A former polyglot florist described by her daughter as “captivatingly eccentric” will celebrate a milestone tomorrow (June 14).
Coola Velis will become Queensland’s newest centenarian when she turns 100 at the Carinity Wishart Gardens aged care community in Brisbane.
She was born Kuria Coola Flaskas on the small Greek island of Kythira, to her parents Chrisoula and Nicholas Flaskas, on June 14, 1922. Two years later, political unrest in Greece saw Coola and her mother board a ship towards Australia. When they arrived, they reunited with Nicholas, who had previously emigrated to Australia and bought two cafes in the small rural Queensland towns of Toogoolawah and Esk.
As a youngster, Coola loved books – reading every evening by torchlight under his bed covers. She amassed a large collection of fashion magazines from her father, and from an early age showed a talent for styling.
Coola was a talented singer and pianist who regularly performed for town hall audiences and passed her piano exams. She did this while working diligently at the Rosary Café in Toogoolawah, owned by her parents.
She was sent to Brisbane to attend Sommerville House in high school and studied Greek privately. After later returning to Toogoolawah, she took over bookkeeping duties for the family business and worked for the local Country Women’s Association, of which she later served as president.
After her father’s death, Coola opened her own florist business in Brisbane. Given her natural flair for color and design in fashion and fabrics, her flower shop was a successful business.
Coola met the love of her life, Basili Koutsouvelis, and the couple married in 1958.
Her taste for fashion came through when she custom-made her gorgeous pale pink wedding dress.
After the birth of her daughter Avra in 1964, Coola worked in the butcher’s shop at the Coles supermarket in Queen Street, where she befriended the ladies who ran the box office at nearby Her Majesty’s Theatre.
“Mom was getting lots of free tickets to an endless number of great shows. She stayed up very late, making seating lists for friends and acquaintances who normally couldn’t afford to go. We were always exquisitely dressed, and no one ever guessed that she was doing all this on a shoestring budget,” says her daughter, Avra.
Coola then taught Modern Greek at an international language school and, in her 60s, enrolled at Griffith University to learn Japanese.
In the early 1970s, she flew to Greece, after six decades away from her homeland.
Coola remained an avid gardener into her 90s, voraciously following issues of political and social justice, and prided herself as an unofficial historian on Brisbane’s Greeks. These days, she enjoys sharing pearls of wisdom in the videos she makes with her daughter, which have around 18,000 views on Facebook.
“The videos are about living, spreading love, and accepting and accepting ourselves as we are,” says Avra.
“Every time I ask my mom what she thinks is the reason she turned 100, she says, ‘Because I love you Avra and you love me. If I didn’t have you, I wouldn’t live a day”.