I wish I’d known June Callwood better.
In the late ’90s, early ’00s, I crossed paths with the acclaimed writer and social activist when I workedÂ at TERLAÂ (The Electronic Rights Licencing Agency,Â sadly defunct). She was chair ofÂ the board.Â Every now and then she’d popÂ in on business or just because she was nearby.Â
She wasn’t like anyone else. There was somethingÂ intense about her, focused. At the same time, though, her iron was softened by a real concern and care for human beings and a great sense of wit. There I was, a self-absorbed, angst-ridden young woman who sat outside the Executive Director’s office, unhappy in a 9 to 5 life.Â
“You must be in love,” sheÂ said to me one day, after seeing someÂ new brightnessÂ in my face. IÂ was sort-of in love, more like obsessed, moreÂ like gripped by an inappropriate guy. Startled, but happy to be drawn out of myself, IÂ grinned and nodded.
Weeks later, at a board meeting, she quietly pushed theÂ agenda toward me, pointing at Pierre Berton’s last name. I’d spelled it with a U, instead of an E. I could have been shamed but I wasn’t.Â She was simply educating me, clearly and compassionately, with no note of annoyance at all.
InÂ the last yearsÂ of her life, June showed everyone who exactly she was. Gracefully, with courage, sheÂ brought death back into common currency. Rather than racing to live, struggling to find the cure, climbing aboard the chemotherapy circuit, she accepted her impending death for what it was:Â a natural end for a woman who has lived a long and very valuable life.
“I believe in kindness,” she told George Stroumboulopoulos on The Hour, when he asked her what she believes in if she doesn’t believeÂ in God. “Great consideration for one another. That’s what’s going to change the world.”Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Even though I didn’t knowÂ take the opportunity to get to know her, herÂ spirit and kindnessÂ touched my life.Â I am certainly not alone. She left a huge legacy ofÂ compassion andÂ necessary attention to the rights of the weakest.
As June herself would say, this is something to celebrate, not to mourn. Â