Flora Leslie, Brookside’s Dietician and Food Director

With the Thanksgiving holiday almost upon us, it is time to begin planning and preparing one of the essential parts of any celebration: food. It seems timely, then, to highlight Flora Leslie, Brookside’s long-serving dietician and food director. I would like to introduce her to you in her own voice, recalling a memory of some precarious pumpkin pies:

Floral Leslie interview with Mark Coir, Archivist (OH1990.09.28), November 5, 1987.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Hearing this story in Flora’s voice brings the memory to life in a different way than simply reading it in written form. Cranbrook Archives’ Oral History Collection holds recordings of many voices that add dynamism and richness to their stories. Flora Leslie’s interview describes her life at Cranbrook and her experience of its people and places in the mid-twentieth century.

Flora Leslie (second from left) with cooking staff at Brookside School. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Born Flora MacFarlane in Alexandria, Scotland, in 1906, she made her way to the United States alone in December 1930. Journeying by ship on a very stormy sea, the passengers were required to stay below deck where they got to know each other more than they would have had they been able to wander on deck. Having worked in a photographer’s office in Scotland, Flora initially sought the same occupation in America.

But a fellow passenger Flora met aboard the ship told her that if she had no luck finding work, to contact her for employment. It is thus that Flora began to work for the Ward family in Pontiac, a family whose children were students at Cranbrook.

In 1932, Flora started working at Cranbrook, initially at Kingswood School. Flora married George Leslie in 1934, a landscaper and gardener, and later a superintendent of buildings at Cranbrook.

After several invitations from Jessie Winter, Headmistress of Brookside School, Flora became the dietician and food director at Brookside School, a position she held from 1934-1975. The position came with an apartment, and though at first Flora preferred to stay at Kingswood, which she describes as “light and bright and lovely,” Winter asked Flora and George back to Brookside one further time and had arranged the apartment beautifully. Most importantly, there was a brand-new Frigidaire refrigerator, a novelty in those days. As Flora recalled, seeing this small luxury she told the headmistress, “We’ll come!” The apartment was in the part of Brookside known as the ‘Ram’s House’ and had previously been occupied by Jessie Winter and by J. Robert F. Swanson.

View of the front of George and Flora Leslie’s apartment, known as the Ram’s House, circa 1935-1938. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

During the war years, when food was in short supply, George and Flora Leslie kept Brookside stocked with vegetables—he grew them and she canned them.

After feeding generations of students, Flora published many of her favorite and original recipes in the Brookside cookbook, Favorite Recipes, which are still enjoyed by alumni far and wide. Perhaps you might like to try one of Flora’s original recipes this Thanksgiving, or a dessert recipe from one of the faculty families?

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

10 thoughts on “Flora Leslie, Brookside’s Dietician and Food Director

  1. I read with interest today’s post about Flora Leslie.I would love to try her recipes.  Are you selling copies of the cookbook you picture? Or where can I find other recipes of hers?SusanSent from my Galaxy Tab® S2

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would be happy to email scans of Mrs. Leslie’s recipes from the Brookside cookbook to anyone who is interested! Please email me at LChaseW@aol.com. Lucy Chase Williams (Brookside ’67, Kingswood ’73)


  3. So heartwarming to read this! Thank you! I remember lunchtime at Brookside so fondly — not just the healthy food, served family style at each table, but afterwards, Mr. Smart taking out his guitar, and we would sing… the perfect combination — all that with a backdrop painted by students — somehow I remember it as being folk heroes of America — but I could be confusing it with all the songs, many of which come from the Fireside Book of Folksongs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I knew the Leslie family during the period 1947-1954. Their son John Leslie was in my class at Brookside. I last saw him at the Brookside 75th anniversary party around 2006.
    Mrs. Leslie was very well connected with the mothers of Brookside Students and was known for her birthday parties for students during afternoon breaks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a joy to find this in my email! I have fond memories of delicious meals in that magic Brookside dining room. “Favorite Recipes” stands proudly on my cookbook shelf – I’ll never let it go. I highly recommend Ms. Leslie’s recipe for Chocolate Dreams. Wish I could still eat them….

    Thanks so much for this happy post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for the history of Mrs. Leslie. My husband loved her kid-friendly meals and talks about the smells drifting through the halls leading up to lunchtime. Im glad to know she was married, so many teachers and working women were not. To know they had such a lovely apt.is nice.

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone Get Outlook for Android


    Liked by 1 person

  7. If memory serves me right, after Thanksgiving lunch Mrs. Leslie would come out and we all would applaud her, and we meant it. Happy Thanksgiving to all, and let us raise a glass to the immortal Mrs. Leslie.

    Liked by 1 person

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