A really lovely & tiny photograph of Jean McKay in 2001, taken by Emilie Sipos, & courtesy of dmpibooks.com
Profound thanks to all involved with the third James Reaney Memorial Lecture on Sunday afternoon at the Stratford Public Library.
It was tremendous to hear Jean McKay share so many insights & memories from her career working & creating with dad. As I said in a response, The Donnellys: An Ontario Vendetta, dad’s masterwork of historical research about the Donnellys would not have been completed without Jean’s patient & loving support of the manuscript as dad’s health was becoming frailer. It turns out — & I only learned this on Sunday — Jean also heroically helped shape & form the index, a mammoth task in itself. (She compared herself feeling at times like Frodo, carrying his small sword, on an apparently endless quest over the years).
QMI Agency colleague Laura Cudworth of the Stratford Beacon Herald reported on the lecture with class & style. My thanks also to the Beacon Herald for its continuing interest in dad’s work.
Here is some of what Laura wrote:
An imaginary table cloth was the backdrop of Sunday’s James Reaney Memorial Lecture.
It took imagination to see the images drawn by Jean McKay pinned to the cloth. It was an appropriate way to pay homage to Reaney’s own imaginative powers and acknowledge the time in which he grew up and how that shaped him. He used to call floppy disks “stencils,” McKay recalled. When she was asked if she needed PowerPoint equipment for her talk she knew that would be the wrong thing to do.
McKay had a 40-year association with Reaney. She met him while she was a student in the mid-1960s and worked as his research assistant.
Laura’s account also mentioned a hilarious memory shared by John A. Cull of St. Marys, a former student of dad’s. Early in dad’s career at Western, he would bring an alarm clock to the classroom. Among the stories associated with the clock is that when the alarm went off, that was it & dad was outta there (is that true? does anyone remember?) . . . here is John’s poem about the moment when dad didn’t show much patience & the alarm never had the chance to sound.
John kindly agreed to share the anecdote as poem. Dad’s quotation in the poem is v. characteristic & was greeted with great laughter when John repeated it on Sunday. When we were chatting, John also said he’d been on the bus home to St. Marys from London when mom & dad were seated somewhere nearby. As the bus went by Prospect Hill, dad shared details with mom of a gory murder there . . . & John, who was able to listen, knew all about it from growing up in the area.
The annual lecture is a project developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford, and features a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James “Jamie’ Reaney (1926-2008) and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.
Next year, the lecture will be given by David Ferry, actor/director/teacher & frequent collaborator with dad.