A room always appeared brighter when Florence Richler swept in. She had the physical grace of a ballerina and the poise of a model, but it was her conversation that kept one enthralled. Best known as the wife of novelist Mordecai Richler, she was as groomed as he was rumpled, but those differences faded compared with their devotion to each other, a love that seemed to encase them like an invisible shield. She was also his first and most trusted reader.
“Florence Richler had an incomparable, luminous grace,” Louise Dennys, executive vice-president of Penguin Random House, said Friday. “Yet for all her gentle modesty and her reticence about her place in Mordecai’s writing, there is no question in the minds of anybody who knew them well, that when it came to his work, she was fiercely tough-minded and as insightful as she was unfailingly supportive.”
Ms. Dennys, who worked with Mordecai on his later novels, including the Giller-winning Barney’s Version, said she well knew how finely tuned Florence’s role was in her husband’s work and writing life. “She was a brilliant reader of all literature and, beyond that, his extraordinarily good first editor, who was deeply attuned to his work. Mordecai rightly paid more attention to Florence’s responses than to those of anyone else.”
Born in Montreal on Oct. 19, 1929, on the eve of the stock-market crash, Florence was adopted as a child by a family named Wood. As an adult, she struggled to connect with her birth parents, but never succeeded, which was a lasting sadness. She grew up in Pointe-Saint-Charles, a poor district of Montreal, but she was proud of her working-class roots, delighting in telling people that she had gone to the same high school as jazz impresario Oscar Peterson, the son of a railway porter.
After high school, she worked as a model for Eaton’s and Chatelaine magazine before moving to England where, in addition to crossing the channel to model for Coco Chanel and House of Dior in Paris, she found work as an actress on Armchair Theatre on Granada Television. That’s how she met and eventually married her first husband, screenwriter Stanley Mann, the father of her oldest child, Daniel. It was through Mann that she met Mordecai, also a native Montrealer, who was living and working in London. They married and eventually had four children together – Noah, Emma, Martha and Jacob.
After Mordecai died of cancer in 2001, Florence moved to Toronto where she pursued an independent life, gardening, travelling and socializing with a wide circle of friends. She remained an avid reader and a devoted patron of music and theatre, despite the visual limitations of macular degeneration.
Florence Richler died after a short illness in Toronto, surrounded by her family, early on Jan. 10. She was 90. Funeral arrangements are pending.
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