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Linda Munk (laughing) and friends in Gstaad, Switzerland, March 1970.
Linda Munk (laughing) and friends in Gstaad, Switzerland, March 1970.

Obituary

Linda Munk left the life of luxury to reinvent herself through the arts Add to ...

Linda Munk was married at 19 in dreamy resplendence, right down to hand-stitched Parisian lace and a ballroom filled with the elite of Toronto. It was 1956.

A handful of years later, she had shrugged off her Dior skirts and Yves St. Laurent gowns, peered from beyond the house of marriage and stepped into an independent future.

Her husband, Canadian businessman and philanthropist Peter Munk, tried and initially failed to woo her back. He flew to Spain, where she had taken their three-year-old son, Anthony, and presented her with a gift.

“I said ‘Linda, I bought this for you,’ ” recalls Mr. Munk. “She tossed the jewellery on the floor! She was a mind-blowing girl.”

“You think you can have everything,” she told him, “It’s a golden cage. Just because you buy me a piece of jewellery. You think you can bribe, buy, and retain anybody with your money.”

But there was a happy ending. After divorcing, Linda and Peter Munk became best friends and pseudo-siblings. He often introduced her as his sister.

“I never had a sister and I was jealous of my friends who had sisters, such lucky guys, these bastards,” Mr. Munk said.

Linda Munk made an art of rebranding her life and in the process made her life an art. Her ultimate achievement came late to her; she became a distinguished scholar of literature and religious studies at the University of Toronto, with a particular fluency in the language of poetry.

“She had a brilliant mind, absolutely, no question about that,” said her U of T colleague Brian Corman. “An original mind and ever-exploring mind.

“Her first commitment was to poetry, and it was American poetry and Emily Dickinson that she started with. That interest never went away, but it expanded into other areas,” Prof. Corman said.

With characteristically high standards, she never let her students off the hook. She insisted that they not only read but also memorize and recite poetry.

Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul” would ring through the cafeteria from the lips of her inspired students.

Linda Munk died on Apr. 16, from melanoma, at her home in Toronto. She was 75. She requested donations be made to her favourite cause: The Dictionary of Old English , a project of the U of T’s Centre for Medieval Studies.

Born in 1937, Linda Gutterson quickly grew bored of her staid schoolgirl existence in Toronto’s upscale Forest Hill. The eldest daughter of William and Mary Gutterson, she excelled academically but struggled to find expansive cerebral challenges.

Her mother felt threatened by Linda’s enormous intellectual ferocity. She discouraged her daughter’s ambitions, viewing them as a liability, and hoped a suitable marriage would subdue her spirited daughter.

At 17, while in Grade 13 at Havergal College, an exclusive school for girls in Toronto, Linda fell in love with a penniless Hungarian refugee named Peter Munk. He was 10 years her senior – with an exciting history.

“Linda tracked me down with a laser beam,” said Mr. Munk. “I was a curiosity; I was different. Not because I was so great, let me tell you, I was fat, bald, poor, a boring engineering student.”

Not boring at all. He kept up with her.

As it turned out, it was Linda’s father, the owner of Webber Pharmaceuticals, who set Mr. Munk on the path as an entrepreneur. One day, he took the young man aside and told him to quit his day job, just like that.

“And then he just went into his safe, and he said, ‘well I hope your father and your uncle will match this,’ and he gave me $2,800,” said Mr. Munk.

“He got me started. He gave me confidence. And that’s how I started, that’s how Claritone began.”

Meanwhile, Linda Munk began her career as a journalist.

In 1958, while an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, she and her husband travelled to the Soviet Union as part of a cultural exchange program. She wrote a series of articles for the Toronto Star exposing the brutality and misery of life behind the Iron Curtain.

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