Ex-coun­cil­lor had a busy cen­tury

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - [email protected]­media.com KELLY EGAN 613•726•5896 @Kel­lyE­gan­Col­umn

Toddy Ke­hoe is 100 years old, liv­ing through all that dy­ing for a very, very long time.

Her par­ents are gone, of course, and her three broth­ers (one in in­fancy), and a daugh­ter — her first-born — and her hus­band Ray, who she re­mem­bers as “a beau­ti­ful man” who died of a heart at­tack in 1977, leav­ing her a widow with five chil­dren.

Her life­long friend Kay Mar­shall has passed. Her po­lit­i­cal pal Marion De­war is gone, too. The en­tire litany is much longer.

It’s Tues­day with Toddy. Her first name is Margaret, and her nick­name as a child was Totty, but it got mum­bled up along the way. No real rea­son to be here, ex­cept to be in awe of some­one older than the Peace Tower and, ac­cord­ing to en­gi­neer­ing re­ports, a good deal stur­dier.

“Isn’t it crazy,” she says of her mile­stone, us­ing one of her favourite words, as in “Am I crazy?” “Isn’t the world crazy?” or “You know, my kids are crazy.”

You want crazy? This woman drove un­til age 97, lives alone at 100, barely takes a pill, re­mem­bers all the im­por­tant stuff and, at the mo­ment, is mak­ing cof­fee for us in the kitchen. She was born, im­pos­si­bly, while the First World War was still on.

Toddy met Ray in 1939 at the leg­endary Stan­dish Hall — he was a pal of Toddy’s older brother Jack Le­ore, a one-time Ot­tawa Rough Rider (1935-38). Just as they were get­ting ac­quainted, Ray went off to war and didn’t come home un­til Oc­to­ber 1945, nearly six whole years. They were mar­ried in 1946.

“l’ll tell you some­thing about him,” Toddy says, sit­ting in a sun­lit room, dressed en­tirely in grey but for the red shoes. “He never, ever, ever, sober or not, went to bed with­out get­ting down on his knees and say­ing his prayers be­fore bed.

“One day I asked him why. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I was saved and I have this won­der­ful life, a wife and chil­dren, and the guy be­side me was killed. So I have lots to be thank­ful for.’”

Old sto­ry­tellers, and she is a great one, are like this. They pol­ish their lines over time un­til they are smooth with wis­dom.

In 1947, their first child, Janie, was born with Down syn­drome, a con­di­tion Toddy knew noth­ing about.

“There was still the stigma of shame,” she says. “It made you feel aw­ful and you re­ally didn’t know what to do.”

When it was time for Janie to go to school, there was re­ally nowhere to send her. Thus be­gan, in a way, Toddy’s po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing: a grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa in 1940, a woman in a man’s world, she de­cided to make some waves. She trav­elled to Toronto to ad­vo­cate for per diems for stu­dents in a school for dis­abled chil­dren.

This was not long from an era when Oril­lia had an in­sti­tu­tion for the men­tally dis­abled that was called an asy­lum for id­iots. At Queen’s Park, she re­mem­bers, she met three or four “old fo­geys” around a ta­ble.

“I looked at them,” she says, “and thought, ‘What the hell do you know about what I want to do?’”

Some­how, it worked. She looped in a ser­vice club, joined with like-minded women and Brighthope School opened on Kent St. with a hand­ful of stu­dents that first year. Janie had some­where to go.

In 1962, Brighthope moved to a per­ma­nent home on Rosen­thal Ave. in Car­ling­ton.

In 1974, she de­cided to run for city coun­cil. She had a bud­get of $500, a sign-mak­ing crew at Lau­ren­tian High School, and a fam­ily that was, ini­tially, du­bi­ous about her am­bi­tions.

She went ahead any­way. Ray died dur­ing her first term in Car­leton ward.

Her time at city hall was marked by so­cial ac­tivism. There was De­war, Do­mini­can priest Rolf Hase­nack and faith­ful Catholic Toddy, a coun­cil­lor dubbed philoso­pher king, an­other a ru­moured draft dodger. One of their most mem­o­rable projects was not roads and sew­ers but hearts and minds: Pro­ject 4000 brought so-called boat peo­ple from war-torn Viet­nam to set­tle in the city.

“We were im­bued with the idea that much has been given and much is ex­pected of you,” she says, para­phras­ing scrip­ture.

(It was a bit of a golden-age mu­nic­i­pally, when you think of it: Gra­ham Bird, Jim Dur­rell, Mar­lene Cat­ter­all, Don Reid, Andy Hay­don and many oth­ers went on to leave a ma­jor foot­print on the city.)

We’ve gone, she re­marks, from Ge­orge Bush Sr.’s dream of a “kinder, gen­tler” so­ci­ety — given life on his death — to the era of Doug Ford and Don­ald Trump, whom she says she will never forgive for mak­ing fun of a dis­abled per­son while invit­ing oth­ers to laugh with him.

“There’s some­thing wrong with the whole world,” she says.

Her po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy was “to do good” with­out be­ing “Miss Goody TwoShoes.” In­deed, while she was some­times called “grand­moth­erly” on city coun­cil, she wasn’t afraid to dis­miss coun­cil gad­flys as kooks, take on bish­ops and busi­ness­men, while ad­mit­ting to cry­ing the day Terry Fox quit his run. (She spear­headed a statue cam­paign.)

She’s down on the Catholic Church at the mo­ment and isn’t afraid to call out what she sees as bla­tant hypocrisy and hy­per-se­crecy in deal­ing with gen­er­a­tions-old sex scan­dals with cler­ics.

“The Pope says we’re go­ing to pray about it,” she says. “Pray about it? Why don’t we put them in jail?”

Through­out her life, she and the fam­ily spent sum­mers at Te­naga, on the Gatineau River, while she win­tered in Bar­ba­dos for 40 years, un­til she was 99.

“I think that was good for me,” she says. “We used to go into the sea three times a day.”

One of the se­crets of ag­ing well, she says, is hav­ing a cir­cle of good friends, a sup­port­ive fam­ily (es­pe­cially daugh­ter Nancy), a sense of hu­mour and a good at­ti­tude.

“I feel to­tally blessed,” she says, “be­cause I’ve had such a good life. I have had a blessed life. It hasn’t all been easy. I’ve al­ways kinda felt I was lucky.”

But didn’t she make her own luck a hun­dred times over?


For­mer city coun­cil­lor Toddy Ke­hoe, who turned 100 in Oc­to­ber, shows off an al­bum full of fam­ily pho­tos.

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