Vivian Diana Campbell: Mother. Stoic. Hypochondriac. Centenarian. Born Jan. 3, 1920, in Montreal; died Jan. 25, 2020, in Toronto; of natural causes; aged 100.
Vivian Rothbart Campbell was matter of fact about living into her 101st year: “It only goes in one direction." To very near the end she knew who she was and what was happening. “Is there anything we can do?” her family asked. “It’s not fixable,” was her answer. “Do you have any complaints?” “Plenty,” she’d say with a smile, but she wouldn’t share them. "Is there anything you need?” "Everything,” was her reply, “I want my whole life back.” She wasn’t ready to go. She wanted to go again.
Vivian died as she had lived: quietly and keeping most of her thoughts to herself.
Born and raised in Montreal, Vivian was well off enough to live in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Dave Campbell, however, grew up in a less-affluent neighbourhood below Sherbrooke Street that was considered the wrong side of the tracks. When the pretty Vivian met him, her mother wasn’t keen because Dave was poor and his parents were immigrants. But Vivian was a good judge of character. Vivian and Dave married and were still together when Dave died 76 years later. “You get used to him,” Vivian observed when asked about the secret to a long marriage.
As a young woman just out of secretarial school, Vivian became secretary to the head guy at Gillette Canada. She was proud of that. When Dave opened his first record and appliance store after the Second World War, she worked by his side. They had three sons, Henry, Barry and Jeffrey, and shared a sometimes tumultuous but always interesting life. Like many men of that generation, Dave was hard-working and hard driving.
At a time when most middle-aged couples slow down and their circle of relationships narrow, Vivian and Dave left Montreal for Toronto. They built a new life engaged in the cultural sector of their adopted city. Dave was the more outgoing one. Vivian was shy, but no one ever came away regretting to have been seated next to her. She was inquisitive and had a wry sense of humour. “The most awful thing happened," she reported once after a dinner party. “One of the guests had a heart attack and fell face down on the carpet.” “That’s terrible,” her son replied. “No,” she said, “it was okay, it was white wine.”
Vivian was a bit of a hypochondriac and spent her life trying to find the dread disease that would kill her. She found it: old age. Her living to 100 is proof you don’t have to eat your vegetables or fish. She never did.
Vivian was almost never seen without makeup, jewellery and her hair done. If she was in bed, she’d be wearing a short quilted jacket with a silk bow. When told she looked elegant, Vivian deadpanned: “It comes naturally to some of us.”
How much can you really know a parent? How much do you really want to know? But one way to take the measure of someone is to look at the company they keep. Vivian’s friends were bright, energetic and interesting women. Their enduring bond tells us much about the qualities they saw in her.
Vivian loved the poetry of Leonard Cohen and Irving Layton. She read Sylvia Plath. She collected the work of Edvard Munch. That made her family wonder. On reflection, they understood why her favourite trip was to see the icebergs in Newfoundland. Vivian had a deep and emotional inner life even if the surface was calm and quiet.
Vivian liked to recite Yeats and had a favourite line from Tennyson: "May there be no moaning of the bar, when I put out to sea.”
Barry Campbell is one of Vivian Campbell’s sons.
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