by watching relationship with his mother; and her Jewish background; they are down to earth family despite all the trappings of so called celbrity; and fame; WE ARE PROUD OF YOU MRS. TWEED SIMMONS; thank you for remembering and being equally proud of your newfoundland roots; hopefully your son and many more of your family in mainland canada can get back HOME; your HOME to visit all of this great province; there is great skiing at Marble Mountain out on west coast; instead of whistler or colorado; drop by and visit corner brook for great winter trip; deer lake airport just 30 minutes from slopes; your Dad was man ahead of his times; as you may know; there are many mink farm operations in nfld now; several big operations; employing many local people; especially one in cox's cove just outside corner brook; and thanks Sara for visiting us too......

  • Barry
    August 13, 2013 - 08:25

    Nice story !!!!

  • Observer
    August 13, 2013 - 07:22

    Shannon, you're a class act. Your Dad would be very proud of you.

  • Beverley Rowe
    August 13, 2013 - 07:17

    So very glad for Shannon & her family.

  • Robert
    August 13, 2013 - 06:22

    Great news after all! And for the few judge mental naysayers you should be ashamed of yourselves.