Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Women in my Life

In some respects - and without exaggerating the matter - I  grew up and lived in a predominantly male environment. I went to an all-boys boarding school at St. Andrew's College; I prolonged those prep school coalitions into undergraduate studies at Glendon Hall where I lived in an all-male residence; I studied law at Dalhousie University where the majority of my classmates were male and I lived in the all-male Domus Legis law fraternity; while attending Osgoode Hall for the Bar Admission I was a Don at Devonshire House, an all-male residence of the University of Toronto; I practiced law first at Macdonald, Affleck and then at Galligan & Sheffield where all the lawyers were men; I belonged to the predominantly male Lanark County Bar Association; my primary social venue throughout my 40 year career in Almonte was the Mississippi Golf Club which consisted initially at least of mostly men; I belonged to the exclusively male Masonic Lodge; I was on the Board of Directors of the all-male Mississippi River Power Corporation; and my closest friends have all been male.

Now however my professional associations are all with women - lawyer, accountant, publisher and (for a while) physician.

When one is inclined as I am to reflect upon the past - for reasons which are not entirely clear to me whether purely for recollection or for confirmation, substantiation or justification - the motive whatever it is dwindles in significance if there is any hint of ulterior gain.  The frozen truth is that my existence however it may be rendered or characterized is in the end but a grain of sand upon the planet.  I was reminded of this dreadful fact upon reading of the untimely death of Harry Morton who, if you don't happen to know anything about him, died at 38 years of age and had lately purchased the former Beverly Hills estate of Elvis Presley for $25 million. I can't help but think that all that celebrity and all that money was for naught.  On the other hand it is a well known adage that if you want a good funeral, die young.  The point is, either way there is no easy answer.

It occurred to me while regarding the ceiling above my bed at one o'clock this morning that there is far greater utility in noting some brief detail about the women in my life.  Obviously contaminated as I am by a perversion of nature and a history of male dominance, the singularity of women is of moderate social and civic interest if nothing else.  Naturally I hesitate to record my associations with women in any particular order because of my fear of intoning any priority of importance.  Quite frankly the only thing in my mind which separates the women in my life is the temporal boundary, by which I mean the secular and profane though not so much the corporeal.

Heather Gunn

Having said that I feel duty bound to mention at the outset my friend Heather Gunn to whom I was once engaged to be married. Though we hardly had a torrid affair, the expansion and evaporation of our marital alliance was extraordinarily precipitous at both ends.  We had been dear friends throughout the entirety of our law school attendance together, frequently socializing with one another, taking Saturday morning drives to the Atlantic Ocean together, getting to know one another's family and relatives and finally getting drunk enough one evening over dinner at Henry House in Halifax to propose that marriage was the next logical step.  Sobering up from that inadvertency was propelled the following morning by a fellow classmate Joe Weir who announced in what I thought at the time was a less than sporting gambit and an oddly aggressive tone, "I wanted to marry her!"  And indeed he eventually did, which is a good thing all round and I have every reason to believe they've had a very happy life together as a result. My subsequent visits with Heather have been infrequent but we've never lost that heartfelt initial affection for one another.

Rosalind Morgan

Though I won't suggest my experience with Heather cured me completely of my dalliance with women I cultivated for a short time during Articles at Macdonald, Affleck a camaraderie with Rosalind Morgan who was a stenographer at the law firm. She like Heather combined two features which I found especially beguiling - she was prepossessing and kind. Our intimacy - apart from culinary adventures at her apartment (with her father who had just been released from prison) and one New Year's Eve - never extended beyond having spent several occasions dining and dancing at the former Château Laurier dining lounge where Moxie Whitney and his band performed.

Moxie was music director for Canadian Pacific hotels from 1962-1971 and brought big acts such as Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie to audiences in Canada. After retiring from the Imperial Room in 1971, Moxie and his family moved to Grand Cayman Island where he was as a hotelier. He returned to Canada as bandleader at the Chateau Laurier, Ottawa, from 1976-1986.

Evelyn Wheeler

Evelyn is now my lawyer.  She has been since I retired in the Spring of 2014. I first met her when she was introduced at the Lanark Country Bar Association dinner at Bass Lake Lodge near Perth, Ontario upon the commencement of the Fall Assizes of the visiting County Court Judge.  She was notably the first female lawyer to join the Bar in the Country of Lanark. Coincidentally Evelyn later joined Galligan & Sheffield where I had begun my own professional career in Almonte and after I had left to start my own practice.  Evelyn later started her own private practice.  Evelyn has proven herself to be both skilful and endurable.  She has now graduated to the doubtful distinction of being the old fogey lawyer in Almonte. It is a measurable prejudice of mine that Evelyn purchased my law practice when I retired. She was not the only candidate for the purchase of my practice but obviously the preferred choice.

Angela Giles and Janice Blackburn

I mention these ladies in unison because they are sisters and they are both legal assistants, both in the office of Evelyn Wheeler. Angela and Janice have been with Evelyn for as long as I can remember. They are renowned pillars of the community. Like my own former clients, they arose to primary significance in my life because I dealt with them on a regular basis.  Angela operated primarily in real estate services; Janice confined her duties to estate administration.  Both those areas of law were similarly salient elements of my own practice.  After I retired and following the death of my parents, Angela and Janice were strategic allies in settlement of my personal and succeeding professional affairs. Through their longevity in the legal profession they too have acquired the same celebrity as Evelyn, including their indisputable capacity for talent and performance.

Patti Flesher and Suzie Campeau

When I began studying Philosophy in 1967 my mother took me to Flesher Furs on Cooper Street in Ottawa to buy a racoon coat.  I met Mr. and Mrs. Flesher and their daughters, Patricia and Suzanne. Although not immediately Patti and I subsequently "went out" together on several occasions.  I also later acted professionally for her and her husband Horace Cohen. Though I acted as lawyer for Suzie and her husband Jacques Campeau (son of Robert Campeau, developer), my relationship with Suzie has always been that of a friend only - that is, without the social context. I have to say that I adored Patti's and Suzie's parents.  They were the kindest and most entertaining people. I later developed a friendship with Patti's second husband Moishe Smith (son of Nate Smith and nephew of Dave Smith).   To this day I maintain a meaningful relationship with both girls and consider them childhood sweethearts!

Terry Martens

Terry - though I think I do her no disfavour to suggest she was partially inclined to me romantically - was more importantly for us both a fun-loving person who enjoyed the good but simple things in life. Much of our memorable moments were spent digging clams on the Nova Scotia seashore and then steaming them, drinking beer and laughing.  She was an exceptionally talented cook, unforgettable for having made black bread in an empty bean can.  She also had the distinction of being Canada's first female oceanographer.  She accordingly spent much of her time in Florida during which I had the advantage of seconding her apartment in Sandy Hill, Ottawa (along with her two Siamese cats for whom I was the intermittent guardian).

Helena Olynyk

We met at undergraduate university when I was 18 years old. Helena was foremost a voluptuous woman.  I have forever been attracted to the full-figured woman.  The cosmetic appeal of Twiggy is completely lost on me. I marvelled at the porcelain features of Helena's face. She epitomized the struggle which attends people of her stout figure but for me she captured the allure of self-indulgence and sensuality. I never reckoned her appearance as other than beautiful.  She was always very well-groomed and turned out. At times she was lascivious but that too was endurable. I needed all the help I could get!

Christa Bingley

When I first came to Almonte Johnson Cross Yanosik was the name of the accounting firm which dominated the local landscape.  Fortunately for me I handed off all matters relating to Canada Revenue Agency to that firm at the outset of my professional career.  Somewhere along the line the firm transformed to Nephin Winter Bingley.  Initially David Nephin handled my account but later it was turned over to Christa Bingley who continues to be my advisor.  She began her association with my office very quietly as a pure administrator, an unassuming collector of data.  She has since translated her accreditation to that of a reliable and informative confidant on whom (with her assistant Hali Crain) I greatly rely.

Edith Cody-Rice

I count it a distinction to have worked for Edith as she was senior counsel to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  Though I am certain she would deny it, she was largely instrumental in starting the Millstone News, Almonte and area's first and only electronic newspaper.  Not long after the publication began Edith invited me to join the ranks of contributing columnists. This I did for about seven years. I shall always be indebted to her for the opportunity.  My limited acquaintance with Edith also introduced me to her enviable talent for cooperation and fluidity which undoubtedly grew from her time at the Sorbonne in Paris and as a leading Canadian lawyer.

Karen Hirst

Karen is someone whom I first met unintentionally at a seminar I gave at the Almonte General Hospital where she was I believe at the time a practicing nurse (though she was most recently head of nursing operations at Fairview Manor prior to her retirement). She is the senior child of John Hawley Kerry who was unquestionably my most valued client throughout my practice. It is this connection from which our subsequent familiarity grew. While neither of our careers collided, what proved later to be of especial attachment was my continuing relationship with her father and our mutual interest in writing. I confess that of the two of us, Karen is the only one who is a published author but to her credit this paramountcy has not diminished her kindly observations of my own literary instalments. Karen is among those woman whose society I now prefer who carry the banner of a prior generation. John is now 90 years of age and of necessity my involvement and association with him is restricted. For this reason alone I have a high opinion of my continuing acquaintance with Karen. She also credits the worthiness of those who have trod before us. It is this genealogical feature which similarly strengthens our friendship.  We are ships in the night but seemingly on the same path.

Fiona St. Clair

Whether it is rose petals on toast in a Rosedale flat; socializing with mutual friends at law school; judging a debate at Devonshire House; dining at By Ward Market; lunching at the golf club; or emailing one another from India or Longboat Key my confederacy with Fiona has always been marked by memorable events, initiated by her introduction to me of pink Egyptian gold.  She is a markedly strong woman who nonetheless has an engaging and gentle disposition. Everything about Fiona is exotic and out of the ordinary.  She can be counted on to rise effortlessly to any social situation including those which occasionally become awkward (as reportedly it once did when she was approached by an uninvited guest at a Bloor Street bistro). Fiona warrants the highest compliment of femininity, having all the sophistication without any of the monotony.

Joanne Trudeau

As with most women in my life, Joanne is married. It is therefore not unexpected that the frequency of my relationship with her is thereby limited. Though it has been years since we have communicated it would constitute a shortcoming to omit to include Joanne as one of the women in my life.  When we attended Glendon Hall together I had the distinction of watching the moon landing from her penthouse apartment on St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto. Her father Clarence was then the President of the company which owned Holt Renfrew whence Joanne regularly acquired stunning possessions. I recall having had lunch with her on her penthouse patio, it was the first time I had seen a French press coffee maker. She was particularly fond of milkshakes as well as I recall.

Cindy Edmonds

I first ran into Cindy when she worked as Paul Courtice's primary legal assistant.  I recognized in an instant her infectious humour. Much of her comedy is shielded in dryness so it is necessary to remain alert in order to capture the full thrust of her amusement.  Cindy now works with Al Jones (another lawyer) who is equally bent on satire.  As a result of her legal career Cindy and I crossed paths often. We're now limited to electronic encounters on Facebook.

Linda Chapman

This may seem an odd addition to my list of the women in my life as Linda is my sister. I account her as critical to my female ententes as that of our mother. The blood relationship obviously runs deep but its appeal is not only vital but also willing.  We were separated early in life when she took up schooling in Europe and I in Canada.  Luckily for us and our entire family we were all reunited by chance late in life and then had the benefit of regaining that which was lost. Following the death of our mother last year, I appear to have adopted my sister as the crucible for my endless and predominantly meaningless codswallop.

Charlotte Smith

Charlotte is a friend of the family.  Though I have had no direct relationship with her she continues to be someone to whom I am connected.  Following what for her seems to have been a rough start in life she has accelerated to a level of competence and what I perceive to be impending celebrity.  She has cleverly translated her initial adversities into the material of her personal and community improvement.

Yvonne Chapman

My mother will forever remain the favourite of the women in my life.  She drove me crazy on more than one occasion but I never doubted for a minute, whatever the circumstances, whatever the realities or the tolerable human prejudices and misfires, that she cared about me.  After that, what else matters?  It is a licence to love!

M. M. Yvonne Chapman, dec'd October 28, 2018

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