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.”