A Tribute to my Ex-Husband on his 70th Birthday

February 28, 2015

Since two of my successors, Murray’s second and third wives, will be present at the dinner in his honour, I thought I should make an appearance tonight, if only in words, to wish him Many Happy Returns on this very important milestone, his 70th year.

Many thanks, Steffi, for including me. But you have always been a most inclusive daughter. Perhaps you take after your father in this regard.

Last summer Laila and Chloe and I were swimming off the big rock on our island at Charleston Lake and, for some reason, the subject of Pops, their name for Murray, came up. I had never discussed their grandfather with them before and they were obviously quite fond of him. It was Laila who asked the questions while Chloe listened.

“Nana, do you like Pops?” she asked out of the blue.  ‘Why yes, Laila, I do,” I answered. “Of course.”

“Do you like him better than Edgar?” came the next question. There was a pause as I sought to gather my thoughts.

“Well no, Laila. Edgar’s my husband now. But Pops used to be my husband and I used to like him quite a bit.”

“I know,” said Laila. “Why isn’t he still your husband?”

Completely flummoxed this time, I mumbled something about Pops and me being able to be friends but not being a good husband-and-wife team.

“Then why did you marry him in the first place?” asked my persistent granddaughter, blissfully unaware of her grandparents’ 1966 shotgun wedding almost a half-century ago.

Fortunately I was able at this point to divert the conversation into other rather more fascinating subjects, such as the possibility of a snake-sighting nearby.

But looking back on the conversation I found it fairly endearing that Laila and Chloe too, I suppose, were bent on getting their two grandparents back together. I am very grateful that, despite the unlikelihood of this, they continue to love us both.

So Happy 70th, Murray, and you should be proud of all of your wonderful family gathered around you to pay you tributes tonight. They are very well-deserved.

Speeches for Home Before Dark

Introduction to Toronto launch-party speech on May 1st, 2014

Thank you to my daughter Stephanie for her kind introductory remarks. Because I had Steffi at such an early age and she possessed from childhood a wisdom and maturity beyond her years, I was never quite sure who was bringing up whom. Her sunny nature and her enthusiasm, as well as the clarity of her vision, have greatly enriched my life.

I would also like to thank my husband Edgar for being here today. If you have had the chance to greet Edgar, you might notice that he looks as if he has just been in a prize fight. Or perhaps that I have beaten him up. I can assure you that neither is the case. An emergency root canal he underwent last Friday in Sarasota caused a severe allergic reaction. I am very gratified for his presence despite his disfigurement and pain.

I must admit at the outset that I was initially reluctant to foist my rather inane and frivolous daily recordings on my friends and family, the chosen readers for these diaries. When one reaches the fairly exalted age of 67, there exist many reasons why one’s ruminations should not see the light of day, much less be inflicted upon an unsuspecting public. Nevertheless I have chosen to go ahead, consequences be damned, and I am very grateful to you all for being here today to help me celebrate. One of the unalloyed pleasures of publishing this book is the chance to see many of my old Toronto friends. Although I would not change my quiet rural life in the small town of Brockville for anything, I still sometimes miss the history and camaraderie I had with people here and I am happy to get a chance to relive some of those moments this evening. Continue reading

Gossip goes public

National Post   Saturday, April 1, 2000

In his rather delightful 1996 memoir, The Imaginary Girlfriend,  John Irving recounts an incident where author Gail Godwin is compelled to ward off the advances of a fellow writer. in a school parking lot. Please leave me alone, Ms. Godwin says to the offender, or I shall be forced to wound you with a weapon you can ill afford to be wounded by in a town this small. And what might that weapon be? asked the man. Gossip, Ms. Godwin replied.

Until fairly recently, gossip was by definition what wasn’t printed in newspapers or seen on television. Figuratively speaking, it was a mis­chievous chatting with one’s neigh­bour over a back fence at the expense of a mutual acquaintance. It was a unifying or communitarian activity that actually drew people together, albeit at the expense of the subject in question. It was also a private activity which, as a result. did not necessarily have to be true, although, to be paid attention to, it had to possess the ring of truth. To­day’s gossip -as this writer well knows- has gone public. Not only that, it appears to be everywhere.

One of the problems with public gossip is that it must cast an ever-wider net. To be purveyed in large amounts to a wide segment of the public, and thus be commercially viable, it must be about very well-known people -which means it deals with actors, politicians, television personalities and rock stars.

There  is a certain repertory of celebrities that is trotted out again and again because of their identifi­able names.  But  gossip about celebrities can be boring – their lifestyles  manufactured for the very purpose of selling movies or getting votes. As gossip has turned into a commodity,  it  has  also turned into hype. It doesn’t neces­sarily deal with people’s minor or major sins or their crossing the line of acceptable behaviour, but in­stead involves gaping at their lifestyle, their possessions, their four houses and expensive cars.  Continue reading

Hospital tales to scare patients into recovery

The National Post  Saturday, March 11, 2000

Why don’t you write about something important? queried a woman I was interviewing last week, clearly about a subject she considered trivial. She then proceeded to regale me with some hospital horrors that had been inflicted on a member of her family. Her anger brought to mind two incidents of which I had personal knowledge.

Incident No. 1: In October of l996 I went into a Toron­to hospital for a hysterectomy, a relatively routine opera­tion necessitated by a rapidly growing uterine fibroid. When my gynaecologist, who had hitherto failed to mention  the fibroid’s presence, said it was probably can­cerous and the surgery required would cut me from ster­num to belly button, I sought a second opinion with a family friend,who happened to be a highly respected gy- naecologist. After consultations with him and an excel­lent urologist, I  was referred to a top-notch surgeon. Ex­cept for excessive bleeding, the surgery generally went as planned, but the treatment received in the hospital was, to put it mildly, abysmal. Being wheeled out of intensive care, my mouth filled with saliva and I started to choke rather violently. My obvious distress was ignored by the nurses. That first night, not able to sit up, I vomited sev­eral times. I rang repeatedly for the nurse and, although a nurse answered an hour later, no one came until the next morning to change the sheets. Though my doctor had prescribed a nightly sleeping tablet, the nursing staff who came on the night shift repeatedly refused to comply. The first time I got out of bed, a nurse (or nurse’s aid-  I am using these two terms interchangeably since so many nurse’s aids or generics were filling in for nurs­es) threw a pillow at my stitched abdomen and told me to make the bed. Every evening at 11 when my husband and son left to go home, perhaps paranoid due to the pain and anaesthesia, not to mention the truculence of the nursing staff, I wondered whether I would survive the night. Although scheduled to be in the hospital for a week, I left after four days, more dead than alive.

Incident No. 2: In February, 1999, a newcomer to Ot­tawa, I went skating on the Rideau Canal from Dow’s Lake to the Westin Hotel and back, a distance of about seven kilometres each way. On the return trip, when rounding the last corner to Dow’s Lake, my skate hit a deep pocket in the ice and I fell. Continue reading

Manners mean more than money

National Post  Saturday, February 19, 2000

OId society paid lip service to the adage that money didn’t count. It also steered clear of the press. The inveterate rule for a lady was that she was only to be mentioned in the newspapers three times in her life: when she was born, when she married and when she died. The whole premise was based on not appearing in newspapers and not inviting the press to your party. The wealthy didn’t want to encourage publicity for fear of inviting invasive eyes. Obviously that went out the window in the late 1960s and early ’70s when there was an influx of new blood, new money and new interests, and materialism replaced snobbishness.

The wealth and showiness of nouveau society reached its apex in the 1980s with the glitter girls, wives of wealthy men who wanted to do good works- which is an old pattern- but who also enjoyed cafe society’s glitter aspects. Of the socialites, half wanted to raise money and half craved attention. They seemed like renegades at the time, but they were still part of longstanding tradition in their emulation of its practices. They were ex­emplified by Catherine Nugent, who played the game so assiduously that she captured the fancy of the press. She enjoyed the attention and co-operated fully.

Around this time the nouveau riche wives of wealthy men were also making a mark on U.S. society. These were not women the rest of us might want to know. They did things like demanding first-class seats on an airplane for their pets, fawning over and flattering pow­erful people, putting on social events rife with pomps and vanities. They were characterized by Tom Wolfe as social X-rays in his 1987 best-seller Bonfire othe Vani­ties. But they had street smarts and a kind of brittle energy that attracted a certain crowd and drew attention to their causes.

We are living now in what is a pluralistic, multi-ethnic world where business is all. There are no definitions as to what constitutes society any more. There are more focuses, more events and they former a wider and wider net. There is no divine right to run things. The more recent society leaders-  i.e. the glitter girls and their like- are disappearing, but the new guard-  i.e. the very young, very rich, high-tech entrepreneurs- is not necessarily looking to them for guidance. Whereas the glitter girls learned their lessons very carefully from their predecessors, indeed copied and imitated them until their habits became almost caricaturish in scope and dimension, this new group is paving its own way, setting its own standards.  Continue reading

Everyone participates at Spruce Meadows

The Globe and Mail   Saturday, September 17, 1989.

Thirteen years ago, millionaire Ronald Southern, deputy chairman of ATCO Ltd., and his wife Marg, dreamed of creating the Wimbledon of show jumping in Calgary. As with most dreams, it seemed impossible. The sport was virtually unheard of in Calgary. The venue was impractical and the cost enormous.

That didn’t daunt the Southerns. Today they own and are caretakers of Spruce Meadows, an international show jumping centre in the foothills of the Rockies.

Lat Saturday, A. Roy Megarry, publisher of The Globe and Mail, and his wife Barbara were hosts with the Southerns at a dinner attended by several notable Canadians. It was a glittering affair, but at Mr. Southern’s request, the guest list won’t be published.

Mr. Southern obviously does not place reading social columns high on his list of priorities. “Suzanne,” he said to me, “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t single out any of my guests for publication. They’re all important.”

So if you want to know whether former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed and his wife Jeanne, Sir Ronald Trotter, head of New Zealand’s Fletcher Challenge, or Bank of Montreal chairman William Mulholland mingled with such eminent riders as Canada’s Ian Millar, three-time European champion Paul Schockemohle or former Olympic champion from Great Britain David Broome, you won’t find it here. Continue reading

Brazilian Ball Contrasts with Students’ Formal

The Globe and Mail Tuesday, February 9, 1988

The swing to conservatism in the 1980s often makes it difficult to distinguish between adults trying to escape middle-aged ennui and their straight-arrow offspring. A case in point occurred last Saturday night when Trinity College students held a formal dance at the same time as their parents were whooping it up at the Brazilian Ball.

It was the 105th annual Conversazione held by the students. It began as a social evening to gather and talk and has evolved into a very formal ball.  In celebration of this year’s theme  “Babylon Revisited, An Evening in the Jazz Age,”  the students staged a week of events culminating in the ball, including the showing of a 1920s gangster movie, waltzing and Charleston lessons, a debate on “Heaven Knows, Anything Goes,” and a prose reading titled Martinis and Modernism.

About 600 college students and their dates attended the ball, some of them, such as Malcolm MacLaren, son of publisher Roy and his wife Lee. holding dinner parties before the main event. The convenors of the evening were Michael Szonyi in his third year of Chinese studies, and Francine McKenzie, a history specialist. The guest of honor, singer Maureen Forrester, was entertained beforehand by Robert Painter, provost of the college,

The ball on Saturday night, which was a black-tie affair, took place in five or six rooms decorated to different themes. The students could take their pick of, say, waltzing in an art deco ballroom or dancing cheek-to-cheek in a hall fixed up to resemble the New York Stock Exchange.

Their adult counterparts, meanwhile, had no such choices. Packed like sardines into the barn better known as the Metro Toronto Convention­ Centre, there was little opportunity for conversacao, at least once the raucous music began. All one could do was get up and  dance or gawk at the endless parade of young  men and women either decked out in outlandish costumes or wearing almost nothing at all. Continue reading

Down and Out in Paris

cartoon Down and Out


The City of Lights went dim for visiting society columnist

The GIobe and Mail December 11, 1991

As two important Canadians standing in the lobby of a Paris hotel discussed an embassy function, the red-faced society columnist for Canada’s National Newspaper, who was sitting nearby and also staying at the hotel, sank down in her seat. She had not attended any embassy function, nor even been able to see the Paris ballet as planned because of an unfortunate mishap.

It was an inauspicious beginning to a long-awaited holiday in France. Little did she know that things were about to get worse. But I’ll begin at the beginning.


The first of three days holed up in a hotel room the size of a large cupboard while husband was at business meetings from morning to night. At 7 a.m. husband takes shower, but afterward it won’t turn off. Trying to fix it, husband soaks and ruins party dress hanging in the bathroom brought to wear to the ballet while husband attended enbassy dinner. Call and cancel. Spend evening sprawled on bed in large cupboard watching Bewitched re-runs dubbed in French. Order dinner from rooom service plus two manhattans specifying they be made with Canadian rye. Drinks arrive full of bourbon. Choke them down to accompaniment of leaky shower. Throw pillow at husband when he arrives after having hobnobbed with the Mulroneys et al. until midnight. Continue reading

Christmas time in modern Splitsville

xmas wreath

Christmas dialogue 1990

The Globe and Mail  December 21, 1990

Stepson #1: Uh, Rosemary, I’m not too happy about these two-family Christmases. I never expected not to be able to spend the holidays with my own relatives. It’s confusing to have to deal with all these strangers and people I don’t really care about.

Daughter: Mum, you’re not going to get angry, are you, if I go to Dad’s for Christmas dinner? He doesn’t really get to see enough of his own kids, and you’ve got your husband and his family to keep you company.

Son: Who’s going to be with us for opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning? Just me, you, my stepfather, sister and stepsister, I hope. It’s our Christmas, Mum. I don’t want to have to share it with a whole lot of people we don’t know.

Sister: Why don’t you all drop over on Christmas Eve? We’re going to have Mother here and my husband’s children from his first marriage and your ex-husband’s brother and sister-in-law and their children. Your children should really see their cousins more often, you know. Why don’t you bring along your stepchildren – what are their names again? Sorry we can’t make your Christmas party. “We’ve booked a trip to Barbados then – not on purpose, of course. Continue reading

Day in the Life

A social columnist’s lot is not a happy one

The Globe and Mail Saturday, December 2, 1989

Some people may labour under the misapprehension that a social columnist’s normal routine consists of the following:

9:00 a.m. Breakfast in bed while opening morning mail.

9:30. Dictation of correspondence to secretary while glancing over appointments for the day.

10:00. Hair appointment.

11:00. Manicure and massage.

Noon. Lunch at Fenton’s followed by a fashion show at the Gardiner Museum.

3:30 p.m. Aerobics and dancersize classes.

4:30. Gown fitting at Holt Renfew.

6:30 to 8:30. Dropping in to various chi-chi cocktail parties around town.

9:00. A late dinner and drinks with (a) the Mulroneys, (b) the Petersons, (c) Princess Diana when she is in town.

Midnight. Final round of late-night parties until Continue reading