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Jocelyn Harvey.Courtesy of family

Jocelyn Harvey: Scholar. Activist. Gardener. Arts advocate. Born Dec. 16, 1936, in Eau Claire, Wis.; died Aug. 18, 2019, in Ottawa; of cancer aged 82.

Jocelyn was the eldest of five children raised in a conservative Catholic family. With a difficult, alcoholic father, Jocelyn often acted as a parental and protective figure for her siblings. She excelled academically and, as she got older, found herself at odds with her parents’ conservative political views.

Jocelyn studied English literature and received her PhD from Cornell University, where she was taught by literary critic Arthur Mizener. She would move to Seattle to teach English literature at the University of Washington. Here she met and fell in love with fellow teacher David Dow Harvey. They married in 1966 but Jocelyn’s parents refused to attend the wedding since she married “outside the faith."

Jocelyn and Dave became active in the civil rights movement and were conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War. In 1969 they moved to Canada with their one-year-old daughter Kerridwen and settled at a farm near Barry’s Bay, Ont. Dave, the punster, coined it Gopherwood. Their son John was born here and the family lived off the land: no running water, no electricity and they learned the nutritional value of dandelions, kale, zucchini and other wild plants.

Jocelyn once wrote: “In retrospect, I don’t know how we had the courage – or insanity – to move to the edge of the wilderness and try to make a go of it (two English literature professors, for God’s sake! We had almost zero competencies.) What did we know about anything we were prepared to do?”

Jocelyn would later refer to the "five long winters” on the farm and could never again swallow pea soup, but her children’s recollections are full of adventure and the close presence of their parents. In the mid-1970s, the family moved to Ottawa. Since neither could secure academic positions in Canada, Dave drove a taxi and Jocelyn worked at the Canada Council for the Arts, initially as a writer, then in an executive role. Always an admirer of the arts but never a practitioner, she developed a passion for arts administration and became a staunch defender of public arts funding and the arm’s length principle.

Jocelyn was the breadwinner at a time when this was unusual. David looked after the house and cooked, and wrote a historical volume on Americans in Canada. They lived happily until his death in 1990.

After she retired, Jocelyn became a consultant and mentor to the arts community. She was revered for her sense of humour and respect for artists. A dual Canadian-U.S. citizen, she also took to Twitter and Facebook to support democracy and freedom of expression on both sides of the border.

Jocelyn visited and travelled with her sisters, and doted on her grandchildren, James and Meredith. Perhaps as a reaction to being dirt poor on the farm, Jocelyn showered her family with gifts at Christmas and loved to host lively meals with family and friends.

Remarkably, while weak from metastatic cancer, Jocelyn collaborated with her arts-community colleagues last May to prepare a brief to the Parliamentary Committee on Canadian Heritage to support regional arts funding.

When she decided not to seek further medical treatment, she received an outpouring of love on Facebook from all corners of her life testifying to her influence on their careers and lives. Jocelyn’s post mentioned the excellent palliative care she was receiving and her appreciation for the love and support of her family and friends, their company and their conversation. "I may be one of the world’s luckiest women,” she wrote.

Surely, we were the luckier for having known her.

Kerridwen Harvey is Jocelyn’s daughter; John Goldsmith is Jocelyn’s friend.

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