Skip to main content

As a young girl, Phyllis would never leave the house without waving to the RCMP officer parked across the street, who kept a vigilant watch on her parents, both prominent Canadian Communists. She liked to say that she earned her credentials as a Red Diaper Baby the night Paul Robeson sang her a lullaby.

Her father, Max Bailey, was a Montreal city councillor who fought for the city's downtrodden and was instrumental in the Supreme Court case that struck down Maurice Duplessis's infamous Padlock Law. Her mother, Anne, was a human-rights activist and crusader for progressive causes.

Disillusioned by Stalin, her parents left the party long before most of their colleagues. This left Phyllis abruptly cut off from her friends, who were forbidden to associate with a family who had betrayed the cause.

Story continues below advertisement

Yet she never forgot those early values and chose to instill them as an educator, teaching sociology for more than 30 years at Montreal's Champlain College. Her work left her a lot of free time to indulge her passion for social justice and travel, including a memorable trip to Latin America, where she marched with Subcomandante Marcos in Chiapas, Mexico.

While working as a community activist for Lyndon Johnson's ill-fated war on poverty in New York during the mid-1960s, Phyllis encountered a unique character named Rosalyn Switzen, who helped introduce the ombudsman concept to North America and fought for social innovation and change.

Together, they lobbied opinion makers for an agenda they called ombudscience that was far ahead of its time (it included solar energy and recycling). It was not unusual for Phyllis - a divorced single mother - to drag her sons Max and Jeremy to Capitol Hill, where they would corner politicians such as Ted Kennedy and Spiro Agnew before paying a late-night visit to the home of Ralph Nader.

Her friends remember Phyllis as a warm, hysterically funny companion who could tell a good dirty joke, and who was more likely to talk about the previous night's episode of Law & Order than about politics.

When Phyllis discovered she had hepatitis C 10 years ago, she stepped up her travelling to a frenetic pace, visiting far-flung corners of the world from China to Antarctica. She lived long enough to dote on her grandchildren Hannah, Emma and Dashiell. She saw her son Max become a bestselling author and Gemini-nominated filmmaker, while her son Jeremy became an accomplished musician, poet and activist.

Phyllis's legacy lives on in the thousands of students she sent into the world determined to change it.

Max Wallace is Phyllis's son.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter