Serendipity is such a wonderful word. I love that it’s a big long word, implying something complex, when in fact it sounds like a series of vocal accidents. Accidents are not to be confused with serendipity, for the word always implied to me something more, as if a hidden benevolent hand was at work.
We all get to see and even meet famous people over the course of a lifetime. Surely that must be so. I feel I’ve had more than my share. I am grateful, both for the ones i saw from a few feet away, such as Leontyne Price or Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the ones with whom i got to shake hands, such as James Levine or Jon Vickers, and the ones with whom i had the privilege of conversation, such as John Ralston Saul or John Polanyi. Studying and later working at a University means we can be especially privileged, sitting in a classroom listening to a Northrop Frye or a Linda Hutcheon.
But for all those special people (including loads i forgot to mention, given that i was speaking only of chance momentary encounters in theatres or hallways), I am remembering one person right now, and our encounter for me has always epitomized serendipity.
I was at one time a kind of superintendant, which is to say, i lived in a place while finding souls to rent out space in a house my family owned. What a cool assortment of tenants we had, including some well known acting talent, aspiring rock-stars, to go with the students renting space in the same building.
My Mom suggested we also rent out the parking space. And that’s how i met Kay & Brough Macpherson.
They were the most remarkable couple i ever met. CB, or Brough (rhymes with “rough” even though he was anything but…) was one of the most important scholars at U of T, even though he was a very kind man with no trace of ego or condescension. Kay, who outlived him by over a decade, was an important feminist & peace activist, perhaps more preoccupied with action than with recognition, which might explain why i even have to tell you who she was. Kay was one of the founders of the NAC; hm….but you have to be of a particular age to know what that stands for.
It’s so funny, but just now –researching with the help of my old friend google– i discovered that after all these years, i never realized that CB and i went to the same school. Ha. We’re both UTS alumni, or– as we would have said it before the place went co-ed in the 70s– “Old Boys”.
Kay was always very patient with me, as was CB (…sorry, Kay and everyone else called him “Brough” but i was too awestruck, and called him “Dr Macpherson”). I had such a big mouth, a lot like the character Mime in Act 1 of Siegfried. On that occasion the god Wotan shows up, and engages in a friendly game of riddles back and forth. Mime had the opportunity to ask questions that would be useful, but instead was too busy showing off what he knew. An egomaniac… not unlike moi. There i was in the presence of some key Toronto intellectuals (their parties included people like Herbert Whittaker and Danny Grossman), but did i ask them stuff? naw, i was too busy telling them stuff.
They were very patient with me.
On International Women’s Day, it seems apt to be remembering them, particularly Kay, who was always so kind. She made me tea. She actually listened to me, which wasn’t easy given that i am a big mouth. I was thrilled to see that she got her memoir done, even as her sight was failing. The title captures her spirit and the activism of her era: When in doubt, do both: the times of my life. I am recalling another picture of her with a big smile in the book.
I miss her.