“People being kind to one another”

June Callwood – June 2, 1924 – April 14, 2007 (Photo by David Henderson)

To June Callwood, called Canada’s Conscience by many people, life was pretty much as simple as the title of this entry, or at least, she felt it should be. In the extended version of the final TV interview of her life with George Stroumboulopoulos, June talked about how much better the world would be if every baby simply got a “good start” in life. Its remarkable how the simplest ideas are sometimes the most compelling, but June had a way of bringing the compelling to level of everyone else.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about June and her life is that she seems to have lead several of them at least. A celebrated author and journalist, she is the author of some 30 books, newspaper and magazine articles far too numerous to mention, and has a solid history as a broadcast interviewer and journalist for the CBC. Thats a resume that marks a very full life for most of us, but June was just getting started. Along with that career, of course, June Callwood was also one of Canada’s most celebrated social activists, tirelessly raising money and working to help the underprivileged, but where many people would lend their name or their talents to the cause, June jumped in with both feet, opening hospices, women’s shelters and youth homes. She was never a journalist who simply lent her name to anything … full-time activist and social reformer was the second of her full-time careers. Her third career, of course, was the one she shared with many other women, the one that always goes unmentioned, but the one that is, perhaps, the most important of the three, even by her own admission … that of successful mother and grandmother. To see her with her family, and to hear her speak of them and them of her, is a stark reminder to everyone what real family is all about as opposed to the plastic quasi-families we tend to see in public life today. June’s life and family acknowledged that great people are also real people, with real trials and real issues … not only did she have to deal with the death of her youngest son Casey (and in typical Callwood fashion turn his death into something that helped hundreds of other people through the Casey House AIDS Hospice) but also with watching her oldest son suffer from MS, but her commitment to family constituted her third full-time career.

It was never really a question of if June Callwood would succumb to the cancer attacking her body, for the past few months its always been a question of when. Now that her time has come, I find the words I quoted of hers a week and a half ago a bit ironic. She said in that last interview with George that there is nothing else after this life, that we get a life and that is more than enough. The irony is that even as she denies an after-life, its clear that more than many other modern Canadians, modern PEOPLE, she will live on through her work, through her family, through her foundations … she has guaranteed herself an after-life in the only real way we humans ever can, through the way she affected the world around her. Canada, and the world I think, is very much richer for her involvement in it and there is no greater way for us to guarantee a life after our death.

In that final interview with George, she said of babies “What they’ve got is a life and [the chance] to live it as best they can.” Thats all any of us get, June included … Thank you June, for showing the rest of us how to live it well.


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