Playwright, poet, novelist, brother. Born May 19, 1942, in Halifax, died Jan. 30, 2013, in Brantford, Ont., of kidney cancer, aged 70.
Alfred was a lifelong advocate for the arts and the written word, authoring novels and poetry as well as writing, directing and acting in plays locally and in fringe festivals across Canada. At his passing, he was playwright in residence for Theatre Brantford.
The eldest of four children, Al was 12 when our father passed away in 1954. He accepted responsibility for looking after the family without question.
Some of our dad’s family – his nephew and a cousin – were trapped underground during the 1958 Springhill mine disaster in Nova Scotia. They survived and, with Al’s help, so did our family.
He gave all the money he earned to our mother. One bleak Christmas, he came home with presents for all. I got a table hockey game. When I was 5, he took me to the movies to watch Audie Murphy, and he escorted my sister to her first prom.
With his sense of humour and quick wit, Al had many friends. He was also the glue that kept family and friends together. He was still close with friends from his Halifax schooldays.
During high school, he won a scholarship from the Nova Scotia School of Art. In the summers, he worked in his dream job as a junior reporter for the Halifax Herald-Mail Star. His only higher education was one year of journalism study at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
Al never married, but he enjoyed flirting with the opposite sex, especially after a few glasses of wine. He wasn’t the most co-ordinated person, and this was most obvious on the dance floor. But as painful as it was to watch, by the end of an evening he’d have danced with most of the ladies present.
When he first came to Ontario, Al worked selling land in Florida. He drew on this as material for some of his works. In the late 1960s and early seventies, he had seven radio plays produced by the CBC.
In 1978, he founded GUT magazine, which carried satirical commentary on government and society along with poetry. He published two novels – Mind Maps and Stark Raving Sane.
Al was no slouch when it came to ingenuity and daring. He used both to attend the press conference for the first visit of the Beatles to Canada and to ask several questions.
He watched several presentations from the “press only” side-stage area of the O’Keefe Centre (now the Sony Centre) when Richard Burton played Hamlet.
His play-writing relationship with Theatre Brantford started 28 years ago. Of the numerous works he produced there, many had a direct link to Canadian history.
He didn’t have a lot of money, but he managed to survive. He had some interesting sidelines – as a movie extra in Toronto, editing the Prison Arts Annual Review for several years, and writing book reviews.
Al could laugh at himself. He frequently told the story of going for a walk and, oblivious to warnings, stepped into a construction hole thinking it was a puddle. He went in up to his waist and it took three city workers to fish him out.
This was no ordinary life. Alfred Rushton was unique and we feel honoured to have him for a brother. In a fashion similar to those Rushtons trapped in the Springhill mining disaster, Al’s “legacy” will survive.
John W. Rushton is Al’s brother.