As in the words on a page that she had edited, there was a rhythm to Jocelyn Laurence's life that was sometimes as urgent as beat poetry, sometimes as smooth as a waltz and sometimes as sensuous and stirring as a tango. For her stepdaughters, she was "the cream and perfume lady" who swept into their father's car the first time they met smelling like flowers and then taught them to love dancing. For friends, she was intensely urban, uncomfortable in the outdoors and gingerly debarking from a rowboat as if wearing an Edwardian dress with a tight bodice that was difficult to move in.
For Carsten Stroud, the bestselling author who got his start at Toronto Life magazine, she was simply "the best editor I ever had, period."
"Jocelyn had a wonderful ear for good prose. It was like music in her head," he recalled. "She always said, 'If you can't read it aloud, it's probably not very good.'"
Ms. Laurence, who died on June 10 at the age of 62, only seven weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, believed the greatest writing had cadence, tempo and soul – mere black and white letters that, put together, seemed organic, creating worlds both foreign and familiar.
Tall, slender and droll, with wavy hair that fell to her shoulders and a penchant for the works of Simone de Beauvoir, she had a storied career that included stints as a senior editor at Toronto Life, Canadian Art and The Globe and Mail, a columnist at Toronto Life and Homemakers magazine and a project manager for organizations such as the Art Gallery of Ontario. She liked to meet writers face to face, preferably in a restaurant over glasses of good pinot gris, and she preferred to edit not at the office, but in cafés, where she'd nurse a pot of tea and swathe herself in smoke from her Gauloises cigarettes.
"Jocelyn was part of the generation of editorial people that has been swept away by a leaner, meaner way of producing copy," said Lynn Cunningham, the long-time writer and editor, who first met Ms. Laurence back in the 1980s at Toronto Life. "People who encountered that were grateful for the attention and the skill. Now, we do everything by e-mail. I've been edited by people I have never set eyes on.
"She was of a time – and she was also timeless, able to transcend, adapt and make a living," Ms. Cunningham continued. "She cared for her writers and she brought out the best in them. That wasn't always easy."
Jocelyn Laurence was born in London, England, on Aug. 28, 1952, the first of Jack and Margaret Laurence's two children. Her father was an engineer whose job took his family to England, Ghana (at the time a British colony known as the Gold Coast) and Vancouver. Her mother was that Margaret Laurence, the writer whose novels include The Stone Angel, The Diviners and A Jest of God.
For young Joss and her little brother, David, their mother was not a literary lion but rather just plain "Mum," whose rapid pounding on an old Remington typewriter provided the soundtrack to their childhood. Sometimes, she pounded so hard the keys broke.
In 1962, the parents separated and the children moved with their mother from Vancouver to a Victorian apartment in the Hampstead neighbourhood of London, just around the corner from the historic home of Romantic poet John Keats. A year later, they moved again, this time to Elm Cottage, a rambling old home in Buckinghamshire that had six bedrooms, as many fireplaces, no central heating and a boiler that had to be stoked each day with coal.
"When we first moved to England, I was seven and Jocelyn was 10, and she was the one looking after me a lot of the time because our mother was busy," David Laurence said. "At times, it felt like it was me and Jocelyn against the world. There were just the two of us together, for my father had gone to Pakistan to work.
"In some ways, the cottage felt like we'd gone back to the previous century," Mr. Laurence recalled. "Canadians would come to visit and complain that it was damp and cold."
As Margaret Laurence's fame grew, so did the professional demands on her time. In 1969, she was gone for a whole year, working in Toronto as the writer in residence at Massey College. Although she had a young Canadian couple, Ian and Sandy Cameron, move into Elm Cottage to care for the kids in her absence, Jocelyn Laurence was already 17 and making sure her brother's school uniforms were laundered and his shirts ironed and starched.
In a way, she was already rebelling. The countryside wasn't her thing, although she did develop a fondness for gardening and a deep dislike of Morris dancing, a form of English folk dance in which performers in twee costumes move in choreographed formation, often with bells attached to their shins.
Instead, Ms. Laurence preferred the rawness and random nature of beat poetry, the harmony of doo-wop and the barely controlled passion of tango and salsa.
After a short sojourn at the University of Birmingham, at her mother's behest, Ms. Laurence attended secretarial school in London. After all, she needed a practical way to earn a living while deciding what she wanted to do for the rest of her life – and a bonus was that she became a super-speedy typist.
Briefly married at 21, she moved back to Canada with her family a year later and studied RTA – Radio and Television Arts – at Ryerson, then a polytechnical institute. She then worked at McClelland & Stewart, her mother's Canadian publishing house, before striking out on her own in magazines.
She never looked back, forming relationships with writers her age and younger, becoming a mentor who really knew how to listen and provide guidance and gentle criticism whenever necessary.
Stephen Trumper, the other senior editor at Toronto Life when Ms. Laurence worked there, recalled being fascinated by how she did things. "We certainly talked a lot, but we were also professional rivals," he said. "The bottom line was that we were at a magazine that let us spread our wings and build relationships with writers, and if you ain't got the good writin' and the good thinkin,' you ain't got much of a magazine."
(Ms. Laurence, a stickler for grammar, probably would have smiled at that last sentence. In a post to the Toronto Freelance Editors and Writers group earlier this year, she wrote: "I constantly find egregious grammar mistakes, both in what I read for pleasure and what I read for work. The people who always provide me with a chuckle are academics, who ought to know better but clearly don't. I also occasionally copy edit text written by high school teachers. Now that's really scary.")
A second marriage, to art critic, writer and painter Gary Michael Dault, brought her a son, Alex, and two stepdaughters, Meredith and Julia Dault, with whom she remained close even though the marriage ended more than two decades ago.
They were her doo-wop girls and tango partners, whom she would teach to sing harmonies and to dance throughout the house. She was 12 years younger than their father and brought a new sensibility into their lives – a woman with a cool job, a feminist who liked to wear perfume, a girl at heart who loved to cut loose.
"Our relationship was formed at an important time in our lives," Meredith Dault said. "Although our father married again, we still called her our stepmom and she still called us her stepdaughters."
Last February, Ms. Laurence complained "ever so gently" to Ms. Dault about a painful hip. Further examination showed that it was fractured, the result of a previously undiagnosed cancer that had metastasized from her lungs. As happened with her mother, who was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in 1986, there was little at this point doctors could do.
Ms. Laurence died as she lived: surrounded by her loved ones. Along with her brother, son and stepdaughters, she leaves her cousin, Karen Laurence, who was like a sister; her stepmother, Esther Laurence; her sister-in-law, Marie José; and her niece, Adèle.
"We were really lucky to have known her," Ms. Dault said.
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