Mother, wife, grandmother, volunteer, political activist. Born on Nov. 22, 1924, in St. Catharines, Ont.; died on March 12, 2014, in Ottawa, of natural causes, aged 89.
Joan Green was trained as a nurse but didn’t have the chance to practise before her children were born. So she focused on being a devoted mother to her daughter and two sons, as well as a caring wife, wonderful friend and a volunteer with a special dedication to children with cancer.
But at the age of 50, her life took on a new dimension. When my father’s new job with the National Energy Board took them to Ottawa from London, Ont., and with her children gone from home, she became active in politics. I realized the extent of her activism about a decade ago, when she and I were sorting through drawers stuffed with the memorabilia of her 80 years. I could always count on Mom for passionate and good-natured debates about current events, so I knew she was well informed and held strong opinions. What I didn't realize was how much time she spent making her opinions known. We found letter after letter from prime ministers, ministers, premiers and their staff thanking her – for making her views known, taking the time to convey her support, her opposition, her disappointment, her congratulations.
She wrote to Quebec Premier René Lévesque, pleading with him not to break up Canada. She thanked the chairman of the Air Transport Committee for supporting seat sales which would help Canadians to explore their country. She sent words of support to the wife of a former prime minister, telling her that her symptoms were a completely understandable result of postpartum depression.
Most often, Mom sent telegrams – spontaneous missives that allowed you to fire off a piece of your mind, much like today’s e-mail. But telegrams cost money, so you had to feel deeply the need to unburden yourself. And you paid by the word, so your message needed to be succinctly crafted. Also, you had to read your missive over the phone to a transcriber, who might convey her own opinion on the matter at hand.
Her involvement didn’t stop at the printed word. For many years, she was on Parliament Hill for almost every historic event and every cause for celebration. On April 17, 1982, she was there applauding the signing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and every July 1 would find her waving her flag. If our security services have photos of crowds on the hill, she’ll appear in most – a small woman with grey-blond hair and tinted blue glasses, usually wearing a kerchief. Friends say that she became such a familiar face to then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau that he would stop to say hello.
Mom wasn’t partisan in her politics, and supported several parties over the years. Although she was partial to the federal level of government, she was also interested in provincial and municipal workings. Come election time, she volunteered to stuff envelopes and work the phones at campaign offices. Her pile of correspondence included many letters of thanks for her hard work.
All told, my mother was the ideal citizen on which the very foundation of our democracy rests. If pressed, she would have said we have a civic duty to shape our society. But this was not what motivated her. For her, political activism was not a burden, it was great fun. She loved figuring out the issues, getting to know the players, and vesting herself in the outcome. It was much like placing a bet at the horse races. When you have a stake in the process you’re on your feet with the rest of the crowd and swept up in the energy of the outcome. She played not with money, but with her heart, and we were all the winners.
Lyndsay Green is Joan’s daughter.