(Excerpted from Sandra Martin’s Working the Dead Beat:50 Lives that Changed Canada, which has been longlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction)
After she was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2003, June Callwood talked about gliding over Georgian Bay, contemplating all the pain she had experienced in her life and wondering whether there was “anything spiritual” that could help ease her misery.
“And I thought, floating up there, ‘This is what it’s all about. It’s kindness. Not top-down kindness, giving a toonie to a street person and treating them like a slot machine, but stopping and talk- ing to them. If people can behave well to each other, that’s all that there is,’” she told Globe journalist John Allemang. An atheist, she took that philosophy of kindness, which was as close as she could come to a religious belief, and sprinkled it liberally as she carried on her personal campaign against injustice, even as cancer rampaged through her body.
Known as a doer, a “secular saint,” a fundraiser, a civic activist, a fierce campaigner for human rights, and a “general nuisance,” she wrote thirty- odd books, more than a thousand magazine articles, close to five hundred newspaper columns, and hosted at least two television shows, In Touch and National Treasures. She helped establish fifty organizations—more than most people join in their lifetimes. The institutions range across the arts, human rights, civil liberties, and social welfare. In recompense, she was given nearly twenty honorary degrees, named a Companion of the Order of Canada, and had a street, a park, and Ontario’s volunteerism award named in her honour.
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