Lets continue last week’s writing conversation.
The Inside Story
The Special Olympics And A Special Wedding
I represented Red at the first Special Olympics ever held in Quebec, on St. Helen Island in Montreal. Then we flew to Washington to attend two events hosted by the Kennedy Foundation. The first was a seminar on the rights of intellectually handicapped, attended by Senator Edward Kennedy and Mother Teresa. The second was the presentation of a Kennedy award to Jean Vanier, son of the former Governor General and founder of l’Arche community homes for the intellectually handicapped. Some time later we flew with a television crew to West Palm Beach to interview Rose Kennedy. The footage was used as part of our campaign to raise money for the Special Olympics in Canada.
But the highlight of my time with Red Foster did not involve big names people. It involved the intellectually handicapped themselves. One event stands out – the first Canadian National Special Olympics, which were held at the CNE and Ontario Place in June 1971. Enormous preparation had gone organizing these games and teams had been entered from all ten provinces. On a warm June evening, the opening ceremonies took place on the track in front of the grandstand at the CNE grounds. There they all were – the dignitaries, the Lieutenant Governor in the gold braid, Premier William Davis and his wife, city officials, aides in their glittering uniforms, the milliary, bands and cheerleaders.
Then I looked down the track. A band came into view, its martial music reverberating through the grandstand. Next, from each of the ten provinces came bearers with their banners and flags gently flapping in the warm breeze. And behind the banners came the special athletes, the Olympians, carrying in their hearts their special oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Some of them stumbled a bit, others walked haltingly, still others tried to do a little jig, but all waved and smiled at the rest of us in a kind of happy blessing. I smiled back at them, these special people. I looked at their faces warm in the setting sun and watched them dancing to the music – and suddenly I reach out to them, to respond to their courage and their love. And I started to cry.
During this exiting period working for Red Foster, I had plenty of time to socialize and make new friends, such as Bill Belyea who helped me navigate the workday world. Denise and I saw less and less of each other as I tried to put old patterns behind me. My counsellor at Southdown, Mark Eveson, warned me to make no major decision for at least a year. But that left plenty of room for action. I took up ballroom dancing, joining a group called Hiatus which billed itself as an Arts and Letters Society with a sense of humour. And I met several women with whom I had brief relationships but no commitments.
Not until the beginning of 1972, that is, I was hosting a social evening for Hiatus at my house. The speaker was Professor Ramsay Cook, probably English-Canada’s leading expert on Quebec nationalism. In the course of the evening I met another member of Hiatus. She was tall and slim, had blond hair and striking blue eyes, and her name was Catharine Fleming Turnbull. Some time later we met again on the dance floor at another Hiatus party. I was intrigued and asked her out for dinner and more dancing. I sensed that somehow Catharine was different from other women. We had a long, inconclusive discussion about appropriate sexual behavior and that is where we left it.
Six months later the phone rang in my office. It was Catharine calling from her office. She was a speech writer with the Ontario Ministry of Education at Queen’s Park. Had I seen the reference to my Hepburn book in The Globe and Mail? Indeed I had, which was not important. What was important was the phone call unleashed an emotional avalanche that moved with blinding speed and quick engulfed us both.
To be continued…
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