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Margaret Norquay, 1920 – 2014

Margaret came to my Ryerson class over 10 years ago, when she was in her early 80’s. I’d never met anyone like her – a minister’s widow, still closely involved with the workings of the United Church, she was as open, brave, unconventional, funny and honest as anyone I’d ever taught. I adored her immediately and was thrilled when she took my class again and then joined my home class.

Eventually I had to lay down the law. At 85, she was so busy with her weekly activities – which included volunteering for Out in the Cold, taking improv classes at Ryerson, writing her church’s newsletter, tending an enormous garden and the lives of her 3 children and their children, and countless other involvements – that she wasn’t making enough time for her writing. And Margaret was a brilliant writer who’d done CBC television and radio work, among many other things, at a time when few women had jobs. But then, she had been raised to believe she could do anything. I asked that she take a few months to focus on her stories and get them out for publication.

And she did. She sent the manuscript to Wilfred Laurier Press’s Life Writing department, and they published her book. “Broad is the Way,” a memoir about her time as a parson’s wife in northern Alberta in the Fifties, appeared when she was 86 years old. It’s a superb book, lively and true; her Christmas story, Mr. Kringle’s Christmas, is the best of its kind, a classic about the things that mattered most to her – community and kindness. I’ve read it many times, and I still can’t read it without crying.

Shortly after the book came out, Margaret, who’d been living alone for many years, had a fall and lost her short term memory; she moved to assisted living at Christie Gardens. Immediately, she set up a program whereby she read several morning newspapers and then assembled a group to hear her version of the day’s news events and discuss. Her daughter told me today that last week, as Margaret was failing, her children took turns reading aloud to her the stories from her book. That made me glad and proud.

I went to her funeral today to honour her not just as a marvellous, unique woman, but as a superb writer. Her book is available on Amazon and for e-readers; I urge you to read it. Thank you for all you gave us, Margaret, in class and with your work and your life. You were a joy. I’m proud of have been a small part of your spectacular journey.

It was uncustomary mild today. I did some walking and some errands, Skyped with Lynn in France for nearly 2 hours, and have wasted a terrible amount of time on the internet. Just watched Amy and Tina and the fashions at the Golden Globes, Bruce and Jimmy do a parody about Chris Christie – oh, it’s delicious how many things there are to see on the internet. But I must channel my inner Margaret. She would not have been sitting here watching parodies, she had much too much to do. And so do I.

But had to watch one more thing – this extraordinary film about the Hubble space telescope and its discovery of just how vast our universe is. Good to put our minuscule selves into perspective.



2 Responses to “Margaret Norquay, 1920 – 2014”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I've downloaded Margaret's book and look forward to reading it. I am sorry for the loss of your friend, Beth. Love, Lani

  2. beth says:

    So happy that you will discover Margaret's words, Lani. My friend Penny in England ordered her book on-line and found it at a local bookstore. I hope you like it as much as I do.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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