Judy Marie Kondrat: Advocate. Artist. Animal lover. Alto. Born Aug. 22, 1959, in Toronto; died April 7, 2020, in Toronto, of heart failure, aged 60.
Judy Kondrat swore like a sailor, owned way too many shoes, loved turquoise jewellery and worshipped singer-songwriter Patti Smith. She also dedicated her life to making the world a better place for the most vulnerable.
She grew up in the Cliffside area of Toronto, a working class neighbourhood that felt more like a village. Kids ran home from school at lunchtime and the butcher and bakery were just up the street. But Judy was a born rebel and soon chafed at this idyllic lifestyle.
She was an excellent student who believed in social equality from a young age. As a teenager, she appalled her conservative parents by wearing white go-go boots and dating a guy who looked like a hippie and had a pet python. She had zero patience for parental rules and left home at 15. She dropped out of high school but returned to earn an honours diploma and a scholarship.
Two years after she left home, Judy’s father died in an accident. The loss drew the family back together. Judy’s only sibling, her younger brother Todd, remembers: “That’s when she and Mom became best friends.”
Judy never married or had children – she was too busy doting on a long line of beloved cats – but was a cherished member of her friends' extended families. On holidays she’d make the rounds bearing thoughtful gifts and her famous bear hugs. While most people were partying in the kitchen, Judy would be in a corner talking to someone’s granny. She saw people overlooked by others.
She had a long career in adult literacy, community legal education and human rights. She was a fearless advocate and respected mediator. Her most public success was a travelling exhibit featuring her photos of injured workers, created in collaboration with the workers under the tutelage of documentary photographer Louie Palu.
In her off-hours, she loved impromptu trips to art exhibits, out of the way cafés, small Ontario towns and the Donkey Sanctuary. She’d zoom up in her little white car, wearing sunglasses, a bright scarf and streaks of purple in her hair yelling: “Road trip!”
Despite her quick laugh and open demeanour, she was a perfectionist and self-admitted “bossy boots.” Friends and colleagues knew to watch out for the steely glare that signalled her patience was at an end. You underestimated her at your peril.
She always had an art project on the go – quilting, book binding, stained-glass making, encaustic painting. She was musical, too. As a child, she played in the school band and in high school, she played the flute, then tried the cello, although her mother thought the pose was unladylike. As an adult, she sang in two community choirs and never gave up trying to play guitar.
Her mother died from pulmonary disease when Judy was 46. She was devastated but faced the loss. She was an atheist and briskly unsentimental, an attitude reflected in her cell phone ring: the old Doris Day song Que Sera, Sera.
A few years after her mother’s death, Judy discovered she had cancer. Independent to a fault, she brushed away offers to help; her emotional boundaries were firm, even with her closest friends. She’d rather help than be helped. When her 16-year-old nephew also got cancer, she dropped everything and left home for weeks at a time to support Todd and his family during the long months of treatment.
Shortly before she died, Judy travelled to New Mexico to celebrate two milestones – her 60th birthday and being cancer-free for five years. She was planning to retire and had just bought a new home in a small town.
On the border of one of her paintings, Judy wrote: “I long to soar but find myself bound to the earth.” She is surely soaring now.
Diane Hill is Judy’s friend.
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