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 worked at TERLA (The Electronic Rights Licencing Agency, sadly defunct). She was chair of the board. Every now and then she’d pop in on business or just because she was nearby.
She wasn’t like anyone else. There was something 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.
“You must be in love,” she said to me one day, after seeing some new brightness in my face. I was sort-of in love, more like obsessed, more like gripped by an inappropriate guy. Startled, but happy to be drawn out of myself, I grinned and nodded.
Weeks later, at a board meeting, she quietly pushed the 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. She was simply educating me, clearly and compassionately, with no note of annoyance at all.
In the last years of her life, June showed everyone who exactly she was. Gracefully, with courage, she 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: 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 believe in God. “Great consideration for one another. That’s what’s going to change the world.”
Even though I didn’t know to take the opportunity to get to know her, her spirit and kindness touched my life. I am certainly not alone. She left a huge legacy of compassion and necessary attention to the rights of the weakest.
As June herself would say, this is something to celebrate, not to mourn.